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15 Facts about the CIA Torture Program

Last updated: November 27, 2023

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the CIA built a torture program. Between 2002 and 2008, it held at least 119 Muslim men captive in secret “black site” prisons around the world and subjected them to abuses that many Americans rightly associate with foreign dictators, tyrants and terrorists. The program was built largely by two contracts psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. Neither had any experience as an interrogator, any knowledge of al Qaeda, or any science to justify their methods. The torture tactics they developed included chaining men to the ceiling, naked except for a diaper, in the dark with music blaring, sometimes for days on end; stuffing them for hours into (at times insect-filled) boxes the size of small dog crates or in the shape of coffins; and drowning them, just not to the point of death. Mitchell, Jessen and the CIA called this torture “enhanced interrogation” and said it would produce unique, otherwise unobtainable intelligence that would save lives. It did not.

For five years, the Senate intelligence committee investigated the torture program by reviewing over six million pages of the CIA’s own records, including operational cables, reports, internal memos, emails, letters, briefing materials, intelligence products, classified testimony, summaries of more than 100 CIA inspector general interviews with CIA personnel, and other records. The investigation resulted in a 6,700-page oversight report, the longest in Senate history. It has become known as the Torture Report. In late December, 2014, the intelligence committee released a 525-page, redacted executive summary of the Torture Report. The rest remains classified.

Below are 15 facts about the CIA torture program, the intelligence committee’s investigation, and related developments since, including some eye-opening excerpts from the Torture Report’s executive summary.

Note: Mitchell and Jessen are referred to in the Torture Report by the pseudonyms SWIGERT and DUNBAR.