WASHINGTON — The CIA’s claim that there was medical need to rectally feed detainees in the aftermath of 9/11 came under withering criticism Wednesday as “sexual assault masquerading as medical treatment.”
New York-based Physicians for Human Rights, taking aim at the evident complicity of health professionals in procedures inflicted upon at least five terror suspects in CIA custody, said the antiquated practice of rectal rehydration or feeding amounted to wilful torture.
“Contrary to the CIA’s assertions, there is no clinical indication to use rectal rehydration and feeding over oral or intravenous administration of fluids and nutrients,” said Dr. Vincent Iacopino, PHR’s senior medical adviser.
“This is a form of sexual assault masquerading as medical treatment. In the absence of medical necessity, it is clear that the only purpose behind this humiliating and invasive procedure is to inflict physical and mental pain.”
The accusation that CIA-contracted doctors provided cover for brutality came amid renewed demands for criminal consequences in the wake of Tuesday’s bombshell Senate torture report.
More than five years in the making, the heavily redacted, 525-page summary of the still-classified 6,200-page report into Bush-era enhanced interrogation techniques sparked a partisan frenzy in Washington, with Democrats and Republicans each laying claim to the mantle of patriot.
Sen. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican and former Navy Reserve intelligence officer, blasted Democratic staffers who researched the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report as “little zombies” who may ultimately cause deadly blowback against U.S. troops serving overseas because of “this incredible selfish act” of disclosure.
Global reaction to the report, however, has been critical but largely muted, with no indication that these hundreds of pages of granular text are likely to spark widespread anti-American protests overseas.
Condemnation came loudest from several governments that have faced harsh U.S. criticism over human-rights issues, including Afghanistan (“inhumane actions”), Iran (“U.S. is symbol of tyranny against humanity”) and China (“China consistently opposes torture. We believe that the U.S. side should reflect upon and rectify its relevant behavior, earnestly obey and implement the provisions of international conventions.”)
Former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski, in acknowledging Poland as the location of the CIA black site code-named Cobalt, said the U.S. report’s findings advance “the feeling that the U.S.A. is becoming weaker . . . I think that this report is something that the Kremlin will receive as an unexpected Christmas present.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in a statement marking the 20th anniversary of the Summit of the Americas, praised democratic courage, saying “we hold ourselves accountable to an ugly, horrible period and we should be proud of our ability to do that.
“One of America’s strengths is our democratic system’s ability to recognize and wrestle with our own history, acknowledge mistakes and correct course,” said Kerry.
Tellingly, the fury in Washington centred not on whether the CIA engaged in torture, but whether the agency’s aggression helped or harmed U.S. interests in the aftermath of Al Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Much attention, meanwhile, has fixated upon the report’s disclosures of rectal feeding and rehydration as an apparent technique to inflict humiliation and suffering. The CIA, in a June 2013 response to questions about the procedure, is described in the Senate report as defending the use of rectal rehydration as a “well acknowledged medical technique.”
But medical experts dismiss the CIA’s contention as an argument from a previous century. Rectal rehydration, also known as proctoclysis, fell out of favour decades ago with the onset of intravenous drips.
Among the torture report’s most disturbing passages are accounts of rectal feeding and rehydration being used as a “means of behaviour control.” One detainee, Majid Khan, was subjected over the course of a single day to rectal feeding that included two bottles of Ensure, and a “puréed” lunch tray “consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts and raisins.”
Khan later “engaged in acts of self-harm that included attempting to cut his wrist on two occasions, an attempt to chew into his arm at the inner elbow, an attempt to cut a vein in the top of his foot, and an attempt to cut into his skin at the elbow joint using a filed toothbrush,” the report says.
Another “high-value detainee,” Saudi national Mustafa al-Hawsawi, was alleged to have sustained “rectal exams conducted with excessive force” while in custody at detention site Cobalt in 2003, according to the report. Though CIA records do not indicate a resolution into the allegation, the report says al-Hawsawi “was later diagnosed with chronic hemorrhoids, an anal fissure and symptomatic rectal prolapse.”
Al-Hawsawi, now a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, is often observed sitting on a cushion by journalists who regularly cover the Guantanamo Military Commission proceedings.
On Wednesday, al-Hawsawi’s defence attorney, Walter Ruiz, issued a statement from Guantanamo calling the Senate report “the sanitized tip of a 6,000-page iceberg revealing acts of unspeakable horror, depravity, dishonesty and an overall shocking breach of our core values and beliefs.”
Though al-Hawsawi’s harsh treatment is mentioned multiple times in the Senate report, Ruiz noted the detainee himself “remains prohibited from relating any of the details of his torture because his thoughts and experiences have been deemed classified by the CIA.”