image via RT

The sexual violence of the CIA torture program

image via RT

This week’s Senate report reveals gruesome and grisly details about the way the CIA used torture after 9/11. While the revelations are sparking outrage and disgust, few people are making the important and disturbing point that the regimented, systemized, and dehumanizing abuse actually included sexual violence and rape.

While organizations like Human Rights Watch and Center for Constitutional Rights have been documenting and even filing suit against he abuses that occurred under CIA watch for over a decade, a Senate report released on Tuesday confirms that the CIA did indeed engage in torture — and lied about it.

The CIA doesn’t call this torture “torture,” opting instead for the euphemism of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” But it’s hard to call the following anything but torture: beating people; “walling” people (which is slamming them against a wall using an improvised “collar,” such as a rolled-up towel); binding them with tape; hanging them from their wrists for days; waterboarding them until they turn blue; making them stand on broken feet or limbs, dragging them naked down hallways; and punching and slapping them.

The CIA also used threats of sexual abuse and actual sexual abuse against detainees. Remember that the information released can’t possibly capture everything that happened, so this is just a partial picture. But here is what we do know happened: CIA officers  threatened to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee. The CIA used interrogators who “admitted to sexual assault.” The CIA practiced rectal feeding and rehydration on at least five detainees without “documented medical necessity.” In other words, these detainees, who were fed a puree of hummus, pasta with sauce, raisins and nuts were not at risk of dying from lack of nutrition. This isn’t to imply that force-feeding someone through the rectum would have been ok had they been on hunger strike. This is to say that they CIA can’t even pretend this was a medically necessary procedure.

And even if the force-feeding were justifiable, feeding through the rectum as opposed to through the nose isn’t. As attorney and Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf writes,

it is not even clear that it is legal to force-feed prisoners via a nasogastric tube. But at least there’s a plausible medical argument for using an IV and/or nasogastric tube if one has decided that forced feeding is appropriate. By contrast, there was no medical reason why the CIA chose rectal feeding and hydration for its prisoners. Instead, the Report concludes, the method was chosen as a means of exercising total control over prisoners.

The CIA used rectal feeding and rectal hydration–rather than some less instrusive method of forced feeding or no forced feeding at all–specifically for the purpose of inflicting pain and humiliation on the prisoners. Put more starkly, in addition to threatening to rape the mothers of some of its prisoners, the CIA used rectal feeding and rectal hydration to anally rape prisoners.

Dorf is not the only person who sees this “technique” as rape. Attorney Wells Dixon, who has represented detainee Majid Khan since 2006, has no doubt that the rectal rehydration his client underwent is “forcible rape. It’s aggravated sexual assault, there’s no question about it… To the extent that the government would say the CIA program operated in the context of an armed conflict, it’s a war crime. It’s a grave breach of the Geneva Convention.”

The torture report notes that the results of this procedure included “chronic hemorrhoids, an anal fissure and symptomatic rectal prolapse.” These are, incidentally, symptoms often associated with violent rape.


Born and raised on the mean streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, Katie Halper is a comic, writer, blogger, satirist and filmmaker based in New York. Katie graduated from The Dalton School (where she teaches history) and Wesleyan University (where she learned that labels are for jars.) A director of Living Liberally and co-founder/performer in Laughing Liberally, Katie has performed at Town Hall, Symphony Space, The Culture Project, D.C. Comedy Festival, all five Netroots Nations, and The Nation Magazine Cruise, where she made Howard Dean laugh! and has appeared with Lizz Winstead, Markos Moulitsas, The Yes Men, Cynthia Nixon and Jim Hightower. Her writing and videos have appeared in The New York Times, Comedy Central, The Nation Magazine, Gawker, Nerve, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Alternet and Katie has been featured in/on NY Magazine, LA Times, In These Times, Gawker,Jezebel, MSNBC, Air America, GritTV, the Alan Colmes Show, Sirius radio (which hung up on her once) and the National Review, which called Katie “cute and some what brainy.” Katie co-produced Tim Robbins’s film Embedded, (Venice Film Festival, Sundance Channel); Estela Bravo’s Free to Fly (Havana Film Festival, LA Latino Film Festival); was outreach director for The Take, Naomi Klein/Avi Lewis documentary about Argentine workers (Toronto & Venice Film Festivals, Film Forum); co-directed New Yorkers Remember the Spanish Civil War, a video for Museum of the City of NY exhibit, and wrote/directed viral satiric videos including Jews/ Women/ Gays for McCain.

Katie is a writer, comedian, filmmaker, and New Yorker.

Read more about Katie

Join the Conversation