The Strategic Costs of Torture

How “Enhanced Interrogation” Hurt America

The human toll: at Guantánamo Bay, January 2002. REUTERS / STRINGER

It has been more than seven years since U.S. President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13491, banning the U.S. government’s use of torture. Obama’s directive was a powerful rebuke to the Bush administration, which had, in the years after the 9/11 attacks, authorized the CIA and the U.S. military to use “enhanced interrogation tech­niques” in questioning suspected terrorists. Some detainees were shackled in painful positions, locked in boxes the size of coffins, kept awake for over 100 hours at a time, and forced to inhale water in a process known as water­boarding. Interrogators sometimes went far beyond what Washington had authorized, sodomizing detainees with blunt objects, threatening to sexually abuse their family members, and, on at least one occasion, freezing a suspect to death by chaining him to an ice-cold floor overnight.

By the time Obama came to office, the CIA had apparently abandoned the most

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