Content Warning: This article contains some graphic descriptions of enhanced interrogation techniques.
As the new Amazon movie The Report follows Daniel J. Jones (played by Adam Driver) on his path to uncover the truth about torture in the CIA, viewers will be confronted with several horrifying moments. Based on a Senate committee’s report on the CIA’s interrogation and detention program, The Report reveals, in detail, some of the brutal practices the intelligence agency used after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Though the film ends with the senator who ordered the report, Dianne Feinstein (played by Annette Bening), looking quite triumphant, you may find yourself wondering if the CIA still uses these interrogation techniques as you follow the journey of Jones. But as the movie shows, the agency, often by necessity, isn’t always upfront about what it does.
Some of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that the CIA used in secret detention facilities, also known as “black sites,” included:
Waterboarding: A detainee would be strapped down to a board with a cloth placed over their mouth, and water is poured over their face to induce a feeling of drowning.
Walling: This involved interrogators slamming detainees against a wall.
Sleep deprivation: Detainees would be forced to stay awake for extended periods of time, up to 180 hours.
Stress positions and forced standing: Stress positions create physical discomfort by forcing a person to stay in a position that puts stress on a few muscles for a long period of time. Forced standing went on for hours at a time, and was often used alongside with sleep deprivation.
Cramped confinement: A detainee would be put into a small space in which he could only sit, or a larger space in which he could only stand.
Nudity: Sometimes used in conjunction with all of the techniques above, interrogators would use nudity as a humiliation tactic, as well as a physical tactic in cold conditions.
In an April 2009 memo, after the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted to open an investigation into the interrogation practices, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta noted that those techniques had been authorized by the Department of Justice and that “the CIA does not employ any of the enhanced interrogation techniques” and “no longer operates detention facilities or black sites.”
The Senate committee’s investigation culminated in the report on which the film is based. But despite the revelations of the report and assurances that the CIA no longer uses these methods — and despite the fact that former President Barack Obama banned enhanced interrogation techniques through an executive order in 2009 — President Donald Trump promised during a 2016 Republican primary debate that he “would bring back waterboarding, and I'd bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
In March 2018, Trump nominated Gina Haspel as his new CIA director, after firing Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and replacing him with Mike Pompeo. Haspel, who served in the CIA for more than three decades, quickly came under fire for her role in the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program; she ran a detention facility where suspected terrorists were subjected to practices like waterboarding, cramped confinement, and sleep deprivation, and reportedly played a role in destroying videotape evidence of the interrogations. During her confirmation hearing for the position, Haspel refused to condemn the techniques, but promised not to revive a program that centered around them.
“Having served in that tumultuous time, I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership, CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation program,” Haspel said.