Two of the most brutal CIA interrogation tactics revealed in the Senate’s report on torture are little-known techniques called “rectal feeding” and “rectal hydration.” The backlash to the exposure of the techniques was swift, but former CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden defended them Thursday as “medical procedures” necessary to get fluids into dehydrated detainees and were not used as “a method of interrogation.”
Doctors and psychiatrists, however, said they have zero medical application and are nothing more than full-bore torture methods that no medical professional should ever be a party to. More than that, they are well-documented forms of painful, humiliating torture that have been used since the Middle Ages and the Inquisition, doctors said.
“This is a variation on a medieval form of torture in which the intestines were swollen up with fluid in order to cause pain," said Dr. Steven Miles, a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School and board member of the Center for Victims of Torture, both of which are in Minneapolis. "You can’t feed somebody this way. And so, for the U.S. government to claim that this is some sort of feeding technique, that’s just totally bizarre,” he said. “Because there is no physiological way for any nutrients to be absorbed in the colon, any medical participation in this rectal feeding procedure is medical participation in torture.”
The Senate report on torture and brutal interrogation tactics employed by the CIA in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks shocked the world upon its release Tuesday. The report details systematic torture and harsh interrogation methods at CIA “black site” detention facilities across the globe, including sleep deprivation, beatings, stress positions, waterboarding and more. It is the most detailed account of America’s role in torturing terror suspects to date.
The Senate Intelligence Committee determined that rectal feeding, rectal hydration and other extreme techniques were not only unjustified, but ineffective in attaining actionable intelligence.
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During their interrogation, at least five detainees, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah, were subjected to forced feeding and hydrating through a tube or enema inserted into their rectums, the report revealed. One prisoner was even force-fed a pureed mix of hummus, nuts and pasta through his rectum, according to the report.
Hayden defended the tactics during a Thursday interview on the CNN program “The Lead With Jake Tapper.” “That was a medical procedure. That was done because of detainee health, that the people responsible there for the health of these detainees saw that they were becoming dehydrated. They had limited options in which to go do this,” Hayden said in the interview. “Jake, I’m not a doctor and neither are you, but what I am told is this is one of the ways that the body is rehydrated. These were medical procedures.”
Doctors and psychiatrists say Hayden is incorrect in the assertion that there is any medical application for rectal hydration or rectal feeding.
“He may have been told that by one of his underlings or something, but that’s totally false,” said Dr. J. Wesley Boyd, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and faculty member at the school’s Center for Bioethics. “We hydrate people normally by handing them water, handing them a glass or bottle of water and you drink it. If you’re unconscious and unable to drink fluid, in those instances we would place an IV in your arm and run fluids into you that way. That is a legitimate medical procedure. ... Rectal feeding is full-on 100 percent torture, period. It’s about humiliation, it’s about degradation and exerting control and obviously about inflicting pain.”
Beyond that, the procedures -- variations of which Miles says have been employed in modern times by interrogators and torturers from Palestinian territories to Algiers -- are unethical for any medical professional to take part in, both Miles and Boyd said. They added that any doctor who participated in their application should not be allowed to practice medicine.
“Doctors have no place in severe interrogation or torture scenarios at all, even if their purported purpose is to tell interrogators that you need to stop beating the person or they’re going to die. I don’t even buy that," Boyd said. "Medical personnel should only work toward the health and betterment of people.” He added later, “Whatever state boards of medicine these physicians are licensed through, they should certainly take action against them.”