Torture Report Author Says CIA Waterboarded More Detainees Than Claimed, 'Had No Idea' How Many Were Detained

In 2012, the U.S. Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence ratified its Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program, more often known as the "Senate Torture Report." More than 6,700 pages, the report remains classified, with only a 525-page summary released to the public. But according to the report's primary author, former Senate staffer Daniel Jones, not even 38,000 footnotes were enough to capture the full extent of the CIA's torture programs during the George W. Bush administration.

In an interview with Vice—timed to the November 15 release of The Report, a new movie dramatizing the Senate Torture Report's creation—Jones outlined how the worldwide torture program run by the CIA throughout the "war on terror" was even more vast than reported.

"The CIA maintains to this day that there are records of only three detainees being waterboarded, but there were clearly more than three people who were waterboarded," Jones told Vice, alluding to Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Mohammed al-Qahtani. Each was allegedly involved in planning the September 11 attacks, and they are the only three subjects the CIA has admitted to waterboarding.

Activists demonstrate waterboarding techniques used on Guantánamo Bay detainees at a 2008 protest in New York's Times Square. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

"We found a picture of a waterboard at a detention site where there were no records of any waterboarding taking place, but it had clearly been used. There were buckets around it, it was old and rusted. When we asked the agency about it, they simply said they could not explain the presence of the waterboard," Jones said. "It just tells you how little we know, even with 6.3 million pages of documents."

In total, the report documents the torture of 119 detainees, using techniques that included rectal feeding (resulting in symptoms commensurate with violent rape), sleep deprivation, stress positions, threatening to sexually assault a detainee's family members, and slapping and slamming detainees against a wall. Independent researchers have concluded at least 100 people were killed as a result of CIA torture and interrogation techniques. But the total number of detainees tortured at Guantánamo Bay and CIA black sites was never fully determined in the final report, in part because, according to Jones, the CIA wasn't certain itself.

"Oh, yes. Without a doubt," Jones said in response to a question about whether more than the reported 119 were tortured. "We made an early request that the CIA provide us with a list of all of their detainees, but the agency never could because they had no idea how many people they detained. One thing that haunts me is the stuff that didn't make it into the report—all kinds of allegations that we just couldn't corroborate."

The report ultimately concluded that not only was the CIA torture completely ineffective in acquiring intelligence; it was also "brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers." The report further detailed CIA efforts to cover up the extent and nature of the torture program, concluding that the agency "repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice," impeded congressional oversight and intentionally released inaccurate information to the press (most notoriously shaping a false narrative of torture's effectiveness that became the basis for the 2012 movie Zero Dark Thirty).

"If you protect the agency above all else—and that means not listening to the president, not listening to the director of the CIA, not listening to agency lawyers—it's OK if your intention was to protect the agency's reputation," Jones said, describing the mindset in the intelligence agency and the message sent by the 2018 confirmation of Gina Haspel as CIA director. She got the post despite her direct involvement in the torture program and her role in destroying evidence on 92 interrogation videotapes.

The New York Times has documented multiple inconsistencies in CIA Director Gina Haspel's answers during her 2018 confirmation hearing, regarding both the destruction of interrogation videotapes and her leadership of a secret CIA prison in Thailand. MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

While a 2009 executive order signed by President Barack Obama limited CIA interrogations to methods outlined in the Army Field Manuals (rescinding a Bush-era executive order that provided a torture-permitting "interpretation" of the Geneva Conventions), Jones worries that the lack of accountability in the report's wake could lead to future abuses by the CIA.

"I always thought people would be shocked on a bipartisan basis about the lies the CIA told the Department of Justice and two presidents from two different parties. In other words: Holy shit, what else are they lying about?" Jones told Vice. "The CIA essentially cannot submit to civilian oversight, because it treats civilian oversight with disdain."

Jones voiced optimism that the new movie (in which Adam Driver plays Jones) could help spread awareness of the report's horrific findings, since he estimates that only 10 people in the world likely read the report itself in full.

"It's maddening. Torture is like a plague that has always followed humanity...and yet it sticks with us, we can't dislodge it," Jones said. "Hopefully, the film will make the impact I thought the report was going to make."