“Torture is Not Just Something that Happens to Mel Gibson”: 4 Things You Need to Know about John Oliver’s Takedown of CIA Torture

June 16, 2015

JohnOliverCIATortureOn Sunday, John Oliver made me laugh about CIA torture—and want to do everything in my power to stop the U.S. from returning to it.

His show, Last Week Tonight, ran a pointed critique of the U.S. government’s torture program: not just that it happened and that it was horrific, but that too many people in the United States continue to believe that it was excusable or even justifiable.

As Oliver explains, six months ago the Senate released a summary of its report on the CIA torture program, know as the Senate Torture Report. It contains disturbing allegations of forced rectal feeding, sexual abuse and extensive use of waterboarding.

Here’s what you missed – and what more you need to know:

  1. “Just try not to think about THAT as you eat hummus.”

In the segment, Helen Mirren reads part of the Senate torture report detailing the forced rectal feeding and rectal hydration of Majid Khan, a man who is still at Guantanamo. “Majid Khan’s ‘lunch tray,’ consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts and raisins, was ‘pureed and rectally infused.”

So what happened after that?

According to the Senate report, Majid Khan subsequently “engaged in acts of self-harm that included attempting to cut his wrist on two occasions”; “an attempt to chew into his arm at the inner elbow”; “an attempt to cut a vein in the top of his foot”; and “an attempt to cut into his skin at the elbow joint using a filed toothbrush.”

And earlier this month, Reuters reported on Majid Khan’s newly declassified memories of his time in CIA custody, including that his tormenters poured ice water on his genitals and hung him from a wooden beam naked for three days. When they took him down, it was to submerge him, hooded and shackled, in an ice water bath. “I wished they had killed me,” he said.

Khan is not alone – at least four other men were subjected to forced rectal feeding and hydration. And the Torture Report details a wide array of torture methods that are as horrific: mock burials and putting men in coffin-shaped boxes; shackling men into standing sleep deprivation that could last for days, while they were naked except for diapers.

And still, many U.S. officials insist on calling this “enhanced interrogation” – they refuse to call it torture.

  1. “Many of those actually involved in the program, including former CIA director Porter Goss, have not read [the Senate torture report]. How have you not read it? You’re f*ing in it, 81 times.”

Porter Goss not only said he hadn’t read the report, he dismissed it as a “partisan political study.” After the report release, he and other former Bush administration officials went on the offensive: not only were they unapologetic, they practically celebrated their role in torture. “I’d do it again in a minute,” Dick Cheney said.

Here’s what’s even more shocking: The Justice Department, responsible for investigating misconduct by federal officials and enforcing anti-torture laws, apparently hasn’t read the full classified 6,700 version of the Senate report either. Where are its copies? In sealed envelopes and unread.

To date, no one has ever been charged for authorizing or committing torture in the CIA’s program. Take action here. By refusing to even read the report, let alone investigate the abuses it documents or examine its own conduct in letting all of this happen, the Justice Department is effectively handing those responsible for torture a “get out of jail free” card.

  1. “Even if torture did work – which it doesn’t – America should not be a country that tortures people.”

Oliver is right: the United States shouldn’t be a country that tortures. It has not only ratified treaties outlawing torture in all circumstances, it helped draft some of those treaties and supported their adoption by countries around the world.

The thing is, even U.S. officials who authorized torture know it’s contrary to the image the U.S. has long tried to project to the world.

“The United States is committed to the world-wide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example,” President George W. Bush said in 2003, even as he authorized torture and the holding of dozens of men in secret detention sites around the world.

“I call on all governments to join with the United States and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture and in undertaking to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment.”

If only.

4.  “Didn’t we pass a law banning all those enhanced interrogation techniques? Well, it turns out, no, we didn’t.”

 As Oliver points out, even though torture is banned under U.S. and international law, the next president could try to return to it. Oliver references President Obama’s 2009 executive order banning the use of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment under any circumstances, anywhere, by all government agencies.

This executive order could easily be revoked by a future administration. Indeed, according to Oliver, out of the declared candidates running for President in 2016, only 4 have vowed not to revoke the order.

Now, Senators McCain and Feinstein have introduced an amendment, up for vote this week, that would strengthen the ban on torture. It is an important step in ensuring that the U.S. does not return to torture in the name of national security.

This is a must-win vote to prevent a return to CIA torture.

Whether you laughed, smirked or were singularly outraged by John Oliver’s segment on CIA torture, you can join more than 40,000 others in taking action to ensure the U.S. doesn’t return to CIA torture. Take one minute to contact your senator with this simple message: No Torture in My Name.