The Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report isn’t exactly pleasure reading. It outlines how the CIA developed and deployed a system of black sites around the world to torture people implicated in terrorism during the George W. Bush administration. Now Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón have adapted the report into a haunting graphic novel.
The SIC pored over some six million documents – cables, emails, memos, and other paperwork – to develop its original report. The final product was over 6,000 pages long and will remain classified for at least 12 more years. But in December 2014, an unclassified 525-page version of the report was released publicly.
The Torture Report: A Graphic Adaptation, published by Nation Books last month, reproduces the horrific scenes and techniques described in this declassified SIC report, from waterboarding to mock executions and sleep deprivation. Colón’s harsh black-and-white art reminds readers of the book’s documentary origins, and vividly depicts the violence and misery visited on those unlucky enough to have found themselves in CIA custody.
The torture program began shortly after 9/11 when a team of lawyers from the Department of Justice, the White House, and the Department of Defense redefined America’s wartime activity using two slippery linguistic tricks.
The lawyers maintained that the CIA could not torture, but it could legally use “enhanced interrogation.” It was a distinction without a difference, and allowed President Bush to claim infamously that America “does not torture.”
Furthermore, the lawyers charged, captured terrorists (or suspected terrorists) were not soldiers, but “enemy combatants.” This meant that they were not protected by the Geneva Conventions or entitled to the rights traditionally afforded prisoners of war.
Thereafter, the CIA’s torture program ballooned quickly. Over the next three years, more than 100 people were abducted and whisked off to so-called “black sites” – secret prisons in Syria, Egypt, and other countries outside the U.S. – where they were systematically interrogated and tortured, often for years. Even worse, many of the individuals the CIA took were not terrorists at all and never had charges brought against them.
The book also emphasizes one of the report’s key findings: torture doesn’t produce actionable intelligence. The big successes in the war on terror – the killing of Osama bin Laden, for instance – came from traditional interrogation techniques, not torture.
Jacobson and Colón previously collaborated on adapting another historic government report – the 9/11 Commission Report – into a graphic novel. The book went on to become a New York Times bestseller. They’ve also worked together on graphic novels about Che Guevara and Anne Frank.
The Torture Report couldn’t be more timely. President Donald Trump has touted torture as a legitimate policy option in prosecuting the war on terror. And while – shamefully – no Bush administration officials were ever charged with criminal wrongdoing, a lawsuit against the developers of the CIA’s interrogation techniques is set for June.
Jacobson and Colón’s book is a stark reminder of why we as a nation must never again condone torture.
Featured image via YouTube video.