Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) (L) discusses a newly released Intelligence Committee report on the CIA's anti-terrorism tactics, in a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, in this still image taken from video, on Capitol Hill in Washington December 9, 2014. © 2014 Reuters

The recent release of documents related to the US Central Intelligence Agency’s detention and interrogation program provide excruciating new details about CIA torture, Human Rights Watch said today. On June 16, 2016, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to provide greater accountability for CIA abuses before the end of his term in office.

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“The newly released documents underscore the brutality and illegality of the CIA program,” said Laura Pitter, senior national security counsel at Human Rights Watch. “President Obama’s failure to take concrete action to address these crimes will leave a stain on his legacy, undermine respect for the rule of law, and weaken US effectiveness in advocating against torture globally.”

It was known that an Afghan detainee, Gul Rahman, died of hypothermia in his cell after the CIA tortured him, left him half naked on a concrete floor in freezing temperatures, and deprived him of food. But a newly released internal document about an investigation into Rahman’s death attempts to blame Rahman for what happened to him, underscoring the program’s depravity: “Rahman’s actions contributed to his own death. By throwing his own meal he was unable to provide his body with a source of fuel to keep him warm.”

Similarly, the CIA’s use of diapers in its program had been reported, but one new document unreservedly states that humiliating detainees was the “sole purpose” for their use. It goes on to state that: “When the prisoner soils a diaper, they are changed by the guards. Sometimes the guards run out of diapers and the prisoners are placed back in their cells in a handcrafted diaper secured by duct tape. If the guards don't have any available diapers, the prisoners are rendered to their cell nude.”

Some detainees were chained to two iron rings that came out of a wall, about one metre above the ground, in various different positions. One former detainee said he spent two weeks in Position 3, only being unchained for 30 minutes per day.

The new documents build on the Senate Intelligence Committee executive summary released in 2014 and other reporting. The best way to clarify the illegality of the CIA’s use of torture would be to restart criminal investigations, Human Rights Watch said.

While the reasons behind the closure of prior investigations remain unclear, Human Rights Watch’s December 2015 report, “No More Excuses: A Roadmap to Justice for CIA Torture,” provided extensive material and analysis challenging claims that it was not legally possible for the Justice Department to prosecute.

Even if the Justice Department will not open new investigations, it should at a minimum explain in detail why prior investigations were closed, and work with other executive departments to provide redress and rehabilitation to victims. The US should also go much further in releasing information about the program than it has to date.