Photo credit: Associated Press

Spencer Ackerman of The Guardian is reporting that, in the period following the September 11, 2001 attacks, agents for the Central Intelligence Agency systemically photographed suspects of terrorism after they had been stripped naked before rendering them to other countries to be tortured:

A former US official who had seen some of the photographs described them as “very gruesome”. The naked imagery of CIA captives raises new questions about the seeming willingness of the US to use what one medical and human rights expert called “sexual humiliation” in its post-9/11 captivity of terrorism suspects. Some human rights campaigners described the act of naked photography on unwilling detainees as a potential war crime.

The practice of photographing detainees naked was reportedly tied to the C.I.A.’s desire to document their physical condition in minute detail, in case questions of their treatment in U.S. custody later arose. However other terrorism suspects were frequently tortured by the U.S. while naked as well, under the apparent premise that the added “psychological discomfort” of nudity—the act of being physically degraded by one’s captors—would yield actionable intelligence to prevent further terrorist attacks.

In the same piece, well worth reading in full, Ackerman clarifies that these photos, copies of which remain in the C.I.A.’s possession, “are distinct from previously identified caches of torture photos from the U.S. military and the C.I.A. The renditions remain the most secret aspect of the CIA’s since-discontinued apparatus of detentions, prisoner transfers and abusive interrogations.”

Some of the “previously known caches of torture photos” to which Ackerman refers are the subject of a still-active 13-year-old lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Department of Defense in 2003. According to a government filing in federal court late last year, sitting Secretary of Defense Ash Carter intends to release 198 photos of detainees who were abused in U.S.-operated detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those photos belong to a much larger collection containing approximately 2,200 other visual records, the bulk of which the Defense Department has refused to release.