Book Review: The Torture Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson & Ernie Colón (2017)

October 6th, 2017 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Important, though occasionally repetitive and hard to follow.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads. Trigger warning for violence, including torture.)

The Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program – otherwise known as “The Torture Report” – is the result of a three-and-a-half-year bipartisan Senate investigation into the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the CIA in the wake of 9/11. Weighing in at 6,000 pages, the entirety of the report has yet to be released; rather, in December 9, 2014, the SSCI released a 525-page version containing key findings and an executive summary of the full report.

Among the committee’s twenty key findings:

* The CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.

* The CIA’s justification for the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness.

* The interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others.

* The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice (DOJ), impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.

* The CIA has actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight of the program.

* The CIA’s operation and management of the program complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions of other Executive Branch agencies.

* The CIA coordinated the release of classified information to the media, including inaccurate information concerning the effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.

* CIA detainees were subjected to coercive interrogation techniques that had not been approved by the Department of Justice or had not been authorized by CIA Headquarters.

* The CIA did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained, and held individuals who did not meet the legal standard for detention. The CIA’s claims about the number of detainees held and subjected to its enhanced interrogation techniques were inaccurate.

* The CIA rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable for serious or significant violations, inappropriate activities, and systematic and individual management failures.

* The CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program was inherently unsustainable and had effectively ended by 2006 due to unauthorized press disclosures, reduced cooperation from other nations, and legal and oversight concerns.

* The CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program damaged the United States’ standing in the world, and resulted in other significant monetary and non-monetary costs.

I really love the idea of a graphic novel adaptation of The Torture Report; it has the potential to make a horrifying and complex topic more engaging and accessible, for readers both young and old. The “summary” version of the report is still pretty hefty, and I can’t see many casual readers setting aside the time to digest it all. Plus the visual element lends an extra emotional punch. Or that’s the hope, anyway.

While Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón give it their best, the result is disjointed and uneven. The pages are so heavy on text that this feels more like an illustrated book – a book that just so happens to have some pictures – than a graphic novel. The narrative flow isn’t always obvious, and on more than a few occasions I would up lost and confused. I found it best to ignore the illustrations until reaching the end of a page, since they often led me astray.


Additionally, the text becomes redundant about a third of the way through the book. I suspect that the same is also true of the report itself (take, for example, the twenty key points), but still. There’s also a fair amount of jumping back and forth in time and between (sub-)topics.

Finally, I found it rather odd that the authors took such great pains to avoid any glimpse of a penis; after all, one aspect of EITs was humiliation through forced nudity, and shading certain things out detracts from the shock readers might otherwise feel. That was my impression, anyway.

Bottom line: This is the sort of book I’d recommend more because of its subject matter and overall importance rather than its elegant execution.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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