Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Congress inches toward 'truth commission' for torture probe

Democrats and Republicans are finding little common ground, leading some Senators to say an independent investigator is needed.

(Page 2 of 2)

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence recently launched a major probe of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. The panel plans months of review of unredacted papers, documents, cables, e-mails, and interviews.

Skip to next paragraph

"The work will be done fairly and professionally and in a strong bipartisan manner, and I want to stress that,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California, who chairs the panel.

She questioned the wisdom of sensational hearings before doing the hard work of thorough investigation. “To make this an explosive issue without carefully laying out all of the facts, conditions, cables, directives, and the whole situation, will be a big, big mistake,” she added.

Moreover, a partisan firefight about who knew what when could shift attention from a key debate: Does the government need secret detentions and harsh interrogation techniques to keep the nation safe?

Former FBI counterterrorist investigator Ali Soufan testified Wednesday that these methods are “slow, ineffective, unreliable, and harmful to the nation’s efforts to defeat Al Qaeda."

But Senator Graham wants to leave interrogators' options open. "Let's not unnecessarily impede the ability of this country to defend itself against an enemy who is, as I speak, thinking of plotting their way back into America."

“One of the reasons these techniques have survived for about 500 years is that apparently they work,” he said.

It’s a view that was disputed by several witnesses at Wednesday's hearing.

“The US government over the past seven years adopted an unprecedented program in American history of cruelly calculated, dehumanizing abuse and physical torment to extract information. This was a mistake, perhaps a disastrous one,” said Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, or 9/11 commission.

Soufan said that harsh techniques are slow. He cited examples detailed in the memos, such as preventing a detainee from sleeping for 180 hours or waterboarding detainee Khalid Shaikh Mohammed 183 times.

“It was a mistake to abandon a [traditional] approach that was working, and naively replace it with an untested method," such as waterboarding, he said. "It was one of the worse and most harmful decisions made in our efforts against al Qaeda."

At Wednesday's hearing, Senator Feinstein noted that witnesses such as Mr. Soufan will be asked to appear before her intelligence panel – but only “at the right time, when we have the facts."

Senate Judiciary chairman Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont renewed his calls for a nonpartisan commission to “get to all the truth of what happened.”