Senate report: Interrogation methods 'far worse' than CIA acknowledged

Lawmakers and the CIA are wrangling over releasing details of a Senate report on the “enhanced interrogation” techniques used on terrorist suspects. Leaked portions of the report say such techniques were “brutal and far worse” than the agency acknowledged.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. speaking on Capitol Hill in Washington. The committee’s vote to approve declassifying part of a secret report on Bush-era interrogations of terrorism suspects puts the onus on the CIA and a reluctant White House to speed the release of one of the most definitive accounts about the government’s actions after the 9/11 attacks.

“Enhanced interrogation” – the euphemism for the partial drowning known as water-boarding, sleep deprivation for days at a time, stress positions, and other harsh techniques that many people consider to be torture – undoubtedly will be a signature phrase in histories written about the US-led invasion of Iraq and the ten years of war and occupation that followed. As will “weapons of mass destruction,” “shock and awe,” and “improvised explosive devices” (IEDs).

The US Senate and the Central Intelligence Agency have been wrangling over a 6,300-page report on the CIA’s interrogation program put together by the Senate Intelligence Committee, specifically what can and should be made public.

“We believe that public release is the best way to ensure that this program of secret detention and coercive interrogation never happens again,” committee chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein and former chair Sen. Jay Rockefeller wrote in the Washington Post this week. “It will also serve to uphold America’s practice of admitting wrongdoing and learning from its mistakes.”

The committee recently voted 11-3 to declassify and release a 481-page executive summary of the report, plus its findings and conclusions. The Obama administration and the CIA are considering whether this is a good idea.

Meanwhile, the McClatchy news organization has obtained at least a portion of that still-classified document, including its 20 main conclusions.

“Taken together, they paint a picture of an intelligence agency that seemed intent on evading or misleading nearly all of its oversight mechanisms throughout the program, which was launched under the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and ran until 2006,” McClatchy reported this week. “The investigation determined that the program produced very little intelligence of value and that the CIA misled the Bush White House, the Congress and the public about the effectiveness of the interrogation techniques…”

A complete list of the committee’s findings is here. They include:

• The CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques did not effectively assist the agency in acquiring intelligence or in gaining cooperation from detainees.                       

• 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 inaccurately characterized the effectiveness of the enhanced interrogation techniques to justify their use.           

• The CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques was brutal and far worse than the agency communicated to policymakers. 

• The conditions of confinement for CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the agency communicated to policymakers.

• CIA personnel who were responsible for serious violations, inappropriate behavior, or management failures in the program’s operations were seldom reprimanded or held accountable by the agency.

• The CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program damaged the United States’ global reputation, and came with heavy costs, both monetary and nonmonetary.

According to the McClatchy article, the report also states that the CIA impeded oversight by the White House, Congress, and the CIA’s own inspector general.

As portions of the Senate report leak out, critics and opponents of the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation methods are finding new ammunition in their fight for accountability.

“The White House – and not the CIA – must oversee the declassification process, and eventually must disclose the entire report,” the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a statement. “The White House also must ensure that U.S. officials who authorized or carried out the acts of torture described in the report are prosecuted and held accountable for their crimes, and that the individuals who were subjected to these acts of brutality are provided redress. Transparency is not the same as justice.”

Faith groups in particular have been involved.

“As people of faith, the members of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture believe that torture is always wrong,” the Rev. Ron Steif, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “Admitting the truth about the United States’ past is the first step toward redemption.”

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