The CIA misled Congress and White House officials about its interrogations of terror suspects and mismanaged a program that was far more brutal and less effective than publicly portrayed, according to a report by Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee.
The harsh interrogations weren’t effective and didn’t produce key information that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, contrary to claims by program supporters. Details of the program were kept hidden from policy makers, according to an executive summary of the 6,000-page report released today in Washington.
“This document examines the CIA’s secret overseas detention of at least 119 individuals and the use of coercive interrogation techniques — in some cases amounting to torture,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairman of the intelligence panel, said in a statement.
At least 26 of the detainees didn’t meet the standards for being held, according to the report. In the fall of 2002, a detainee died of hypothermia while shackled to a concrete floor. Another detainee was held for 17 days in the dark without anybody knowing he was there.
The final report, which cost $40 million and took six years to complete, is the most comprehensive assessment of the Central Intelligence Agency’s so-called black site detention facilities and “enhanced interrogation techniques” on terrorism suspects following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
‘Amounting to Torture’
The report’s release has renewed debate about the CIA’s tactics and prompted warnings of possible reprisals against Americans or U.S. facilities abroad. President Barack Obama ordered a stop to the program when he took office in 2009 and supported the report’s release.
Contrary to claims by the agency, the brutal methods didn’t lead U.S. officials to the identity of bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, a finding that helped uncover the al-Qaeda leader’s location, according to the findings.
The interrogation of terrorism suspect Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded at least 83 times, was more brutal than previously known. At one point, he was put in a 1 1/2 meter box and was knocked unconscious during a waterboarding session during which water and bubbles poured from his mouth, according to the summary. Other detainees with broken legs and feet were inappropriately forced to sit in stress positions.
The committee reviewed 20 of the most frequent and prominent examples of interrogation cases that the CIA claimed produced valuable information. None of the cases showed that information was obtained that saved lives or that couldn’t have been gleaned from other means, according to the findings.
Instead, the panel found that the CIA used interrogation techniques that differed significantly from those authorized by the Department or Justice and described to U.S. policy makers and lawmakers, according to the summary.
President George W. Bush and the full Senate intelligence committee weren’t briefed on the techniques until 2006. Some members, including Feinstein and Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, raised objections. However, the CIA then turned around and informed the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel in a classified setting that no senators objected.
Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee released the findings over the objections of current and former U.S. officials including Bush.
The panel found no evidence that the CIA briefed Bush about the harsh interrogations prior to 2006, although it learned that former Vice President Dick Cheney was in meetings where the tactics were discussed.
Despite warnings from opponents of the report’s release, including some Republicans on the panel, that Americans would face retaliation overseas, Obama supported release of the report, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said yesterday.
“The president believes that, on principle, it’s important to release that report, so that people around the world and people here at home understand exactly what transpired,” he said. Earnest said the administration has taken steps to improve security at U.S. facilities around the world.
Releasing the findings will give terrorists fresh ammunition to escalate their violence and put the lives of additional U.S. officials and allies at risk, said Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House intelligence committee.
“All they’ve got to do is find something they think indicates something and they’ll use it for their propaganda machine,” Rogers said yesterday at a meeting of Bloomberg Government reporters and editors. “Why are we going to risk the lives of some diplomat, for what? We’re going to risk the lives of some intelligence official who had nothing to do with this, for what?”
The Obama administration and Senate Democrats are firing back against such warnings.
The eight Democratic members of the intelligence committee, as well as Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, an ex officio member as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to “memorialize” what they said is his support for releasing the report in a Dec. 6 phone call with them, according to a U.S. official who’s read the letter.
“As the government official making the formal decision to declassify, it is your assessment that the public interest in disclosure outweighs the potential damage to national security and that you believe that you share the responsibility for making the committee’s study publicly available,” their letter says, according to the U.S. official and two congressional staff members, all of whom requested anonymity to discuss the internal correspondence.
“There will never be an ‘elegant’ time to release this study, as it describes in stark detail the detention and interrogation actions of the CIA,” the letter continues, according to the U.S. official. “As such, you believe it is better to release the report now so that the intelligence community can begin to move past this chapter of its history.”
The nine Democrats said they disagree with the accuracy of some statements in a classified Nov. 25 intelligence community assessment of the potential consequences of releasing the report, according to the official.
Some Democrats and human-rights activists have hailed the report for finally exposing flaws and possible crimes in the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program, which largely operated from 2002 to 2005.
White House officials this morning were scheduled to brief former intelligence and counterterrorism officials who are prepared to defend the report’s release on television and elsewhere.
Secretary of State John Kerry also supports releasing the findings, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters yesterday. Kerry discussed the implications of the release in a phone call Feinstein and said it was up to her to decide when to do so, Psaki said.
Republicans and former Bush administration officials who ran the program condemned the report in advance as a biased attempt to rewrite history. They say the interrogations produced significant intelligence that helped capture terrorists and protect the country.
Republican Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Jim Risch of Idaho, both members of the committee, criticized the report yesterday as “one-sided” and faulted Democrats on the panel for releasing it.
“This report does not qualify as either serious or constructive,” Rubio and Risch said in a statement. “This was a partisan effort that divided members of the committee, and the committee against the people of the CIA.”
U.S. officials are bracing for international blowback that could fuel riots and retaliation in countries hostile to the U.S. The Defense Department warned U.S. commands overseas on Dec. 5 to take appropriate force protection measures in anticipation of the findings release, and the State Department and U.S. intelligence agencies have directed overseas posts and personnel to review and in some cases bolster their security.
The report appears to be “way off-base,” Bush said in an interview Dec. 7 on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“We’re fortunate to have men and women who work hard at the CIA serving on our behalf,” Bush said. “These are patriots. And whatever the report says, if it diminishes their contributions to our country, it is way off base.” Others who are part of the campaign include Bush’s former CIA directors George Tenet and Michael Hayden.