The Senate Intelligence Committee's long-delayed report on "enhanced interrogation" was published today, after months of delays. The report's key findings were leaked months ago and discussed long before that: parts of the CIA's enhanced interrogation program, which involved techniques like waterboarding, stress positions, and sleep deprivation, qualified as torture; the CIA misrepresented the nature of its programs to the public; and the program failed to yield effective intelligence that would have justified its existence. A declassified 500-page executive summary of the 6,700-page report, whose development was led by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), is available on the Senate's site.
The report says that the CIA subjected 39 prisoners to "enhanced interrogation," but that officers regularly questioned whether it produced accurate information, while misrepresenting its results to the White House, Congress, and others. The Intelligence Committee looked into 20 of its supposed successes and "found them to be wrong in fundamental aspects" — some of the information was already known, some false, some had already been given by subjects under ordinary interrogation, and the plots that it supposedly stopped either weren't feasible in the first place or would likely never have been put into action. And despite a recommendation by the CIA inspector general, the agency "never conducted a credible, comprehensive analysis of the effectiveness of its enhanced interrogation techniques."
The interrogation methods, meanwhile, were brutal — the report includes graphic details of "near drownings," beatings, and week-long sleep deprivation sessions that sometimes continued after prisoners had begun to hallucinate. Confusion and poor record-keeping kept CIA oversight and leadership in the dark about the program's operations, and staff with "no relevant experience" were put in charge of sites. In 2002, a detainee died of suspected hypothermia while "partially nude and chained to a concrete floor;" later, CIA leaders admitted they had "little or no awareness of operations" at the site in question. The CIA downplayed the harshness of "enhanced interrogations" and dodged investigations by the White House and Congress, withholding information from top officials. According to one email, it did not initially brief then-Secretary of State Colin Powell on the program details, because the White House was concerned he would "blow his stack," and it refused to say where its detention facilities were located or where it was negotiating to build new ones, in two cases telling local officials not to talk to US ambassadors about the negotiations.
The CIA's success stories were 'wrong in fundamental aspects'
The Senate has been working on the report since 2009, initially planning to spend one year researching and compiling it. In the years since, it's been in a tug of war with the CIA, which Feinstein alleged had tried to block access to potentially damaging records and even hacked into the Intelligence Committee's computer network to see what it had found. This summer, CIA director John Brennan issued an apology for inappropriate behavior by CIA staff, saying he was looking into disciplinary action. Getting approval to declassify it has also been an arduous process. The Intelligence Committee voted to release a summary in April of 2014, but it then spent months fighting attempts to redact what Senator Feinstein called "key facts that support the report's findings and conclusions." Most recently, Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly asked to delay the report for fear it could spark violence overseas, though a State Department spokesperson later denied that he had done so. According to Feinstein, the final summary contains 93 percent of the information the Senate wanted to include, the remainder redacted to protect national security.
President Obama banned enhanced interrogation after taking office in 2009, but he was leery of prosecuting anyone involved in it during the Bush administration, saying that "we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards." Years earlier, a CIA officer had also decided to destroy interrogation tapes that allegedly showed waterboarding; in 2010, the Justice Department completed an investigation of that incident and decided not to file charges. The Senate's reporting, however, grew out of a 2007 probe on the tapes' destruction. In a statement today, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper defended the intelligence community but admitted mistakes:
The officers who participated in the program believed with certainty that they were engaged in a program devised by our government on behalf of the President that was necessary to protect the nation, that had appropriate legal authorization, and that was sanctioned by at least some in the Congress. But, as President Obama has made clear, some things were done that should not have been done — and which transgressed our values. We recognized this ten years ago and stopped the program as it was originally conducted; even more important, we have since enacted laws, implemented Presidential orders and established internal policies to ensure that such things never happen again.
Obama has continued to stand by the CIA, but he said in August that the US "crossed a line" by using interrogation techniques that "any fair-minded person would believe were torture." The White House released a statement today supporting the report, but presenting it as a way to close the books on an embarrassing episode in American history rather than evidence for a new debate. "Rather than another reason to refight old arguments, I hope that today's report can help us leave these techniques where they belong — in the past," it said.