WASHINGTON - An exhaustive, five-year Senate investigation of the CIA's secret interrogations of terrorism suspects renders a strikingly bleak verdict of a program launched in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, describing levels of brutality, dishonesty, and seemingly arbitrary violence that at times brought even agency employees to moments of anguish.
The report by the Senate Intelligence Committee delivers new allegations of cruelty in a program whose severe tactics have been abundantly documented, revealing that agency medical personnel voiced alarm that waterboarding methods had deteriorated to "a series of near drownings" and that agency employees subjected detainees to "rectal rehydration" and other painful procedures that were never approved.
The 528-page document catalogs dozens of cases in which CIA officials allegedly deceived their superiors at the White House, members of Congress, and even sometimes their peers about how the interrogation program was being run and what it had achieved. In one case, an internal CIA memo relays instructions from the White House to keep the program secret from then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell out of concern that he would "blow his stack if he were to be briefed on what's been going on."
A declassified summary of the committee's work discloses for the first time a complete roster of all 119 prisoners held in CIA custody and indicates that at least 26 were held because of mistaken identities or bad intelligence. The publicly released summary is drawn from a longer, classified study that exceeds 6,000 pages.
The report's central conclusion is that harsh interrogation measures, deemed torture by program critics including President Obama, did not work. The panel deconstructs prominent claims about the value of the "enhanced" measures, including that they produced breakthrough intelligence in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and dismisses them all as exaggerated if not utterly false - assertions that the CIA and former officers involved in the program vehemently dispute.
In a statement from the White House, Obama said the Senate report "documents a troubling program" and "reinforces my long-held view that these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as [a] nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests." Obama praised the CIA's work to degrade al-Qaeda over the last 13 years but said the agency's interrogation program "did significant damage to America's standing in the world and made it harder to pursue our interests with allies and partners."
The CIA issued a 112-page response to the Senate report, acknowledging failings in the interrogation program but denying that it intentionally misled the public or policymakers about an effort that it maintains delivered critical intelligence.
"The intelligence gained from the program was critical to our understanding of al-Qaeda and continues to inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day," CIA Director John Brennan, who was a senior officer at the agency when it set up secret prisons for al-Qaeda suspects, said in a statement. The program "did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives," he said.
The release of the report comes at an unnerving time in the country's conflict with al-Qaeda and its offshoots. The Islamic State has beheaded three Americans in recent months and seized control of territory across Iraq and Syria. Fears that the report could ignite new overseas violence against American interests prompted Secretary of State John Kerry to appeal to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate committee, to consider a delay. The report has also been at the center of intense bureaucratic and political fights that erupted this year in accusations that the CIA surreptitiously monitored the computers used by committee aides involved in the investigation.
Many of the most haunting sections of the Senate document are passages taken from internal CIA memos and e-mails as agency employees described their visceral reactions to searing interrogation scenes. At one point in 2002, CIA employees at a secret site in Thailand broke down emotionally after witnessing the harrowing treatment of Abu Zubaida, a high-profile facilitator for al-Qaeda.
"Several on the team profoundly affected," one agency employee wrote at the time, " . . . some to the point of tears and choking up." The passage is contrasted with closed-door testimony from high-ranking CIA officials, including then-CIA Director Michael Hayden, who when asked by a senator in 2007 whether agency personnel had expressed reservations replied: "I'm not aware of any. These guys are more experienced. No."
The investigation was conducted exclusively by the Senate committee's Democratic staff. Its release Tuesday is certain to stir new debate over a program that has been a source of contention since the first details about the CIA's secret prison network began to surface publicly a decade ago. Even so, the report is unlikely to lead to new sanctions or structural change.
The document names only a handful of high-ranking CIA employees and does not call for any further investigation of those involved or offer formal recommendations. It steers clear of scrutinizing the involvement of the White House and Justice Department, which two years ago ruled out the possibility that CIA employees would face prosecution.
Instead, the Senate text is largely aimed at shaping how the interrogation program will be regarded by history. The inquiry was driven by Feinstein and her frequently stated determination to foreclose any prospect that the United States might contemplate such tactics again. Rather than argue their morality, Feinstein set out to prove that they did not work.
In her foreword to the report, Feinstein did not characterize the CIA's actions as torture but said the trauma of Sept. 11 led the agency to employ "brutal interrogation techniques in violation of U.S. law, treaty obligations, and our values." The report should serve as "a warning for the future," she said.
"We cannot again allow history to be forgotten and grievous past mistakes to be repeated," Feinstein said.
Ten Key Findings
WASHINGTON - Ten major findings from the newly released summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the CIA's detention and interrogation program:
Enhanced interrogation techniques used on terror detainees, including simulated drowning and sleep deprivation, were ineffective in gaining intelligence leads that led to important operations against terrorist groups or prevented attacks on the United States.
The prison conditions and harsh interrogations of detainees were more brutal than the CIA officials acknowledged to the American public and in contacts with Congress and the White House. The simulated drowning technique of waterboarding was "physically harmful," with effects that included vomiting and convulsions. At least one terror detainee died of exposure in an overseas prison.
The CIA's management of coercive interrogations and its system of "black site" prisons was "deeply flawed." Personnel were sometimes poorly trained, medical personnel assisted in harsh treatment, and record-keeping was mismanaged.
The agency's use of coercive interrogations was based on a program developed by two psychologists who had no experience in interrogations or counterterrorism. The CIA never conducted a comprehensive analysis of the program's effectiveness.
The CIA actively impeded or avoided congressional oversight. CIA senior officials repeatedly gave inaccurate information to congressional leaders and at one point under-counted the number of terror detainees who were subjected to harsh treatment under questioning.
CIA officials often gave inaccurate information about its interrogation program to Bush administration White House and legal officials, preventing a proper legal analysis of the prison operations. Bush legal officials relied on erroneous CIA data to codify the use of waterboarding and nine other enhanced interrogation techniques.
Interrogators sometimes used harsh tactics not condoned by CIA superiors or White House legal officials. But interrogators and prison officials who violated CIA policies were rarely disciplined or reprimanded.
Much of the information that the CIA provided to the media about its interrogation and detentions program was inaccurate, preventing clear scrutiny of detainees' treatment.
The CIA's reliance on harsh interrogations complicated the national security missions of other federal agencies. The FBI abandoned its traditional role in interrogations as the CIA began to rely on harsh methods. And the CIA often resisted efforts by the agency's inspector general to investigate the use of harsh interrogations and conditions in black sites.
The CIA's harsh interrogations and secret detentions in overseas prisons damaged the reputation of the U.S. around the world. - Associated Press