A powerful Senate panel released Tuesday a historic and long-awaited report concluding the Bush-era use of so-called "enhanced interrogation" practices were ineffective, providing one of the most searing indictments yet of the previous administration's counterterrorism policies.
Such harsh practices, implemented by the Central Intelligence Agency in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as the U.S. entered into two wars in the Middle East, did not provide unique or actionable information that could not have been obtained through other means, including intelligence that eventually led to the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound, the Senate Intelligence Committee's landmark investigation has found.
Moreover, the CIA systematically misled the White House, Congress and the public about the severity and importance of those interrogation methods for years, according to the report, while using techniques that were at times not directly approved by the Justice Department or central CIA leadership. The study, which examined more than 6 million internal CIA documents, also concluded that the agency's management of its rendition, detention and interrogation program, especially during 2002 and 2003, was fundamentally flawed.
In hundreds of partly redacted pages, the declassified executive summary of the panel's findings provide a sobering look back at the apparent futility of the George W. Bush administration's use of controversial interrogation techniques—including waterboarding, physical abuse, sexual intimidation, prolonged isolation and extreme sleep deprivation—during the war on terror, that human rights organizations, many legal scholars and President Obama have described as torture.
"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," said Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the panel who spearheaded the report, in a Tuesday statement. "Without this report," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor Tuesday morning, "the American people would not know what actually took place under the CIA's torture program."
The report itself, however, generally refrains from describing the techniques as "torture," and does not make a full determination assessing the legality of tactics used. Former President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, former CIA officials and several Republicans have defended the practices as justified and necessary, and have attempted to discredit the Senate investigation—which was authored by Democrats—as politically motivated and potentially dangerous. A response from Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee is also expected to be released today.
"Rather than another reason to refight old arguments," President Obama said in a statement after the report's release, "I hope that today's report can help us leave these techniques where they belong—in the past."
In recent weeks, members of the Obama administration, including Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as numerous GOP critics of the report, have also warned that the timing of the release could incite violence in foreign countries directed at U.S. facilities and personnel stationed abroad. The administration has put thousands of U.S. marines on high alert.
But the report's authors argue their investigation sheds light on a dark chapter of the nation's history and needs to made public to ensure such brutal interrogation practices are never again used.
Among its core findings, the investigation concludes that:
◆At least one detainee died at a detainment facility—referred to as "Cobalt" in the report—after a junior officer with no relevant experience was put in charge. In November 2002 the detainee was chained partially nude to a concrete floor and died from suspected hypothermia. The following year, CIA's inspector general acknowledged agency leaders had little awareness of the operations at Cobalt.
◆Of a known 119 detainees in CIA custody during the agency's rendition, detention and interrogation program, at least 26 were wrongfully held. In some cases those detainees remained in CIA custody for months after it was discovered the detainment was improper.
◆Use of waterboarding was physically harmful to detainees, and at times induced convulsions and vomiting. Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi Arabian currently held at Guantanamo Bay, became "completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open full mouth," during one session.
◆At least five detainees were subjected to "rectal feeding" without any documented medical need.
◆The CIA failed to review its previous use of coercive interrogation practices applied in earlier decades, nor did it consult other parts of the government that possess knowledge of interrogation best practices.
◆CIA personnel were not adequately trained or vetted.
◆The CIA outsourced nearly all aspects of its interrogation program to outside psychologists contracted to develop the list of techniques and, in some cases, applied them personally. In 2005, two unnamed contracted psychologists formed a company to expand their involvement. The CIA ultimately paid the company more than $80 million.
◆The Senate Intelligence Committee's full membership was not briefed on the techniques used until hours before the program was publicly disclosed by President Bush on Sept. 6, 2006.
The report's release is likely to reignite a national debate about the efficacy and moral and legal rightness of extreme interrogation practices on wartime detainees, as well as the culpability of senior intelligence officials who presided over the routine deployment of such brutal methods. It also marks the most vigorous exercise of Congressional oversight of the executive branch's intelligence-gathering activities since the formation of the special Church Committee in the 1970s.
The release additionally closes a winding and tumultuous political saga spanning more than a half-decade that at times cast doubt on whether the report would ever see the light of day. The Senate Intelligence Committee originally voted 14-1 to begin an investigation into the Bush administration's secret detention, rendition and interrogation practices in March of 2009. With Feinstein at the helm, the panel announced it expected the study to take "approximately one year to complete."
But the investigation's progress was soon derailed when, later that year, Republicans on the committee chose to cease their involvement, due to objections to a concurrent investigation carried out by the Justice Department.
Feinstein barrelled ahead with the review, eclipsing the projected deadline as CIA officials began covertly monitoring the Senate panel's investigation. CIA agents removed documents from the computers being used by Senate staffers for the investigation, prompting Feinstein to take to the Senate floor earlier this year to accuse the spy agency of possibly violating "the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance."
CIA Director John Brennan initially denied the hacking allegations, but months later recanted in July after an internal investigation found employees had "acted in a manner inconsistent with the common understanding" brokered between the CIA and its overseers. Brennan apologized to Feinstein and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the Intelligence panel's top Republican, for the actions of his officers.
Most recently, Feinstein and members of her committee had been locked in months of heated negotiations with the Obama administration over its heavy use of redactions in the report. Approximately 15 percent of the executive summary was blacked out originally, but negotiations brought that down to about 5 percent. Particularly contentious was the use of pseudonyms to describe CIA officials, certain black sites and partner countries, which the agency warned could potentially be cross-referenced by discerning readers to unearth certain identities.
President Obama issued an executive action to halt any use of "enhanced interrogation" practices when he was sworn into office in 2009.