Officials at the CIA deceived the public, the White House and Congress while brutally interrogating prisoners in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Senate Democrats asserted Tuesday in a sprawling report that was seven years in the making.
The 500-page executive summary of the investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee delivers a harsh indictment of the “enhanced interrogation” program under former President George W. Bush, with Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinJustice requires higher standard than Sessions Senate to vote Friday on Trump's defense picks Senate seeks deal on Trump nominees MORE (D-Calif.) arguing it proves beyond a doubt that the United States engaged in torture.
“It is my personal conclusion that, under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured. … I believe the evidence of this is overwhelming and incontrovertible,” Feinstein said.
The summary contains new details about the treatment of detainees at secret prisons, asserting the interrogations “were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others.”
The report condemns the use of techniques such as waterboarding, concluding that they were “not an effective means of acquiring intelligence” and repeatedly caused detainees to give false information.Perhaps most controversially, it says the information obtained by the program did not contribute to the successful mission to kill Osama bin Laden.
While some detainees provided information about the courier who ultimately led officials to bin Laden in Pakistan, “the vast majority of the accurate intelligence” on him “was collected outside of the CIA’s” program, the report says.
The release of the summary reignited the bitter debate over the policies of the Bush administration, with current and former officials roundly denouncing the Democrats’ conclusions and warning that national security had been put at risk.
George Tenet, who was CIA director through much of the Bush administration, called the report “biased, inaccurate, and destructive” and said it “does damage to U.S. national security, to the men and women of the Central Intelligence Agency, and most of all to the truth.”
“It is indeed a dark day for congressional oversight,” Tenet said.
CIA Director John Brennan also pushed back.
“While we made mistakes, the record does not support the study’s inference that the agency systematically and intentionally misled each of these audiences on the effectiveness of the program,” Brennan said.
The investigation by the Senate committee, which cost $40 million to complete, was released after months of closed-door negotiations between Democrats and CIA officials over what information should be withheld from the public.
Staffers for the committee reviewed more than 6.3 million documents for the report, starting with a probe under Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) over whether the CIA illegally destroyed video recordings of interrogations.
In the end, the full, 6,300-page report remains classified, with the summary carefully censored to redact the names of CIA officials and the countries that housed the secret “black sites” where prisoners were taken.
President Obama, who outlawed many of the interrogation techniques via executive order in 2009, said the report “reinforces” his view that the methods “were not only inconsistent with our values as [a] nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests.”
“No nation is perfect,” he said. “But one of the strengths that makes America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes and do better.”
The report examines the early origins of the “enhanced interrogation” program in 2002, when Abu Zubaydah, an al Qaeda mediator who was captured in Pakistan, became the first detainee subjected to the techniques.
Zubaydah at one point was kept in a coffin-sized box for more than 11 days, the report said, and was waterboarded dozens of times, in one case until he “became completely unresponsive,” with bubbles coming out of his mouth.
In all, 119 suspects were swept up in the detention program, with 39 of them — including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — subjected to the harshest treatments.
In addition to waterboarding, the report says, detainees were sometimes forced to stand for days without sleep; provided food through their rectums; slapped and beaten; kept naked; forced to defecate in buckets; repeatedly thrown against walls; and forced to stand on broken legs or feet.
Multiple detainees subjected to the techniques and extended isolation exhibited psychological and behavioral issues, including hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation. Seven of the prisoners interrogated were eventually found to have no intelligence value.
One of the detainees, Gul Rahman, died of hypothermia in November 2002 while chained to a wall and nude from the waist down.
While the program was in effect, intelligence officials provided information about the successes of the interrogations to the White House, Justice Department, Congress and the public that, in some cases, had “no relationship” to what was being learned from detainees, the report says.
In some cases, the CIA selectively leaked false information to reporters in order to “counter public criticism, shape public opinion, and avoid potential congressional action” that could restrict its powers or budget.
Additionally, the report says the agency “actively avoided or impeded” investigations in Congress, stonewalling requests for information even from high-ranking government officials.
The Democratic report casts doubt on the legal justification crafted for the programs from Bush’s Justice Department, arguing the information provided to the CIA for those opinions was “inaccurate in material respects.”
It also claims that Bush was kept in the dark until April 2006 about the tactics being used.
When Bush was briefed on the interrogation techniques, he “expressed discomfort” with the image of a chained detainee having to wear a diaper, according to the report.
Before that, the National Security Council — initially headed by Condoleezza Rice — seemed to consider the matter part of the CIA’s “day to day operations” that did not warrant the president’s attention.
Senate Republicans, who boycotted the investigation, compiled a dissenting report that was also released to the public Tuesday.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), the top Republican on the Intelligence panel, accused Democrats of coming to “erroneous and inflammatory conclusions” and warned that it could incite violence around the globe.
The report “will only inflame our enemies, risk the lives of those who continue to sacrifice on our behalf, and undermine the very organization we continuously ask to do the hardest jobs in the toughest places,” retiring House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) echoed.
The White House acknowledged the security risks from releasing the report and said it had engaged in a full-court press to protect American personnel abroad.
Officials double-checked security “in every single post around the world,” a senior administration official said, out of concern that the report could incite violence.
Defenders of the agencies, including many Republicans, have used the possibility of violence to argue that the Senate panel should have left the report in the vaults.
Feinstein rejected those arguments, saying there might never have been a right time to revisit what she called “a stain” on the nation’s history.
“There have been beheadings, there have been attacks without this report coming out.” she said on CNN. “This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t clean our house.”
— This story was last updated at 8:41 p.m.