U.S. Senate investigators delivered a damning indictment of CIA practices Tuesday, accusing the spy agency of inflicting pain and suffering on prisoners beyond its legal limits and deceiving the nation with narratives of life-saving interrogations unsubstantiated by its own records.
Treatment in secret prisons a decade ago was worse than the government told Congress or the public, the Senate Intelligence Committee's torture report found. Five hundred pages were released, representing the executive summary and conclusions of a still-classified 6,700-page full investigation that lasted five years and cost $40 million.
"Under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured," Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat and the committee chairman, declared.
Speaking in the Senate, Feinstein called the detention and interrogation program "a stain on our values and on our history." She said the tactics were "far more brutal than people were led to believe."
President Barack Obama said the interrogation techniques "were not only inconsistent with our values as nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests."
"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," Obama said in a written statement.
Tactics included weeks of sleep deprivation, slapping and slamming of detainees against walls, confining them to small boxes, keeping them isolated for prolonged periods and threatening them with death. Three detainees faced the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding. Many developed psychological problems.
But the "enhanced interrogation techniques" didn't produce the results that really mattered, the report asserts in its most controversial conclusion. It cites CIA cables, emails and interview transcripts to rebut the central justification for torture — that it thwarted terror plots and saved American lives.
The report provides a catalog of what it deems misstatements by senior CIA officials to the president, the Justice Department, Congress and the American public. It describes mismanagement so deficient that the agency lost track of how many detainees it held. Senate investigators documented 119 — a higher figure than the 98 described in memos made public in 2009. At least 39 faced harsh interrogations, the report said. The CIA has cited the number 30.
In a statement, the CIA said the report "tells part of the story" but "there are too many flaws for it to stand as the official record of the program."
Some Republican leaders objected to the report's release and challenged its contention that harsh tactics didn't work. But Republican Senator John McCain, tortured in Vietnam as a prisoner of war, welcomed the report and endorsed its findings in the main.
"We gave up much in the expectation that torture would make us safer," he said in a Senate speech. "Too much."
The report, released after months of negotiations with the administration about what should be censored, was issued amid concerns of an anti-American backlash overseas. American embassies and military sites worldwide were taking extra precautions.
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"There may never be the right time to release this report," Feinstein said, then quickly added: "This report is too important to shelve indefinitely."
Earlier this year, Feinstein accused the CIA of infiltrating Senate computer systems in a dispute over documents as relations between the investigators and the spy agency deteriorated, the issue still sensitive years after Obama halted the interrogation practices upon taking office.
Senate intelligence committee report on CIA's detention and interrogation program
- The more than 500 pages that were released are a redacted portion of a classified 6,700-page report.
- The report was prepared by the Senate intelligence committee under Democratic leadership. Committee Republicans blasted findings in a separate minority report.
- Compiling the report took more than five years and involved the review of more than six million documents
- The CIA director took issue with the report, saying its own review showed that interrogations involving ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ produced information that “helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives.”
Former CIA officials disputed the report's findings. So did Senate Republicans, whose written dissent accuses Democrats of inaccuracies, sloppy analysis and cherry-picking evidence to reach a predetermined conclusion. CIA officials prepared their own response acknowledging serious mistakes, but saying they gained vital intelligence that still guides counterterrorism efforts.
"The program led to the capture of al-Qaeda leaders and took them off the battlefield," said George Tenet, CIA director when the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks occurred. He said it saved "thousands of American lives."
Not so, said Democratic Senator Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader. "Not only is torture wrong, but it doesn't work," he said. "It got us nothing except a bad name."
President George W. Bush approved the program through a covert finding in 2002, but he wasn't briefed by the CIA about the details until 2006. At that time Bush expressed discomfort with the "image of a detainee, chained to the ceiling, clothed in a diaper and forced to go to the bathroom on himself." Bush said in his 2010 memoirs that he discussed the program with CIA Director George Tenet, but Tenet told the CIA inspector general that never happened.
After al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah was arrested in Pakistan, the CIA received permission to use waterboarding, sleep deprivation, close confinement and other techniques. Agency officials added unauthorized methods into the mix, the report says.
At least five men in CIA detention received "rectal rehydration," a form of feeding through the rectum. The report found no medical necessity for the treatment.
Others received "ice baths" and death threats. At least three in captivity were told their families would suffer, with CIA officers threatening to harm their children, sexually abuse the mother of one man, and cut the throat of another man's mother.
Zubaydah was held in a secret facility in Thailand, called "detention Site Green" in the report. Early on, with CIA officials believing he had information on an imminent plot, Zubaydah was left isolated for 47 days without questioning, the report says. Later, he was subjected to the panoply of techniques. He later suffered mental problems.
He wasn't alone. In September 2002, at a facility referred to as COBALT— understood as the CIA's "Salt Pit" in Afghanistan — detainees were kept isolated and in darkness. Their cells had only a bucket for human waste.
Death from hypothermia
Redha al-Najar, a former Osama bin Laden bodyguard, was the first prisoner there. After a month of sleep deprivation, CIA interrogators found him a "broken man." But the treatment got worse, with officials lowering food rations, shackling him in the cold and giving him a diaper instead of toilet access.
Gul Rahman, a suspected extremist, received enhanced interrogation there in late 2002, shackled to a wall in his cell and forced to rest on a bare concrete floor in only a sweatshirt. The next day he was dead. A CIA review and autopsy found he died of hypothermia.
Justice Department investigations into that and another death of a CIA detainee resulted in no charges.
During a waterboarding session, Zubaydah became "completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open full mouth," according to internal CIA records.
Waterboarded 183 times
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Sept. 11 mastermind, received the waterboarding treatment 183 times. Though officers noted he wasn't becoming more compliant, they waterboarded him for 10 more days. He was waterboarded for not confirming a "nuclear suitcase" plot the CIA later deemed a scam. Another time, his waterboarding produced a fabricated confession about recruiting black Muslims in Montana.
After reviewing six million agency documents, investigators said they could find no example of unique, life-saving intelligence gleaned from coercive techniques — another sweeping conclusion the CIA and Republicans contest.
The report claims to debunk the CIA's assertion its practices led to bin Laden's killing. The agency says its interrogation of detainee Ammar al-Baluchi revealed a known courier was taking messages to and from bin Laden.