The CIA misled Congress and White House officials about its interrogations of terror suspects and mismanaged a program that was far more brutal and less effective than publicly portrayed, according to a report by Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee.
The harsh interrogations weren’t effective and didn’t produce key information that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, contrary to claims by program supporters. Details of the program were kept hidden from policy makers, according to an executive summary of the 6,000-page report released today in Washington.
"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," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairman of the intelligence panel, said in a statement.
But the Republican leader of the Senate and the party's top member on the Senate Intelligence Committee insisted on Tuesday that CIA interrogation methods helped capture important terrorists and take down Osama bin Laden.
"Claims included in this report that assert the contrary are simply wrong," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the ranking member of the intelligence panel, said in a joint statement.
The two reiterated earlier statements opposing the study and said they believed it would present "serious consequences" for U.S. national security.
And the director of the CIA also insisted Tuesday that the techniques helped prevent attacks.
John Brennan admitted that mistakes had been made in the years following the 9/11 attacks on U.S. cities. But he said the CIA's own review found that harsh interrogations "did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives."
"As noted in CIA's response to the study, we acknowledge that the detention and interrogation program had shortcomings and that the agency made mistakes," Brennan said, in a statement.
"The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies required to carry out an unprecedented, worldwide program of detaining and interrogating suspected al-Qaida and affiliated terrorists.
"In carrying out that program, we did not always live up to the high standards that we set for ourselves and that the American people expect of us," he said.
"As an agency, we have learned from these mistakes, which is why my predecessors and I have implemented various remedial measures over the years to address institutional deficiencies."
Five hundred pages were released, representing the executive summary and conclusions of a still-classified 6,700-page full investigation.
President Barack Obama declared the past practices to be "contrary to our values" and pledged, "I will continue to use my authority as president to make sure we never resort to those methods again."
Feinstein branded the findings a stain on the nation's history.
"Under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured," she declared, commanding the Senate floor for an extended accounting of the harsh techniques identified in the report.
Tactics used 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.
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."
Many Republican leaders objected to the report's release and challenged its contention that harsh tactics didn't work. But GOP Sen. 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.
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.
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 maintain they gained vital intelligence that still guides counterterrorism efforts.
"The program led to the capture of al-Qaida 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 Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic 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."
After al-Qaida 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.
Redha al-Najar, a former bodyguard for bin Laden, was the first prisoner there. CIA interrogators found that after a month of sleep deprivation, he was a "broken man." But the treatment got worse, with officials decreasing 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.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 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 6 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 that 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
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