WASHINGTON — A secret Senate report on the CIA's treatment of Al Qaeda detainees from 2001 to 2006 concludes that the spy agency used brutal, unauthorized interrogation techniques, misrepresented key elements of the program to policymakers and the public, and actively sought to undermine congressional oversight, officials who have read the report say.
Contrary to previous assertions by President George W. Bush and CIA leaders, the use of harsh interrogation techniques — which many consider to be torture — did not produce game-changing intelligence that stopped terrorist attacks, the report concludes. Though detainees supplied useful intelligence after such treatment was applied, the report argues that the information could have been elicited through noncoercive methods.
The 6,200-page report was produced by Democratic staffers on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which earlier this month voted 11 to 3 to seek declassification of a 480-page executive summary and a list of findings. The White House and the CIA will now decide what, if anything, must be censored for national security before the summary is released to the public.
The report's top-line conclusions amount to a scathing indictment of the CIA. Current and former agency officials and many Senate Republicans say they take issue with some of the findings, although not all the specific points of dispute are clear.
"Given that the report remains classified, we are unable to comment," CIA spokesman Dean Boyd wrote in an email. "Our response to the 2012 version of the report found several areas in which CIA and [the committee] agreed, and several other areas in which we disagreed."
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the CIA held Al Qaeda operatives in secret prisons in Europe and Asia and received permission to use sleep deprivation, stress positions, slapping, humiliation and other techniques to break down detainees viewed as uncooperative. Among the most controversial techniques was waterboarding, which creates a sensation of drowning.
The Justice Department had authorized the CIA to use the techniques in a series of secret legal opinions that have since been rescinded.
Bush and CIA officials involved in the program say it produced crucial, lifesaving intelligence. Critics say some of the techniques amounted to torture that was both immoral and ineffective.
Those who have seen the report, who did not want to be identified discussing a classified document, say it concludes that the CIA misled the Justice Department, the White House and congressional leaders about key elements of the program and exaggerated the intelligence gained from using the harsh techniques. In many cases, the report says, the best intelligence a detainee provided was obtained before the techniques were used.
Officials say the report also found that the CIA used techniques that hadn't been approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters, and that even the approved techniques were far more brutal and harmful to detainees than the CIA communicated to senior policymakers and members of Congress who were briefed on the program.
The program was so badly mismanaged that the CIA did not always have an accurate accounting of how many detainees it held, the report is said to conclude. Sources said the report found that much of the program was outsourced to contractors, including two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who were the architects of the program and personally conducted some of the waterboarding sessions.
CIA employees who raised questions internally about the use of the coercive techniques were ignored, the report concludes, and CIA interrogators who committed misconduct were not held accountable. A Justice Department criminal investigation looking at whether CIA officers could be prosecuted in connection with the harsh interrogations ended in 2011 with no charges filed.
Senate staffers spent years poring over millions of pages of CIA documents to complete the report. They were prevented from interviewing participants because a criminal investigation was ongoing, so they relied on interviews conducted by the CIA's inspector general. The inspector issued a report in 2004 that criticized how some of the techniques were used, but also concluded the interrogation program as a whole produced useful intelligence.