There has been a suggestion in recent days that now is not a good time to release a review prepared by the Senate Intelligence Committee of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. But is there ever a good time to admit our country tortured people?
In the wake of 9/11, we were desperate to bring those responsible for the brutal attacks to justice. But even that urgency did not justify torture. The United States must be held to a higher standard than our enemies, yet some of our actions did not clear that bar. It is time to publicly examine how that happened.
The administration has known for months that this document would become public and has been making every effort to safeguard U.S. personnel and interests abroad. But the bottom line is, torture occurred, and we must own up to our actions and move forward.
In the spring of 2009, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted 14-1 to begin a review of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. The goal was to learn exactly what happened to more than 100 individuals secretly detained overseas after 9/11.
More than five years later, our committee’s study is complete, and that is the report we released on Tuesday for public review.
Here, briefly, is what we found: After launching a program to detain and interrogate suspected terrorists using coercive techniques — tactics that at times amounted to torture — CIA personnel provided extensive inaccurate information about the program to the White House, the Justice Department, Congress and the American public.
Contrary to CIA claims at the time, these so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” did not produce intelligence that thwarted terrorist plots or resulted in the capture of terrorists. That intelligence was already available from other sources or from the detainees themselves before they were tortured. In fact, torture often led to false information.
The earliest case involving CIA interrogation after 9/11 was that of Abu Zubaydah, who ran terrorist training camps and was associated with some of Al Qaeda’s top leaders before he was captured in March 2002.
Instead of employing tried and true methods to interrogate him — such as using the military’s authority to hold and question terrorism suspects, partnering with allied governments or using the criminal justice system — the CIA improvised. It hurriedly arranged overseas black sites to detain individuals and attempt to collect intelligence from them.
During Abu Zubaydah’s first months of captivity, FBI and CIA interrogators were able to extract important information from him through traditional interrogation methods. But later, the CIA acted on the advice of unqualified contractors and began using coercive interrogation techniques in an effort to obtain information that Abu Zubaydah never had.
The CIA adopted these interrogation techniques without informing the congressional oversight committees or key members of the George W. Bush administration. There was essentially no oversight.
After more than two weeks of near-constant coercive interrogations, including painful stress positions and repeated waterboarding, Abu Zubaydah had provided none of the lifesaving information the CIA claimed he possessed.
The interrogations continued, even after on-site interrogators concluded that it was highly unlikely he knew such information.
Abu Zubaydah was just the first of many detainees. In total, at least 119 individuals were held overseas as part of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.
In the end, Intelligence Committee investigators examined more than 6 million pages of CIA records. The 500-page executive summary we released is based on our 6,700-page study, which includes 38,000 footnotes.
The study’s 20 findings and conclusions can be grouped into four key areas, each supported by extensive factual records.
First, the use of coercive interrogation techniques did not lead to intelligence that wasn’t available through traditional interrogation or that was necessary to stop terrorist attacks and capture terrorists — the arguments the CIA used to justify the use of the techniques.
Although the CIA repeatedly claimed that enhanced interrogations enabled it to capture terrorists and thwart terrorist plots, the study concludes that any counterterrorism successes were the result of traditional intelligence and law enforcement efforts, not the CIA torture program.
Second, CIA personnel routinely provided inaccurate information to the CIA inspector general, the White House, the Justice Department and Congress about the interrogation techniques being used and the results they were producing.
These inaccurate claims kept those responsible for evaluating and overseeing the program from doing so. Our system of checks and balances requires policymakers to have accurate information about government actions. Unfortunately, the CIA withheld crucial facts.
Third, despite the unprecedented authority the CIA was granted by the Bush administration to detain terrorist suspects, the agency failed to effectively manage and oversee its own program. This was especially true in the program’s early years, when more than half of all CIA detainees were taken into custody.
CIA headquarters failed to provide effective guidance or legal advice on who could be detained and how they had to be treated. Almost a quarter of detainees failed to meet the legal standard for detention provided by the Bush administration.
The manner in which coercive interrogation techniques were implemented often differed sharply from Justice Department guidelines, and in some cases other interrogation techniques were used without any approval at all. The study found that inexperienced personnel were allowed to play key roles at black sites, including some individuals with significant red flags in their backgrounds.
Contractors initially developed and operated the program and later ran almost all aspects of it.
And finally, the detention and interrogation of CIA detainees was far more brutal than has been previously described, not just to the public but to Congress, the White House and the Department of Justice.
Interrogation techniques were often used in combination and relentlessly, often for days at a time. One otherwise healthy detainee died in CIA custody, and at least one more came close.
Torture goes against the very soul of our country. We are a democracy, established on the rule of law.
We’re not perfect and there are some dark patches in our past, but what makes us special is that we recognize these evils, we come to grips with them and we fix them.
President Obama took important steps by prohibiting secret CIA detention and torture in his first days in office, and he has declassified important details about this program.
This report is the next step toward enacting major reforms to ensure something like this never happens again.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
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