Plan to release report on CIA interrogation tactics prompts warnings

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, plans to discuss Tuesday the panel's findings in a years-long investigation of the CIA's intelligence-gathering techniques.
(Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

The most extensive review of U.S. intelligence-gathering tactics in generations is set to be made public Tuesday and is expected to reignite a post-Sept. 11 public debate over the use of torture to combat terrorism.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s much-anticipated report comes after a years-long review of CIA practices and subsequent wrangling with the spy agency and the White House over whether its contents should be made public and, if so, which parts should be redacted.

In one of her final acts after six years as chairwoman of the committee that oversaw the review, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) plans to discuss the findings in a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday morning as the report’s 480-page executive summary is released online. A response by Republican members of the committee will be released almost simultaneously, as will one by the CIA. The full 6,300-page report on Rendition, Detention and Interrogation, or RDI, will remain classified.


Feinstein said she hoped the public would view the report in the “spirit of a just society [that] functions under law, and that when we make mistakes we admit them, we correct them, and we move on,” she told reporters Monday. “I think that’s an important thing.”

The executive summary is expected to show how the agency used waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions and other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques more frequently than was legally authorized at then-secret prisons known as “black sites,” the Los Angeles Times has reported.

The report also is expected to rebut claims that the interrogations were key to locating Osama bin Laden or thwarting other terrorist plots, concluding that nearly all the intelligence gleaned through harsh techniques could have been obtained through more traditional intelligence-gathering practices.

As Feinstein finalized plans to release part of the report, Secretary of State John F. Kerry phoned her Friday to warn of the potential consequences. The State Department called for a review of security measures at overseas missions as a precaution against possible demonstrations, and White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that the administration has taken “prudent steps to ensure that the proper security precautions are in place” at U.S. facilities around the world.

The Obama administration insisted, though, that it supported the review and that the timing of its publication was up to the committee. President Obama said this year that the nation “did a whole lot of things that were right” in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but also “we tortured some folks.”

“When we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques — techniques that I believe and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture — we crossed a line,” he said at an August news conference. “That needs to be understood and accepted. And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so that, hopefully, we don’t do it again in the future.”

Former President George W. Bush defended the work of the CIA under his administration, and said that if the report “diminishes their contributions to our country, it is way off base.”

“These are good people, really good people, and we’re lucky as a nation to have them,” he told CNN in an interview aired Sunday.

The review was launched by members of the Democrat-led committee in 2009 shortly after Obama succeeded Bush in the White House and ordered a halt to controversial interrogation tactics his predecessor had sanctioned. Its initial intent was in part to determine whether lawmakers were kept fully informed of such practices, and its creation drew comparisons to the 1975 Church Committee, whose work ultimately led to the creation of permanent committees on intelligence agencies in Congress.

The intelligence committee completed an initial review in 2012. In August, the White House returned a draft to the committee that blacked out some of its contents, beginning an intense round of negotiations between Feinstein and the administration. Feinstein said last week that from a list of hundreds of redactions she had narrowed differences to two.

As word of the report’s impending release spread through Washington, Democrats defended it as an essential self-examination by a global superpower.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) called it a “gut check moment for our democracy. It’s incumbent upon a democracy in terms of our values that we represent to the world that when we have bad moments, we hold ourselves accountable.”

Republicans warned of potential fallout and violence after the release.

“I hope nothing happens,” said Sen. Richard M. Burr (R-N.C.), who will inherit the gavel from Feinstein in January when Republicans assume control of the Senate. “If it does, it’s the direct result of releasing this report.”

He said the report won’t reveal anything new about U.S. tactics, but could betray U.S. partners who assisted in holding prisoners, exposing them to risk as well.

Burr said the GOP response would address “very specific problems with the conclusions that are drawn in this report.” He predicted the GOP-led panel next year would conduct no follow-up. “We’re going to focus on real-time oversight,” he said. “We’re not going to be looking back at a decade trying to dredge up things.”