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Senate Torture Report Finds the CIA Was Less Effective and More Brutal Than Anyone Knew

The long-awaited report on the CIA's interrogation program found that the agency often misled the White House and used harsher techniques than it let on.
Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Today the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released the long-awaited 500-page executive summary from its $40 million report on the CIA's "enhanced interrogation" program, which senators have said documents the brutal techniques used against 119 high-level al Qaeda suspects.

The summary (pdf below), which examines only 20 CIA captives, includes previously undisclosed details about sexual threats detainees endured during interrogation sessions, including one in which an interrogator threatened to sodomize a detainee with a broomstick. The CIA also threatened to murder detainees and their families, the Senate's executive summary says.


"At least five CIA detainees were subjected to 'rectal rehydration' or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity," according to the summary. "The CIA placed detainees in ice water 'baths.' The CIA led several detainees to believe they would never be allowed to leave CIA custody alive, suggesting to one detainee that he would only leave in a coffin-shaped box. One interrogator told another detainee that he would never go to court, because 'we can never let the world know what I have done to you.' CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families — to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to 'cut [a detainee's] mother's throat.'"

The CIA admitted that it spied on the US Senate. Read more here.

Throughout the existence of the program between 2002 and 2006, "multiple CIA detainees who were subjected to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques and extended isolation exhibited psychological and behavioral issues, including hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation. Multiple psychologists identified the lack of human contact experienced by detainees as a cause of psychiatric problems."

But at no point does the committee characterize the interrogation methods the detainees were subjected to while they were held at top-secret black site prisons in Europe as "torture."


That said, Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein wrote in the executive summary that it is her "personal conclusion" — in other words, not the conclusion of the committee as a whole — that "under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured."

The release of the Senate's study, based off of a 6,700-page report, comes after a fierce two-year battle between the Intelligence Committee and the CIA over the integrity of the committee's findings and conclusions, and the use of pseudonyms in the document that the agency said needed to be redacted.

Feinstein said she has decided "not to seek declassification of the full Committee Study at this time."

The Senate launched its study in 2009 in response to the destruction of nearly 100 interrogation videotapes of al Qaeda facilitator Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim Al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the USS Cole bombing. One of the videotapes reportedly depicted Abu Zubaydah being waterboarded.

The CIA 'provided inaccurate information to the White House, Congress, the Justice Department, the CIA inspector general, the media, and the American public.'

The committee reviewed more than 6 million pages of highly classified CIA cables and other documents in reaching its conclusions. The committee did not interview detainees who were held captive by the CIA, nor did the committee interview former CIA officials who oversaw the program.


The Senate's executive summary concludes that the CIA's use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" was not effective and did not produce any "unique" and "valuable" intelligence — in other words, information that the CIA would not have been able to obtain through other means.

The report contains the first official documentation that the CIA secretly held high-value detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba before the Bush administration officially acknowledged they were there. The Senate report says "it's unclear" whether members of Congress were aware that Guantanamo served as a secret black site prison. The identities of other European countries where the CIA operated black sites were redacted from the Senate report. But it has long been known that the agency secretly held detainees in Poland, Lithuania, Morocco, Romania and Thailand.

The committee's report also said that numerous terrorist plots the CIA had previously said were thwarted through the use of nearly a dozen Justice Department-approved techniques were exaggerated, or that the intelligence could have been obtained through other means.

"At no time did the CIA's coercive interrogation techniques lead to the collection of imminent threat intelligence, such as the hypothetical 'ticking time bomb' information that many believe was the justification for the use of these techniques," the executive summary says.


The Senate report also says the CIA "used inaccurate information" to obtain the legal authorization from the Justice Department to use "enhanced interrogation techniques" and "provided inaccurate information to the White House, Congress, the Justice Department, the CIA inspector general, the media, and the American public."

The committee dissected a September 6, 2006 speech by then President George W. Bush and reveals that the intelligence provided to Bush by the CIA about specific plots scuttled after detainees were tortured was overstated. Interrogators, the summary asserts, could have obtained details about it without resorting to so-called enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs). For example, an attempt in 2003 by al Qaeda terrorists to attack the US consulate in Karachi, Pakistan "using car bombs and motorcycle bombs" was overstated.

The CIA sharply disagreed with the Senate's conclusions in a 120-page response. The agency maintains that its program was a success and that much of what it learned about the inner workings of al Qaeda was the result of the use of EITs. But the agency admitted it "mischaracterized" details of the Karachi plot.

"CIA acknowledges that on several occasions, including in prominent representations such as President Bush's 2006 speech, we mischaracterized the impact of the reporting we acquired from detainees on the Karachi plots," the agency said in its response. "We said the information 'helped stop a planned attack on the US consulate in Karachi,' when we should have said it 'revealed ongoing attack plotting against the US official presence in Karachi that prompted the Consulate to take further steps to protect its officers.'"


The CIA also challenged the Senate's arguments about the efficacy of its enhanced interrogation program. "It is impossible to imagine how CIA could have achieved the same results in terms of disrupting plots, capturing other terrorists, and degrading al-Qa'ida without any information from detainees, but it is unknowable whether, without enhanced interrogation techniques, CIA or non-CIA interrogators could have acquired the same information from those detainees," the CIA response says. "The sum total of information provided from detainees in CIA custody substantially advanced the Agency's strategic and tactical understanding of the enemy in ways that continue to inform counterterrorism efforts to this day."

Former CIA officials have been mounting a full-throated defense of the interrogation program over the past few days. Today, agency veterans including ex-CIA Director George Tenet launched, where they will post opinion articles and documents challenging the Senate report's findings and conclusions.

Human rights groups lauded the release of the report, and said the Senate study leaves no doubt detainees were tortured by interrogators and contractors.

The Senate is not happy that the CIA censored its report on CIA torture. Read more here.

"Today's release once again makes crystal clear that the US government used torture," said Steven Hawkins, the executive director of Amnesty International in the US. "Torture is a crime, and those responsible for crimes must be brought to justice. This was not some rogue operation. This was a program, chilling in its detail, unlawful from day one, that gave the green light to commit the crimes under international law of torture and enforced disappearance — with impunity. It's time for accountability, including a full investigation, prosecutions, and remedy for victims."


In a statement, Obama praised the intelligence community for the work it has done since 9/11, but acknowledged that the CIA's interrogation program — Obama stressed he abolished the program soon after he took office — did harm.

"The report documents a troubling program involving enhanced interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects in secret facilities outside the United States, and it reinforces my long-held view that these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests," Obama said. "Moreover, these techniques did significant damage to America's standing in the world and made it harder to pursue our interests with allies and partners."

Obama ended his statement with a call to move on. "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."

There have been several criminal investigations launched into the CIA's interrogation program. But no one has ever been prosecuted for participating in it.

Follow Jason Leopold on Twitter: @JasonLeopold