An exhaustive five-year Senate investigation of the CIA’s secret interrogations of terrorism suspects renders a strikingly bleak verdict on a program launched in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, describing levels of brutality, dishonesty and seemingly arbitrary violence that at times brought even agency employees to moments of anguish.
The report by the Senate Intelligence Committee delivers new allegations of cruelty in a program whose severe tactics have been abundantly documented, revealing that agency medical personnel voiced alarm that waterboarding methods had deteriorated to “a series of near drownings” and that agency employees subjected detainees to “rectal rehydration” and other painful procedures that were never approved.
The 528-page document catalogues dozens of cases in which CIA officials allegedly deceived their superiors at the White House, members of Congress and even sometimes their peers about how the interrogation program was being run and what it had achieved. In one case, an internal CIA memo relays instructions from the White House to keep the program secret from then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell out of concern that he would “blow his stack if he were to be briefed on what’s been going on.”
A declassified summary of the committee’s work discloses for the first time a complete roster of the 119 prisoners held in CIA custody and indicates that at least 26 were held because of mistaken identities or bad intelligence. The publicly released summary is drawn from a longer, classified study that exceeds 6,000 pages.
The report’s central conclusion is that harsh interrogation measures, deemed torture by program critics including President Obama, did not work. The panel deconstructs prominent claims about the value of the “enhanced” measures, including that they produced breakthrough intelligence in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and dismisses them all as exaggerated if not utterly false — assertions that the CIA and former officers involved in the program vehemently dispute.
In a statement from the White House, Obama said the Senate report “documents a troubling program” and “reinforces my long-held view that these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as [a] nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests.” Obama praised the CIA’s work to degrade al-Qaeda over the past 13 years but said the agency’s interrogation program “did significant damage to America’s standing in the world and made it harder to pursue our interests with allies and partners.”
The CIA issued a 112-page response to the Senate report, acknowledging failings in the interrogation program but denying that it intentionally misled the public or policymakers about an effort that it maintains delivered critical intelligence.
Many of the most haunting sections of the Senate document are passages taken from internal CIA memos and e-mails as agency employees described their visceral reactions to searing interrogation scenes. At one point in 2002, CIA employees at a secret site in Thailand broke down emotionally after witnessing the harrowing treatment of Abu Zubaida, a high-profile facilitator for al-Qaeda.
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