The CIA’s post-9/11 embrace of torture was brutal and ineffective – and the agency repeatedly lied about its usefulness, a milestone report by the Senate intelligence committee released on Tuesday concludes.
After examining 20 case studies, the report found that torture “regularly resulted in fabricated information,” said committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, in a statement summarizing the findings. She called the torture program “a stain on our values and on our history.”
“During the brutal interrogations the CIA was often unaware the information was fabricated.”
The torture that the CIA carried out was even more extreme than what it portrayed to congressional overseers and the George W. Bush administration, the committee found. It went beyond techniques already made public through a decade of leaks and lawsuits, which had revealed that agency interrogators subjected detainees to quasi-drowning, staged mock executions, and revved power drills near their heads.
At least 39 detainees, the committee found, experienced techniques like “cold water dousing” – different from the quasi-drowning known as waterboarding – which the Justice Department never approved. The committee found that at least five detainees were subjected to “rectal rehydration,” in some cases leading to anal fissures and rectal prolapse.
It also found that death threats were made to some detainees. CIA interrogators, the committee charged, told detainees they would hurt detainees’ children and “sexually assault” or “cut a [detainee’s] mother’s throat.”
At least 17 were tortured without the approval from CIA headquarters that ex-director George Tenet assured the Justice Department would occur. And at least 26 of the CIA’s estimated 119 detainees, the committee found, were “wrongfully held.”
Contractor psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen played a critical role in establishing the torture program in 2002. A company they formed to contract their services to the CIA was worth more than $180 million, and by the time of the contract’s 2009 cancellation, they had received $81 million in payouts.
The committee’s findings, which the CIA largely rejects, are the result of a four-year, $40 million investigation that plunged relations between the spy agency and the Senate committee charged with overseeing it to a historic low.
The investigation that led to the report, and the question of how much of the document would be released and when, has pitted chairwoman Feinstein and her committee allies against the CIA and its White House backers.
For 10 months, with the blessing of President Barack Obama, the agency has fought to conceal vast amounts of the report from the public, with an entreaty to Feinstein from secretary of state John Kerry occurring as recently as Friday.
CIA director John Brennan, an Obama confidante, conceded in a Tuesday statement that the program “had shortcomings and that the agency made mistakes” owing from what he described as unpreparedness for a massive interrogation and detentions program.
But Brennan took issue with several of the committee’s findings.
“Our review indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom EITs were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives. The intelligence gained from the program was critical to our understanding of al-Qaida and continues to inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day,” Brennan said.
“EITs,” or “enhanced interrogation techniques,” is the agency’s preferred euphemism for torture.
Obama banned CIA torture upon taking office, but the continuing lack of legal consequences for agency torturers has led human rights campaigners to view the Senate report as their last hope for official recognition and accountability for torture.
Though the committee released hundreds of pages of declassified excerpts from the report on Tuesday, the majority of the 6,000-plus page classified version remains secret, disappointing human rights groups that have long pushed for broader transparency.
Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat who lost his seat in November, has flirted with reading the whole report into the Senate record, one of the only tactics to compel additional disclosures remaining.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid weighed in to back the report. “Today, for the first time, the American people are going to learn the full truth about torture that took place under the CIA during the Bush administration,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “The only way our country can put this episode in the past is to confront what happened.”
“Not only is torture wrong but it doesn’t work,” said Reid. He said torture “got us nothing except a bad name.”
But Republican members of the intelligence committee questioned the report in their own 100-page document. They wrote “procedural irregularities” had negatively impacted the study’s “problematic claims and conclusions” and accused Democrats of bias and faulty analysis.
The Republicans specifically disputed the report’s claim that torture had failed to provide actionable intelligence and claimed “aggressive” interrogation of Zubaydah led to the capture of al-Qaida associates and the disruption of a plot plot aimed at hotels in Karachi, Pakistan, frequented by American and German guests.
In a statement, James Clapper, director of national intelligence, said he could not recall a report “as fraught with controversy and passion as this one.”
He said the officers who participated in the program “believed with certainty that they were engaged in a program devised by our government on behalf of the president that was necessary to protect the nation, that had appropriate legal authorization, and that was sanctioned by at least some in the Congress.” But he said “things were done that should not have been done.”
“I don’t believe that any other nation would go to the lengths the United States does to bare its soul, admit mistakes when they are made and learn from those mistakes. Certainly, no one can imagine such an effort by any of the adversaries we face today,” said Clapper.