Tom Kutsch / Al Jazeeera America – 2014-12-08 00:23:08
Senate Report on CIA Interrogation
Methods Has Tortured History
Tom Kutsch / Al Jazeeera America
(December 7, 2014) — After a long and drawn-out process involving multiple branches of the US government, the summary of an exhaustive report detailing Bush-era CIA detention and interrogation policies could be released as early as Monday.
The report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) examines the CIA’s use of torture after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and looks at the efficacy of such intelligence-gathering methods.
The report, which cost the federal government more than $40 million to produce, is said to cast doubt on intelligence gains gleaned from an interrogation program that embraced torture.
The CIA has fiercely debated the report’s conclusions, and the Obama administration has warned that its public disclosure could prove embarrassing for the US and even compromise its policy positions.
In 2009, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13491, outlawing torture. However, he has frequently expressed his disinterest in re-examining its past use — choosing instead to “look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”
At the same time, SSCI charwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., initiated an investigation into the scope of the CIA program and the efficacy of its methods, which led to the report. To complete the project, researchers combed through more than 6 million pages of classified documents. The report was delivered in December 2012 and is more than 6,300 pages long.
A Chronicle of Torture
According to Congressional records, the report is divided into three sections: the first, a history of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program; second, the intelligence gleaned from the program and how the CIA represented that to the government and public; and third, the specific methods of detention and interrogation used on detainees.
Among other allegations, the report says the CIA misled government officials by using harsher methods than previously disclosed, sometimes acted with impunity and without legal authorization, and exaggerated the value of information acquired through torture.
Two Senate staffers and an official who previously spoke to Al Jazeera about the report’s contents said that it “found that some of the harsh measures authorized by the Department of Justice had been applied to at least one detainee before such legal authorization was received.”
The same sources said the report suggests the CIA “knowingly misled the White House, Congress and the Justice Department about the intelligence value of [Guantanamo Bay] detainee Zain Abidin Mohammed Husain Abu Zubaydah when using his case to argue in favor of harsher interrogation techniques.”
The report’s conclusion, which was leaked in April, confirms this. It states that “the CIA inaccurately characterized the effectiveness of the enhanced interrogation techniques.” What’s more, the “CIA manipulated the media by coordinating the release of classified information, which inaccurately portrayed the effectiveness of the agency’s enhanced interrogation techniques.”
The CIA reportedly waterboarded Abu Zubaydah 83 times, saying it helped US officials extract intelligence that led to finding Osama bin Laden.
According to Feinstein, it was intelligence gathered from FBI agent Ali Soufan’s own interrogations of Zubaydah, prior to CIA waterboarding, that ultimately led to the Al-Qaeda leader’s whereabouts.
A Fraught Process
The SSCI voted in April to declassify the 480-page report summary. In the intervening period, the CIA, White House and Senate committee have gone through a contentious process of haggling over how much of that summary to make public.
Before the April vote, public acrimony between the CIA and the Senate committee boiled over with Feinstein’s explosive accusation that CIA personnel had intimidated and spied on committee staffers using CIA-approved computers to access millions of documents needed to prepare the report.
CIA director John Brennan subsequently admitted and apologized for the spying, but the agency remains locked with the SSCI in the declassification process.
Last week, Feinstein said the report would be released as early as Monday. But in a potential 11th hour complication, Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday reportedly phoned the senator to remind her of the negative effects the report could have on US national security interests. However, the White House denied that it was trying to delay the report’s publication.
While there is no indication that the report will be delayed, any deferral past December could hinder its publication altogether.
After the 2015 Congress takes its oath in January, Feinstein will lose her position as chair of the SSCI to a Republican — a result of the Democratic Party’s defeat in mid-term elections. Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, her presumed replacement, has previously boasted about a direct connection between the use of torture and the killing of bin Laden, and has bristled at plans to make the Senate report public.
“I personally don’t believe that anything that goes on in the Intelligence committee should ever be discussed publicly,” Burr said in March. “If I had my way, with the exception of nominees, there would never be a public intelligence hearing.”
Questions of Accountability
The SSCI report is not the first official accounting of harsh interrogation methods conducted during the Bush administration — but it is the first to examine the CIA’s role.
In 2009, the Senate Armed Services Committee published a report (PDF) detailing the abuse of detainees under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense and the US military. The report included abuse at the now-infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
The SSCI report is also unlikely to directly implicate the Bush administration — which will not sit well with critics who want everyone, including the executive branch, involved in the sanctioning of torture to be held accountable.
“This report is not about the White House. It’s not about the president. It’s not about criminal liability. It’s about the CIA’s actions or inactions,” a person familiar with the contents of the report told the McClatchyDC news group in October.
The SSIC conducted no interviews of detainees who have alleged torture by the CIA, nor did the committee interview any of the participants of the CIA detention and interrogation program. Instead, its researchers relied on existing classified government documents.
Despite his rejection of Bush-era torture policies, Obama has vowed to protect CIA officers who acted in accordance with laws of the period.
Upon the release of post-9-11 Justice Department memos that gave CIA officers the legal authority to use “enhanced interrogation techniques,” Obama said “the men and women of the CIA have assurances from both myself and from Attorney General Holder that we will protect all who acted reasonably and relied upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that their actions were lawful.”
Nevertheless, the SSCI report’s release could help galvanize rights groups and others who believe America’s use of torture for intelligence-gathering purposes is wrong.
“The secrecy around the torture program means that torture is never behind us,” Chris Anders, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, previously told Al Jazeera. “The reason for the public to know what happened at the CIA — and in the rest of the government — that resulted in torture and abuse is to help make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Outgoing Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, who has been one of the biggest champions of the report’s release, called torture by US officials “morally repugnant” and has consistently demanded a full public accounting.
“When this report is declassified, people will abhor what they read. They’re gonna be disgusted,” he told Esquire magazine.
“The people who conducted these activities in the name of the CIA, in the name of the American people, have a right to be processed. They don’t have a right to [pause] push under the rug what happened,” he said.
White House Tries to Delay
CIA Torture Probe, Report Says
A delay could undo years of effort to uncover alleged human rights abuses by the CIA
Al Jazeera America
(December 5, 2014) — A hotly anticipated Senate report accusing the Central Intelligence Agency of using banned torture techniques and evading oversight may never be released following White House efforts Friday to halt its publication, according to Bloomberg.
The reportâ€™s allegations, due to be made public next week, have been fiercely disputed by the CIA — and, according to the Obama administration, could compromise American foreign policy positions.
Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday reportedly called Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, to tell her that the reportâ€™s release should be delayed.
While itâ€™s not clear if Feinstein will comply with the reported request, a delay could scuttle the entire report, which she and others have spent years preparing. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., is due to replace Feinstein in January and could prevent the release entirely.
A senior GOP aide, according to the Bloomberg report, said, “Thereâ€™s always a lot going on in the world, and the timing of the release of a report like this never convenient.”
“They should have thought about that a long time ago and advocated against the release.”
But White House spokesman Joshua Earnest said Friday that the president hopes the report will be released soon.
“The president has been clear that he wants the executive summary of the Committeeâ€™s report to be declassified as expeditiously as possible, and we welcomed the news from the Committee that they plan to do so next week,” Earnest said.
The State Department said Kerry called Feinstein, and they discussed the implications of the report. Kerry, the State Department said, “made clear that the timing is of course her choice.”
The Obama administration reportedly fears that the report could set off domestic and international uproar over CIA activities and US security policies.
Harsh CIA interrogation techniques, which human rights campaigners and many US politicians have characterized as “torture,” took place under President George W. Bush but were banned by President Barack Obama.
Officials familiar with the committee’s investigation say the report concludes that there is no proof the techniques, including waterboarding, produced US intelligence breakthroughs that could not have been obtained through non-coercive questioning.
Former intelligence and Bush administration officials who were involved with such interrogations strongly dispute that conclusion, maintaining that the techniques were necessary to obtaining information.
In addition to waterboarding, US officials who have read the report say it includes new details about the CIA’s use of sleep deprivation, confinement in small spaces and humiliation.
President Barack Obama has acknowledged, “We tortured some folks.”
A phone message and email from The Associated Press to Feinstein’s staff was not immediately returned.
Although the exact details of the report remain uncertain, US ally Poland may play a role in the decision to bar publication. The report likely contains damning information about Warsaw hosting a CIA “black site” — or secret detention facility — in its territory, said Joseph Margulies, a lawyer who represented Zain Abidin Mohammed Husain Abu Zubaydah, a Guantanamo Bay detainee held for more than 10 years without charges. Prior to being transferred to Guantanamo, Abu Zubaydah was held at a CIA site in Poland, Marguiles said.
The CIA operated the covert centers from 2002 to 2009 in Poland and other locations including Thailand, Morocco and Afghanistan, where intelligence officers tortured detainees, Marguiles said.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled in July that Warsaw knew or should have known that the CIA had a black site in its territory. The Court ordered Poland to pay two detainees it said had been held at black sites $135,000 and $175,000 respectively. Polish officials have since disputed the existence of black sites entirely, asking for an appeal.
The CIA torture report could completely discredit their denial, Margulies explained. “If Poland has its way, along with the CIA as well as some members of the Republican party, this document will never see the light of day.”
Al Jazeera and wire services. Wilson Dizard contributed reporting.
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