The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) lied when it illustrated to Congress, the White House, the U.S. Department of Justice and the American people the kinds of “enhanced interrogation techniques” used against suspected terrorists and other detainees in the years following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack.
The CIA lied about the number of terrorism suspects and other high-profile detainees in its custody. It lied about its initial use of non-threatening, less-coercive techniques before escalating to more-threatening techniques like waterboarding, beatings and sleep deprivation. It lied about the effectiveness of such techniques in extracting vital information from terrorism suspects in order to prevent future attacks on the homeland and American interests abroad.
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The CIA lied to the Justice Department when the federal government launched an investigation into the legality and effectiveness of the enhanced interrogation program, lied to foreign diplomats when it asserted that Congress had been fully briefed on the program, lied to the White House when the executive branch sought to make crucial homeland security decisions based on the effectiveness of the program and lied to the media when it carefully coordinated the release of certain classified information on the program in an attempt to sway public opinion on interrogation techniques in the agency’s favor.
The CIA lied. And it lied again. And it lied some more. It did so to defend interrogation techniques that were inhumane. Cruel. Degrading. Inconsistent with American values. It lied to cover up a program that, in the end, proved entirely ineffective in that such techniques — tantamount to torture, by anyone’s definition — produced little to no valuable intelligence.
Those are the accusations made against the CIA by the Senate Intelligence Committee in a scathing 500-page executive summary released publicly on Tuesday, a much-anticipated report that was years in the making.
The report — a mere excerpt of a fuller, 6,000-page review that has yet to be de-classified — offers the fullest account to date of the CIA’s Retention, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) program that immediately follow the al-Qaida-led attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon more than a decade ago.
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The committee found, among other things, that the enhanced interrogation program employed worse techniques than what the CIA had led government officials and the American public to believe.
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According to the report, the CIA misled government officials and the American public as to the number of detainees it subjected to waterboarding, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning. Previously, the agency had claimed just three detainees were waterboarded; the review said that number is likely higher.
The report also expanded on the known CIA practice of depriving detainees of sleep by forcing them to stand or kneel in uncomfortable positions for hours — sometimes days — at a time. According to the report, detainees were left “standing or in painful stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads,” for up to 180 hours at a time.
Five other detainees experienced were subjected to “rectal hydration” or feeding without proof of any medical necessity. Instead, the technique appeared to be employed as a method of behavior control, with one officer noting the “effectiveness of rectal infusion on ending” one detainee’s refusal to drink water.
Others were forced to listen to loud music in the dark, ordered to walk up and down hallways while nude and routinely beaten. One detainee was subjected to such horrific abuse that even the CIA’s own officers were moved “to the point of tears,” according to a note.
A limited number of enhanced interrogation techniques received White House approval shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in an attempt to glean information that would prevent against future attacks to scale. But the Senate report found that some techniques used by the CIA against 119 suspects — nearly two dozen of whom were later found to have been erroneously detained — exceeded the scope of the White House’s authorization. And the techniques did very little in helping the government obtain credible threat information, sometimes having the opposite effect in which detainees would make up scenarios and stories in order to stop the interrogations.
“Existing U.S. law and treaty obligations should have prevented many of the abuses and mistakes during this program,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) wrote in the foreword of the executive summary released on Tuesday. “It is my personal conclusion that, any under common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured.”
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While Feinstein concluded that the RDI program violated “U.S. law, treat obligations and our values,” the senator stopped short of demanding an apology. No apology was offered by President Barack Obama, who diplomatically said on Tuesday that the Senate report on the CIA interrogation program proved “some of the actions that were taken were contrary to our values.”
“Our intelligence professionals are patriots,” Obama asserted, “and we are safer because of their heroic service and sacrifices.”
Nor will there be any apologies from staunch defenders of the CIA program, including some who were tasked with overseeing them.
Dick Cheney, who was vice president when the White House authorized the RDI program, challenged claims in the report that the CIA program did little to extract valuable intelligence from high-profile terrorism suspects in the agency’s custody.
“[The Senate committee] didn’t interview the people who were involved in the program,” Cheney told The New York Times on Monday. “It produced results and saved lives.”
CIA director John Brennan echoed the same sentiment in a statement released after the report was made public on Tuesday. In his statement, Brennan acknowledged “the detention and interrogation program had shortcomings and that the Agency made mistakes,” but reiterated that the harsh techniques “did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives.”
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FORMER DIRECTOR: CIA “SHOULD HAVE BEEN MORE WELL-PREPARED”
In an interview with POLITICO Magazine on Tuesday, former CIA director Michael Hayden admitted that early on in the program, CIA officials were “making it up as they went along and [the agency] should have been more well-prepared.”
But Hayden challenged the accusation that he, during his time as CIA director, misled members of Congress about the enhanced interrogation program launched by his predecessor. He took particular umbrage to a speech made by Feinstein in March in which the senator claimed Hayden first briefed members of the intelligence committee on the program in 2006 only hours before then-President George W. Bush made the program known to the public.
“Everything here happened before I got [to the CIA], and I’m the one [Feinstein] condemns on the floor of the Senate?” Hayden retorted. “Gee, how’d that happen? I’m the dumb son of a bitch who went down and tried to lay out this program in great detail to them.”
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Despite the charge by Feinstein and the Senate committee that some of the enhanced interrogation techniques violated U.S. and international law, it’s highly unlikely anyone will be held accountable for the oversight and execution of the program going forward.
In 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder initiated a review of the CIA’s treatment of two individuals subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. Early on, Holder ruled out charges for those involved in waterboarding detainees and later determined that CIA officials responsible for the deaths of a prisoner in Iraq and another in Afghanistan would not be prosecuted either. On Tuesday, the Justice Department said it stood by its decision not to prosecute agents who carried out operations under the program, saying the Senate report did not contain any new information that the agency had not already considered.