After five years of investigating and reviewing more than six million intelligence documents and 12 years after the Central Intelligence Agency’s “enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) program– also referred to as its torture program – began, the US Senate Intelligence Committee issued its conclusion Tuesday that torture did not work.
Responding to the 500-page summary report, US President Barack Obama said that no more torture would occur on his watch and that he hopes the report would “leave these techniques where they belong, in the past.”
Intelligence Committee chairwoman Diane Feinstein called the CIA’s actions a “stain on our values and our history,” but said that releasing the report shows “America is confident enough to admit when its wrong” and is still “a just and lawful society.”
But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the committee, said that EITs had led to taking down Osama bin Laden and capturing key terrorists.
Former US president George W. Bush and a line of former Bush administration officials have also vehemently defended the EIT program in op-eds and interviews in recent days.
President Barack Obama, however, had a different take.
“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 a nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests,” Obama said.
“I hope that today’s report can help us leave these techniques where they belong—in the past.”
Before a hearing on Capitol Hill seeking a new authorization for the use of force against Islamic State, a new terrorist threat against the US homeland, Secretary of State John Kerry praised the report’s release as representative of America’s strength and values.
“I want to underscore that, while it’s uncomfortable and unpleasant to reexamine this period, it’s important that this period not define the intelligence community in anyone’s minds,” Kerry said.
And Senator John McCain (R-Az.), a former victim of torture himself when captured by the North Vietnamese, also lauded the “long-delayed” release of the report, breaking with many members of his Republican caucus.
America’s enemies act “without conscience,” McCain said. “We,” he continued, “must not. We need only remember in the worst of times, through the chaos and terror of war, when facing cruelty, suffering and loss, that we are always Americans, and different, stronger, and better than those who would destroy us.”
The report’s 20 findings and conclusions can be organized into four central themes: the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” were not effective; it provided extensive inaccurate information to policymakers and the public; its program management was deeply flawed; and it was “far more brutal than the CIA represented.”
Probably the most damaging conclusion of the report is that “at no time did the CIA’s coercive interrogation techniques lead to the collection of imminent threat intelligence, such as the hypothetical ‘ticking timebomb’ information that many believe was the justification for the use of these techniques.”
In Israel, torture has been banned since 1999, and only moderate physical pressure has been allowed; even then, only in the case of a ‘ticking bomb,’ meaning trying to get information from a detainee to stop an impending terrorist attack.
The committee reviewed 20 of the most prominent examples of counterterrorism “successes” which the CIA has attributed to using EITs on 119 detainees, fully named for the first time.
Next, the report concluded that “each of those examples was found to be wrong in fundamental respects.”
It added that “in some cases, there was no relationship between the claimed counterterrorism ‘success’ and any information provided by a CIA detainee during or after the use” of EITs.
Further, the report said that in other cases, the CIA inaccurately represented that unique information was acquired from a detainee as a result of EITs, when the information was either acquired before the EITs were used or merely corroborated information otherwise available, failing the Department of Justice’s test than EITs only be used to acquire “unique” and “otherwise unavailable” information.
This last part has been and probably will continue to be the most disputed part of a debate that will likely go somewhat unresolved.
In his book defending the use of EITs, former top CIA official Jose Rodriguez argues that using EITs on an unnamed detainee (named in the report as Hassan Ghul) as well as senior al-Qaida members Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi, were part of the puzzle to taking down bin Laden.
Rodriguez describes that the EITs led to learning that bin Laden communicated by a trusted courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, and to confirming the importance of that information.
While a variety of other breakthroughs were needed to use al-Kuwaiti to trace back to bin Laden’s location, Rodriguez argues that learning and confirming his identity was a key step.
Rodriguez also lists in his book several other terrorists captured and plots prevented, including the capture of Abd al-Rahum al-Nashiri, the mastermind of the bombing of the US Cole in 2000.
But the report says that Ghul provided al-Kuwaiti’s identity to interrogators before they used EITs on him, though he was already being held at the black site referred to in the report as “Cobalt.”
(though media reports say the site was the notorious Salt Pit detention facility in Afghanistan.) Other CIA claims on the usefulness of EITs are also disputed, including possibly waterboarding more than the three detainees it has admitted to torturing with that technique, based on a photo of a waterboarding environment that the CIA could not explain Much of the EIT program was originally conceived by controversial outside CIA contractor- psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, referred to in the report under the pseudonyms Grayson Swigert and Hammond Dunbar, and it was approved and directed by Rodriguez.
Reuters contributed to this story.