An exhaustive, five-year Senate investigation of the CIA’s secret interrogations of terrorism suspects renders a strikingly bleak verdict of 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 own 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 Powell out of concern that he would “blow his stack if he were to be briefed on what’s going on.”
A declassified summary of the committee’s work discloses for the first time a complete roster of all 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, didn’t work. The panel desconstructs 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. The agency is expected to release its own detailed rebuttal Tuesday, and Director John Brennan plans to speak to the CIA work force.
In a statement, the agency said the committee’s report had “too many flaws for it to stand as the official record of the program.”
“Many of the Study’s charges that CIA misrepresented are based on the authors’ flawed analysis of the value of the intelligence obtained from detainees,” the statement said. “But whether Congress accepts their assessment or ours, we still must question a report that impugns the integrity of so many CIA officers when it implies — as it does clearly through the conclusions — that the Agency’s assessments were willfully misrepresented in a calculated effort to manipulate.”
The release of the report comes at an unnerving time in the country’s conflict with al-Qaeda and its off-shoots. The Islamic State has beheaded three Americans in recent months and seized control of territory across Iraq and Syria. Fears that the report could ignite new overseas violence against American interests prompted Secretary of State John F. Kerry to appeal to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to consider a delay. The report has also been at the center of intense bureaucratic and political fights that erupted earlier this year in accusations that the CIA surreptitiously monitored the computers used by committee aides involved in the investigation.
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 harrowing treatment of Abu Zubaida, a high-profile facilitator for al-Qaeda.
“Several on the team profoundly affected,” one agency employee wrote at the time, “some to the point of tears and choking up.” The passage is contrasted with closed-door testimony from high-ranking CIA officials, including then-CIA Director Michael V. Hayden, who when asked by a senator in 2007 whether agency personnel had expressed reservations replied: “I’m not aware of any. These guys are more experienced. No.”
The investigation was conducted exclusively by the Senate committee’s Democratic staff. Its release Tuesday is certain to stir new debate over a program that has been a source of contention since the first details about the CIA’s secret prison network began to surface publicly a decade ago. Even so, the report is unlikely to lead to new sanctions or structural change.
The document names only a handful of high-ranking CIA employees and does not call for any further investigation of those involved or even offer any formal recommendations. It steers clear of scrutinizing the involvement of the White House and Justice Department, which two years ago ruled out the possibility that CIA employees would face prosecution.
Instead, the Senate text is largely aimed at shaping how the interrogation program will be regarded by history. The inquiry was driven by Feinstein and her frequently stated determination to foreclose any prospect that the United States might contemplate such tactics again. Rather than argue their morality, Feinstein set out to prove that they didn’t work.
In her foreword to the report, Feinstein does not characterize the CIA’s actions as torture, but said the trauma of Sept. 11 had prompted the agency to employ “brutal interrogation techniques in violation of U.S. law, treaty obligations and our values.” The report should serve as “a warning for the future,” she said. “We cannot again allow history to be forgotten and grievous past mistakes to be repeated.”
The reaction to the report, however, only reinforced how polarizing the CIA program remains more than five years after it was ordered dismantled by Obama.
Over the past year, the CIA assembled a lengthy and detailed rebuttal to the committee’s findings that argues that all but a few of the panel’s conclusions are unfounded. Hayden and other agency veterans have for months been planning a similarly aggressive response.
The report also faced criticism from Republicans on the intelligence committee who submitted a response to the report that cited alleged inaccuracies and faulted the committee’s decision to base its findings exclusively on CIA documents without interviewing any of the operatives involved. Democrats have said they did so to avoid interfering with a separate Justice Department inquiry.
At its height, the CIA program included secret prisons in countries including Afghanistan, Thailand, Romania, Lithuania and Poland — locations that are referred to only by color-themed codes in the report, such as “Cobalt,” to preserve a veneer of secrecy.
The establishment of the “black sites” was part of a broader transformation of the CIA in which it rapidly morphed from an agency focused on intelligence gathering into a paramilitary force with new powers to capture prisoners, disrupt plots and assemble a fleet of armed drones to carry out targeted killings of al-Qaeda militants.
The report reveals the often haphazard ways in which the agency assumed these new roles. Within days of the Sept. 11 attacks, for example, President George W. Bush had signed a secret memorandum giving the CIA new authority to “undertake operations designed to capture and detain persons who pose a continuing, serious threat of violence or death to U.S. persons and interests.”
But the memo made no reference to interrogations, providing no explicit authority for what would become an elaborately drawn list of harsh measures — including sleep deprivation, slams against cell walls and simulated drowning — to get detainees to talk. The Bush memo was a murky point of origin for a program that is portrayed as chaotically mismanaged throughout the report.
One of the most lengthy sections describes the interrogation of the CIA’s first prisoner, Abu Zubaida, who was detained in Pakistan in March 2002. Zubaida, badly injured when he was captured, was largely cooperative when jointly questioned by the CIA and FBI but was then subjected to confusing and increasingly violent interrogation as the agency assumed control.
After being transferred to a site in Thailand, Zubaida was placed in isolation for 47 days, a period during which the presumably important source on al-Qaeda faced no questions. Then, at 11:50 a.m. on Aug. 4, 2002, the CIA launched a round-the-clock interrogation assault — slamming Zubaida against walls, stuffing him into a coffin-sized box and waterboarding him until he coughed, vomited and had “involuntary spasms of the torso and extremities.”
The treatment continued for 17 days. At one point, the waterboarding left Zubaida “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.” CIA memos described employees who were distraught and concerned about the legality of what they had witnessed. One said that “two, perhaps three” were “likely to elect transfer.”
The Senate report suggests top CIA officials at headquarters had little sympathy. When a cable from Thailand warned that the Zubaida interrogation was “approach[ing] the legal limit,” Jose Rodriguez, then chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, cautioned subordinates to refrain from such “speculative language as to the legality” of the interrogation. “Such language is not helpful.”
Through a spokesman, Rodriguez told The Washington Post that he never instructed employees not to send cables about the legality of interrogations.
Zubaida was waterboarded 83 times and kept in cramped boxes for nearly 300 hours. In October 2002, Bush was informed in his daily intelligence briefing that Zubaida was still withholding “significant threat information,” despite views from the black site that he had been truthful from the outset and was “compliant and cooperative,” the report said.
The document provides a similarly detailed account of the interrogation of the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who fed his interrogators a stream of falsehoods and intelligence fragments. Waterboarding was supposed to simulate suffocation with a damp cloth and a trickle of liquid. But with Mohammed, CIA operatives used their hands to form a standing pool of water over his mouth. KSM, as he is known in agency documents, was ingesting “a LOT of water,” a CIA medical officer wrote, saying that the application had been so altered that “we are basically doing a series of near drownings.”
The CIA has maintained that only three prisoners were ever subjected to waterboarding, but the report alludes to evidence that it may have been used on others, including photographs of a well-worn waterboard at a black site where its use was never officially recorded. The committee said the agency could not explain the presence of the board and water-dousing equipment at the site, which is not named in the report, but is believed to be the “Salt Pit” in Afghanistan.
There are also references to other procedures, including the use of tubes to administer “rectal rehydration” and feeding. CIA documents describe a case in which a prisoner’s lunch tray “consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins was ‘pureed’ and rectally infused.” At least five CIA detainees were subjected to “rectal rehydration” or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity.
At times, senior CIA operatives voiced deep misgivings. In early 2003, the CIA officer in charge of the interrogation program described it as a “train [wreck] waiting to happen” and that “I intend to get the hell off the train before it happens.” The officer, identified by former colleagues as Charlie Wise, subsequently retired and died in 2003. He had been picked for the job despite being reprimanded for his role in other troubled interrogation efforts in the 1980s in Beirut, former officials said.
SOURCE: Greg Miller, Adam Goldman and Julie Tate
The Washington Post