The Senate Torture Report: What You Need To Know

On Tuesday, amid much controversy and after a year of political combat between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA, a long-anticipated summary of the committee’s report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program was released.

Here’s what you need to know…

What are the key points?

You can read a quick roundup of the report’s main findings here.

New York Times reporters Matt Apuzzo, Haeyoun Park and Larry Buchanan looked at what the report says about the efficacy of torture techniques in a series of specific cases.

For those with strong stomachs, The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris and Tim Mak sifted through the report to unearth “the most gruesome details,” which we chose to omit below.

It was torture…

According to the report, after being authorized by the Bush White House to detain people with suspected ties to terrorist groups, the agency’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” were far more brutal than the government has previously acknowledged.

Detainees were beaten, exposed to extreme temperatures and shocked. Sleep deprivation, being forced to stand in stress positions and other harsh conditions resulted in “psychological and behavioral issues, including hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation.”

“At least five CIA detainees were subjected to ‘rectal rehydration’ or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity,” according to the report. Several detainees died.

Whereas the CIA has insisted that only three detainees were subjected to waterboarding, the committee found reports of a “well-worn waterboard” at a facility where CIA officials had told Congress that the technique had not been used.

The report also noted that CIA officers “threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families— to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to ‘cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.’”

It didn’t work…

Those being tortured would tell their captors anything they wanted to hear.

But that’s not what the CIA conveyed to “the White House, the National Security Council, the Department of Justice, the CIA Office of Inspector General, the Congress, and the public,” according to the report. The agency told them that the “enhanced interrogations” had foiled specific plots and “saved lives.”

The Senate staffers reviewed 20 “of the most frequent and prominent examples of purported counterterrorism successes that the CIA has attributed to the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques, and found them to be wrong in fundamental respects.” In some cases, the information was irrelevant and in others the information either corroborated what the CIA already knew from other sources or was provided by detainees before they were tortured.

The report goes on to detail how false information was repeatedly obtained by detainees under duress. At times, this faulty intelligence was then used to confirm or falsify other intelligence, creating a ripple effect of inaccuracies.

The CIA lied to everyone…

The Senate report charges that “the CIA avoided, resisted, and otherwise impeded oversight of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program” by providing false information to the White House, Congress, the Department of Justice and the CIA’s Inspector General. It also withheld information that officials in the State Department and other agencies required in order to advance their own “national security missions.”

Including the media… 

According to the report:

The CIA’s Office of Public Affairs and senior CIA officials coordinated to share classified information on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program to select members of the media to counter public criticism, shape public opinion, and avoid potential congressional action to restrict the CIA’s detention and interrogation authorities and budget.

The CIA was also incompetent…

The Senate Intelligence Committee found that months after the program was authorized, the CIA still wasn’t prepared to hold detainees. Once it got going, “the CIA’s management and operation of its Detention and Interrogation Program was deeply flawed throughout the program’s duration.”

The CIA lost track of detainees at multiple sites. The agency “placed individuals with no applicable experience or training in senior detention and interrogation roles.” The report also notes that “numerous CIA officers had serious documented personal and professional problems — including histories of violence and records of abusive treatment of others — that should have called into question their suitability to participate in the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, their employment with the CIA, and their continued access to classified information.” What’s more, “these problems were known to the CIA prior to the assignment of these officers.”

At one point, the agency accidentally detained and tortured two of its own informants, despite the fact that they “had tried to contact the CIA on multiple occasions prior to their detention to inform the CIA of their actions and provide intelligence.” (What happened to those messages is redacted in the unclassified summary released Tuesday.)

They outsourced most of the program to the private sector… 

“Two contract psychologists devised the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques and played a central role in the operation, assessments, and management of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” according to the report. In 2005, the two formed their own company specifically to continue their contract work with the CIA — for which they were paid $81 million. After that, “the CIA outsourced virtually all aspects of the program.”

The psychologists lacked “specialized knowledge of al Qaeda, a background in counterterrorism or any relevant cultural or linguistic experience.” For insight into how best to torture prisoners, they turned to a program that trained US Special Forces operatives to resist torture if captured in the field.

Overall, “contractors made up 85% of the workforce for detention and interrogation operations.”

CIA officers acted with near-impunity…

“The CIA rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable for serious and significant violations, inappropriate activities, and systemic and individual management failures,” according to the report.

CIA managers who were aware of failings and shortcomings in the program but did not intervene, or who failed to provide proper leadership and management, were also not held to account.

On two occasions in which the CIA inspector general identified wrongdoing, accountability recommendations were overruled by senior CIA leadership.

What isn’t in the report?

The Senate Intelligence Committee had a narrow remit to focus on the activities of the CIA. They didn’t investigate the role of other agencies, including the White House, in creating an environment in which torture was likely to be used. As such, it effectively places all the blame on the agency.

But Ryan Grim and Amanda Terkel report for The Huffington Post that after George Bush made a statement condemning torture in 2003, CIA Deputy Council Frank Rizzo, “wanted senior CIA leaders to ‘seek written reaffirmation’ from the White House that the CIA’s ‘ongoing practices … are to continue,’ the report says.”

On July 3, CIA Director George Tenet sent a memorandum to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice doing just that. He said he sought the reaffirmation because “recent Administration responses to inquiries and resulting media reporting about the Administration’s position have created the impression that these [interrogation] techniques are not used by U.S. personnel and are no longer approved as a policy matter.”

Days later, Tenet received the approval he sought.

“Vice President Cheney stated and National Security Advisor Rice agreed that the CIA was executing Administration policy in carrying out its interrogation program,” the Senate report reads.

The Senate report also did not look at what detainees suffered after the CIA “rendered” them to other countries like Syria and Libya.

How did this report come to be?

The Senate Intelligence Committee was tasked with preparing the report in 2009. The classified, 6,700-page version was completed some time back, but there has since been a series of pitched battles among Senate staffers, members of the intelligence community and the White House over whether to release this unclassified summary to the public.

At one point, those tensions threatened to create a constitutional crisis. Senate staffers accused the CIA of spying on them while they did their work, and the CIA accused the staffers of improperly accessing classified documents. interviewed McClatchy national security correspondent Jonathan Landay about this institutional clash back in March.

And ProPublica has a detailed timeline of “The Tortured History of the Senate’s Torture Report.”

What was the political controversy about?

In a nutshell, many commenters, especially on the right, argued that releasing the report “during a time of war” would do immeasurable damage to our national security.

Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson wrote that Senate Democrats were motivated by a desire to shift blame away from their role as overseers, and onto the CIA. He argued that in doing so, they’re putting intelligence operatives in danger.

The Feinstein report comes in the middle of a war, targeting many Americans who are still engaged in it. It is an act of exceptional congressional recklessness. Democratic senators on the Intelligence Committee interviewed none of the key figures in the program, yet fought for months to make it easier to identify the targets of their report.

Another common argument is that releasing the details of the program would provide both a propaganda boon and recruiting tool for Islamic extremists.

Tufts University professor of international politics Daniel Drezner took the opposite view in The Washington Post. Drezner wrote that extremist groups already have no problem recruiting new adherents as a result of the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, our drone program, American support for Israel and autocratic regimes in the Arab world and what was previously known about our detention practices at places like Guantanamo Bay. “I’m sorry,” wrote Drezner, “but this is just nuts. There is no shortage of US foreign policy actions and inactions in the region to inflame enemies. The Senate report is small potatoes compared to that.”

How are people reacting to the report’s release?

According to The Huffington PostBarack Obama “said the revelations bring light to a ‘troubling’ program involving practices that were ‘contrary to our values’ in a statement following the release.”

“[I]t reinforces my long-held view that these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests.”

“CIA Director John Brennan defended the agency’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques,” according to TalkingPoints Memo

“Our review indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques] 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-Qa’ida and continues to inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day,” he said.

Brennan insists that the agency has learned from its mistakes, and made corrections.

Reuters reports that this is the line many Republicans are taking in the wake of the report’s release.

Ed Kilgore writes at Washington Monthly that the CIA works for the executive branch, and shouldn’t have a position on torture that contradicts that of the White House. “If Brennan issues another such statement,” he writes, “it really ought to be quickly followed by a letter of resignation.”

On Fox News, the consensus is that the report is a politically motivated distraction from other stories that are damaging to the White House.

Mark Fallon writes at Politico that the report proves that Dick Cheney has repeatedly lied to the American people about torture under the Bush administration.

Vox’s Max Fisher writes, “There’s something crucial we shouldn’t lose sight of: Torture was a terrible idea from the beginning because it was clear from the way the program came together that the CIA’s torture regime was never going to work…[as] it was based on copying Chinese torture methods designed not to elicit truth but to force false confessions.”

At The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald writes the report lays bare the media’s complacency, “as they refused for years even to use the word “torture” to describe any of this (even as they called these same techniques “torture” when used by American adversaries), a shameful and cowardly abdication that continues literally to this day in many of the most influential outlets.”

ACLU Director Anthony Romero writes in The New York Times that Bush, along with “those who tortured,” should be pardoned because “it may be the only way to establish, once and for all, that torture is illegal.”

And, at The Week, Ryan Cooper calls for the CIA to be scrapped entirely, writing, “The agency does almost nothing right — and now it’s a direct threat to American democracy.”

Originally published at BillMoyers.Com.

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