Udall, transparency advocates herald release of macabre CIA torture report

Today the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released declassified information from a report detailing shocking and macabre use of torture by operatives of the Central Intelligence Agency in the years after 9-11 terrorist attacks.

The information has been made public after seven months of negotiations centered on how extensively the report should be redacted and after a well-timed threat to leak the report from outgoing Colorado U.S. Senator Mark Udall, who sits on the intelligence committee.  The graphic report raises again questions about how Americans should acknowledge and respond to injustices perpetrated by the government authority working in the people’s name under what appears to be very little oversight by representatives of the people. It’s a question that has gained great urgency in recent weeks, fueled mainly by outrage and sorrow in the wake of failed indictments for policy brutality.

Summarizing the report, intelligence committee chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein acknowledged the extreme threat U.S. citizens and government officials felt in the wake of the 9-11 attacks and admitted that the CIA was under tremendous pressure — even from her own committee — to uproot a terrorist network that was ambiguously far-reaching. Even so, she was still scathing in her assessment of the agency’s decisions:

“The major lesson of this report is that regardless of the pressures and the need to act, the Intelligence Community’s actions must always reflect who we are as a nation, and adhere to our laws and standards. It is precisely at these times of national crisis that our government must be guided by the lessons of our history and subject decisions to internal and external review. Instead, CIA personnel, aided by two outside contractors, decided to initiate a program of indefinite secret detention and the use of brutal interrogation techniques in violation of U.S. law, treaty obligations, and our values.”

Udall had become the focus of transparency advocates who wanted to see the report released, including some 165,000 who signed a petition requesting that he leak the report on the Senate floor if the agency continued to stonewall efforts to make the report public and readable for not being blackened by sweeping redactions:

“Before leaving office, please submit the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report to the Congressional Record,” read that petition. “We know that you are considering undertaking this heroic and courageous act, and we and countless others will support you if you choose to do so.”

In the end, negotiations succeeded and an estimated 95 percent of the information has been declassified.

“We can protect our national security without compromising who we are as Americans,” said Udall in a release. “This landmark study — and the millions of pages of agency documents and testimony it is based upon — shows that torture is not effective and does not make us safer.”

Concerns that releasing even mention of torture might put the U.S. at risk motivated Secretary of State John Kerry to call on the Intelligence Committee to delay the release last Friday, saying the timing of the release was fraught.  Over the weekend, the U.S. transferred six Guantánamo Bay detainees to Uruguay.

“There’s never a good time to release damning information about the United States. The world is not going to be different a week or a month from now in that regard,” said Robert Naiman, Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy, which supported declassification.

Indeed, contrary to fears that the report will put U.S. personnel in danger, Naiman said truth and reconciliation is a step toward safety.

“People are angry at the U.S. for what we did, not for talking about it,” he said. “To restore the soft power of the US we need to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘Ok, we did these things and they were wrong and we are not going to do again. We’re not the country that does these things.”


Here is the committee’s list of findings (you can read the full summary here):

#1: The CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.

#2: The CIA’s justification for the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness.

#3: The interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others.

#4: The conditions of confinement for CIA detainees were harsher than the CIA had represented to policymakers and others.

#5: The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department ofJustice, impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.

#6: The CIA has actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight of the program

#7: The CIA impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making.

#8: The CIA’s operation and management of the program complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions of other Executive Branch agencies.

#9; The CIA impeded oversight by the CIA’s Office of Inspector General.

#10: The CIA coordinated the release of classified information to the media, including inaccurate information concerning the effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.

#11: The CIA was unprepared as it began operating its Detention and Interrogation Program more than six months after being granted detention authorities.

#12: The CIA’s management and operation of its Detention and Interrogation Program was deeply flawed throughout the program’s duration, particularly so in 2002 and early 2003.

#13: 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. By 2005, the CIA had overwhelmingly outsourced operations related to the program.

#14: CIA detainees were subjected to coercive interrogation techniques that had not been approved by the Department of Justice or had not been authorized by CIA Headquarters.

#15: The CIA did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained, and held individuals who did not meet the legal standard for detention. The CIA’s claims about the number of detainees held and subjected to its enhanced Interrogation techniques were inaccurate.

#16: The CIA failed to adequately evaluate the effectiveness of its enhanced interrogation techniques.

#17: The CIA rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable for serious and significant violations, inappropriate activities, and systemic and individual management failures.

#18: The CIA marginalized and ignored numerous internal critiques, criticisms, and objections concerning the operation and management of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.

#19: The CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program was inherently unsustainable and had effectively ended by 2006 due to unauthorized press disclosures, reduced cooperation from other nations, and legal and oversight concerns.

#20: The CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program damaged the United States’ standing in the world, and resulted in other significant monetary and non-monetary costs.


[Image from 2012 hunger strike to close Guantanamo Bay. Image by Justin Norman]