What We Know About CIA Torture Post-9/11, Thanks To A Senate Report Damning & Horrific In Equal Measure
As promised, on Tuesday, a Senate panel released its lengthy report on CIA interrogations, including the damning evidence that contradicts former Vice President Dick Cheney's claims that torture — in this instance, waterboarding, sleep deprivation and the like — led to key intelligence in the fight against terrorism against the United States. The 500-page report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), is a summary of thousands of documents, transcripts and emails culled by the committee between 2009 and 2012.
While the full 6,700-page report still remains classified, these newly released documents paint a discouraging picture of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program. The Senate committee alleges that the agency used "brutal interrogation techniques" and misled policymakers about the appalling conditions of the detainees. The report calls the CIA's management of its interrogation program "deeply flawed," employing untrained CIA officers who regularly used techniques that were never formally approved by the agency. And that's just the beginning.
"This document examines the CIA’s secret overseas detention of at least 119 individuals and the use of coercive interrogation techniques — in some cases amounting to torture," Feinstein said in a statement on Tuesday.
According to Feinstein's office, the Senate committee reviewed more than six million pages of CIA records during the nearly four-year-long investigation. The senators concluded that the CIA was unprepared to take on its first detainees in 2002; used techniques that not only led to misinformation, but could be defined as torture; and gave inaccurate information to not only policymakers, but also members of the media, in order to "counter public criticism" and "shape public opinion."
The 20 conclusions made by the Senate panel dramatically shakes the current political landscape. Although the report was approved by a bipartisan vote in 2012, Republicans in Washington have spoken out against the report, calling it politically motivated and an act that will only lead to more anti-American violence in the world. "[Feinstein] will have to live with the consequences," Senator Richard M. Burr, who's taking the helm of the intelligence committee in 2015, told The New York Times.
Feinstein reportedly countered those claims in her speech to the Senate on Tuesday, saying:
This clearly is a period of turmoil and instability in many parts of the world. Unfortunately, that is going to continue for the foreseeable future whether this report is released or not.
Here are the major takeaways from the scathing 500-page report:
The CIA's Interrogation Techniques Were "Far Worse" Than What We Knew
Detainees at the CIA's COBALT site, which one CIA officer nicknamed "the dungeon," were routinely subjected to abusive, demoralizing practices and inhumane living conditions. The detainees were reportedly shackled and kept in total darkness, with loud music blaring. Their arms were often shackled above their heads for extended periods of time. In one instance, lack of heat likely led to the death of a detainee.
The report details the disturbing "enhanced interrogation" practices used, including waterboarding that led to a "series of near drownings" for one detainee.
The "Enhanced Interrogations" Were Ineffective, But The CIA Did Them Anyway
On the subject of waterboarding, the most controversial interrogation technique that came under scrutiny during the Bush administration, former CIA Director Michael Hayden testified before the Congress that the practice led to receiving information from detainees. However, the Senate committee found a slew of discrepancies in Hayden's testimony.
The CIA claimed, to Congress and the Justice Department, that the use of enhanced interrogation practices "saved lives." However, the Senate panel found that there was hardly any evidence that these practices were responsible for 20 "counterterrorism successes" the CIA claimed. "In some cases, there was no relationship between the cited counterterrorism success and any information provided by detainees," during or after the torture took place, the report concluded.
One specific event the report sites is the thwarting of a terrorist attack at Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf in London. The report states the CIA uses this as its prime example of its interrogation results, claiming the agency received "unique" intelligence that led to the aborted terrorist plot. But the senators again found gross misrepresentations and inaccuracies.
No One Knew What They Were Doing
Perhaps most disturbing, the report found that numerous CIA officers placed at the detention centers — particularly COBALT — did not have proper training when the program first began. In fact, officers didn't start receiving training until after three months of using the "enhanced interrogation" practices.
According to the report:
The CIA also placed a junior officer with little training in charge of COBALT in 2002, and not long after, a detainee died of hypothermia. The report noted that no one in the CIA took responsibility of the detention center, he Office of Inspector General, and that CIA "leadership and senior attorneys acknowledged that they had little or no awareness of operations at COBALT."
To make matters worse, many CIA officials didn't know — or believe — that these brutal "enhanced interrogation" practices were being used at COBALT. Tensions soon began to flare.
And one email from the agency's chief of interrogations called the detention program a train wreck "waiting to happen and I intend to get the hell off the train before it happens."
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