Nation & World

McClatchy: Senate panel finds CIA illegally interrogated terror suspects after Sept. 11


CIA officers subjected some terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11 attacks to interrogation methods that were not approved by either the Justice Department or their own headquarters, and illegally detained 26 of its 119 captives in CIA custody, the Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded in its still-secret report, McClatchy has learned.

The spy agency program’s reliance on brutal techniques – much more abusive than previously known – and its failure to gather valuable information from the detainees harmed the United States’ credibility, according to the committee’s findings in its scathing 6,300-page report on the CIA’s interrogation and detention program.

The agency also repeatedly misled the Justice Department while stymieing Congress’ and the White House’s efforts to oversee the secret and now-defunct program, McClatchy has learned.

In all, the committee came to 20 conclusions about the CIA’s harsh interrogation tactics after spending six years and $40 million evaluating the controversial program, which began during the Bush administration.

The committee voted 11-3 Thursday to declassify an executive summary and conclusions. The findings and summary now will go to the White House and CIA for eventual public release.

Despite the bipartisan vote, Republicans and Democrats were at odds over the report’s value.

Committee chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., maintained that the eventual release of the summary and findings will show “that this nation admits its errors, as painful as they may be, and seeks to learn from them.”

She called the findings shocking, adding: “The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation. It chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen. This is not what Americans do.”

The report “certainly depicts the program as much, much worse than generally thought,” said Alberto Mora, a former Navy general counsel and an early critic of the Bush administration program. “Oh my gosh, it’s a devastating critique.”

The finding that 26 detainees were held without legal authorization and the confirmation that the CIA in some cases went beyond the techniques approved by the Justice Department might fuel legal challenges.

“The Bush administration, of course, disfigured and distorted the definition of torture,” Mora said. “But they always held that torture was a crime.

“Arguably those detainees that suffered the techniques that went beyond those approved by the previous administration might have a criminal or civil liability,” he said.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the committee’s top Republican, who said he’d voted to declassify, was highly critical of the report, however.

He told McClatchy it’s “a waste of time,” saying, “There is absolutely concrete evidence that has been gleaned from the individuals who have been interrogated in this program that led not only to (Osama) bin Laden’s takedown but to the interruption and disruption of other terrorist plots over the years.”

The Senate panel concluded that the techniques were ineffective.

The committee also made these findings:

• Critics inside the CIA were excluded from the debate over the program or ignored, and the news media were manipulated with leaks that tended to blunt criticism of the agency.

• While the CIA’s high-level officials mismanaged the program, interrogators who crossed the line into abusive behavior went unpunished.

• Even six months after the spy agency received the legal authority to proceed, its officers remained unprepared for interrogating detainees.

Most of the report and the underlying CIA documents might remain secret. White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Barack Obama “would expect that the actions that are necessary to declassify a document like that be conducted in all due haste, and I think he would make that clear to the agencies involved in that effort and the individuals involved in that effort.”

Carney said he hadn’t talked with the president about whether he thought that releasing the report would have a positive effect on U.S. relations with countries that had been critical of the Guantánamo detention center and CIA interrogation.

The CIA pledged to cooperate.

If the committee submits portions of its report to the agency, “the CIA will carry out the review expeditiously,” said agency spokesman Dean Boyd. “While we have not yet been provided a final version of the report, our review of the 2012 version found several areas in which CIA and (the committee) agreed, and several other areas in which we disagreed.

“The CIA has acknowledged and learned from the program’s shortcomings and has taken corrective measures to prevent such mistakes from happening again. At the same time, we owe it to the men and women directed to carry out this program to try and ensure that any historical account of it is accurate.”

The bipartisan vote was quick and secret. Reporters were told the committee would meet at 2:30 p.m., but the panel instead convened a few minutes earlier, and within 25 minutes – to the surprise of most at the Capitol – the vote was over.

It nonetheless masked deep divisions between Democratic and Republican committee members. While both wanted the material declassified, they were at odds over its worth. The CIA has rejected some of the findings and has written a still-secret rebuttal.

Committee Republicans were furious over the report. The three dissenters in the vote were all Republicans, though their identities weren’t immediately clear since the vote was secret.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who said he’d voted to declassify, said he was “extremely disappointed in the flawed and biased results” of the report.

Democrats vigorously defended the findings.

“This report shows that multiple levels of government were misled about the effectiveness of these techniques,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. “If secretive government agencies want to operate in a democracy, there must be trust.”

The question remained how much of the report would be divulged because the White House and the CIA might decide to release or withhold different portions. It’s also unclear how long the final decision would take, with some experts predicting months.

In March, McClatchy reported that the CIA Inspector General’s Office had asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations that the CIA had monitored the committee staff’s work.

Lesley Clark contributed to this report.