Senate Panel to Examine CIA Detainee Handling

By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 27, 2009

The Senate intelligence committee is planning an unprecedented review of the CIA's handling of captured terrorist suspects, drawing back the curtain for the first time on the agency's use of waterboarding and other interrogation tactics inside secret CIA prisons, congressional sources said yesterday.

The review, which could be announced as early as today, will use official testimony and hundreds of classified documents to piece together an authoritative account of one of the most clandestine -- and, to some former and current agency officials, darkest -- chapters of the Bush administration's anti-terrorism war, the officials said.

Lawmakers will try to determine not only how detainees were interrogated, but also whether the CIA's controversial methods produced useful intelligence, according to three congressional officials briefed on the plans.

Former CIA leaders have said the use of waterboarding, which simulates drowning, and other harsh measures yielded information that helped prevent a wave of terrorist attacks after Sept. 11, 2001.

The officials described the planned inquiry as a "study" and stressed that it would not yield recommendations for possible legal proceedings. It was not yet clear how much of the panel's work would be conducted in public, nor what the end product would look like, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the committee's internal discussions.

"We will gather information so that we can look forward and help influence policies in the future," said a congressional official familiar with the committee's approach.

A second official said that the investigation is expected to last about six months and that it will encompass the history of the CIA's secret detention program, which began in 2002 and held as many as 100 suspected terrorists in "black site" prisons on at least two foreign continents.

While individual lawmakers have called publicly for a broad investigation -- with legal consequences where warranted -- the committee appears to have settled on a cautious approach that in many ways reflects the tone set by the Obama administration over the past month. While administration officials have denounced waterboarding as torture, President Obama has opposed prosecution of CIA employees who carried out orders that were deemed legal by the Bush administration.

Former CIA director Michael V. Hayden acknowledged last year that about 100 suspected al-Qaeda operatives were detained and interrogated in secret prisons overseas. In September 2006, the Bush administration confirmed the existence of the detention program and transferred 14 remaining "high-level" detainees to the Defense Department's facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Hayden said that about a third of the detainees were subjected to coercive techniques, and three were waterboarded.

New CIA Director Leon E. Panetta is helping to lead an internal administration review of the agency's interrogation practices. At a news conference Wednesday, Panetta said he could not yet say whether the methods paid off with intelligence breakthroughs. Obama banned coercive techniques in one of his first executive orders after taking the oath of office.

Panetta also said he would cooperate with any congressional inquiries, adding that the CIA has "a responsibility to be transparent on these issues."

"I would not support, obviously, an investigation or a prosecution of those individuals" involved in the interrogation program, he said. "They did their job, they did it pursuant to the guidance that was provided them, whether you agreed or disagreed with it. But as far as the Congress reviewing these issues and trying to gain lessons learned, we'll obviously cooperate."

In 2004, an internal CIA audit of the interrogation program reportedly concluded that some of the agency's methods violated the Geneva Conventions' ban on cruel and degrading treatment, according to officials familiar with the still-classified report.

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