The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday is planning to release the executive summary of its inquiry into the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, more than eight years after President George W. Bush announced the closure of the agency’s secret overseas prisons. The report is expected to find that the agency’s use of harsh interrogation techniques were not effective and that the CIA misled government officials about the success of the program. Here’s the context:
Why is the Senate Intelligence Committee releasing its report now?
Although the formal probe into the CIA’s program began in 2009, it has taken years for Senate investigators to review and analyze a blizzard of cables, memos and other records that numbered more than 6 million. The effort involved the creation of special procedures and facilities to handle the documents as well as coordination between the CIA and the Senate. The final report runs more than 6,000 pages, with more than 35,000 footnotes.
But the report has also been repeatedly delayed by political wrangling. After the Senate committee delivered a draft to the CIA in 2012, the agency then launched its own review of the report, before concluding that the Senate’s draft was marred by errors and unfair conclusions. The CIA then formulated its own response, to be included in the report.
The Senate finally sent a draft to the Obama administration for declassification earlier this year, setting off yet another clash between lawmakers and the CIA over how much material should be redacted. An executive summary of the report is expected to be released Tuesday.
Who was involved in investigating the program and does the CIA agree with the report’s conclusions?
The CIA’s program has been repeatedly investigated. After learning a detainee had died of hypothermia at a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan in late 2002, the agency’s inspector general reviewed the program. The watchdog issued a report that found the program was riddled with problems and instances of serious abuse.
The committee began taking an informal look at the program after learning in 2007 that the agency had destroyed videotapes of detainees being waterboarded at a CIA prison in Thailand. In 2009, the committee launched an official review of the program that the Republicans initially embraced. Republicans later pulled out of the investigation, citing concerns that the committee would be unable to interview CIA officials involved in the program because of a criminal investigation. While opposed to the report, some Republicans did vote to declassify a portion of it that was made public.
The report isn’t purely partisan. Two senators from Maine supported its findings, including Angus King, an independent, and Susan Collins, a Republican.
The CIA doesn’t embrace many of the report’s findings. The agency’s director, John Brennan, said earlier this year that CIA “agrees with many of the findings in the report, and we disagree with others. We have acknowledged and learned from the program’s shortcomings and we have taken corrective measures to prevent such mistakes from happening again.”
Did the use of harsh interrogation methods produce intelligence that helped track down Osama bin Laden?
The debate centers on a Kuwaiti courier who worked directly for bin Laden. Former CIA officials and the top Republican on the committee say several detainees in agency custody who were subject to harsh interrogation techniques did provide information that led to bin Laden.
In 2004, CIA officials captured a Pakistani named Hasan Ghul, who later admitted the courier was very important to al-Qaeda. U.S. intelligence officials have described him as the “linchpin” in the hunt for bin Laden. But Ghul provided details about the courier before the CIA subjected him to harsh interrogation methods.
Other detainees, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-admitted mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, provided false statements about the courier’s connections to bin Laden even after they endured these harsh interrogation methods.
What harsh interrogation methods did the CIA use, and did those methods amount to torture?
In 2002, CIA officials drew up a list of harsh techniques, including those that would allow interrogators to slap and forcefully grab detainees, put them in stress positions and deprive them of sleep, place them in confinement boxes and subject them to waterboarding, or simulated drowning. CIA officials also asked if they could perform mock burials but were refused authorization to do so.
Many detainees endured some of these techniques but only three were waterboarded.
Before the CIA began using these methods, the agency’s top officials were supposed to seek approval from the Justice Department. The department’s lawyers concluded the techniques did not constitute torture. President Obama, however, has used the word torture to describe what happened to some detainees in CIA custody. The European Court for Human Rights recently said that two detainees held in Poland were tortured.
Will anyone face disciplinary or criminal action as a result of the committee’s findings?
Justice Department officials have investigated CIA abuses on three separate occasions. The final investigation began in 2009 when the Justice Department began investigating the destruction of the interrogation tapes. That evolved into a broader investigation of the CIA program. But in 2012, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced prosecutors would not bring charges against CIA officials after a lengthy investigation.