Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, represents California in the Senate, where she chairs the intelligence committee. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat representing West Virginia in the Senate, is a former chairman of the committee.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted 11 to 3 last Thursday to declassify and make public the executive summary and the findings and conclusions of its report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.
Those documents have been sent to the president for declassification.
We believe that public release is the best way to ensure that this program of secret detention and coercive interrogation never happens again. It will also serve to uphold America’s practice of admitting wrongdoing and learning from its mistakes.
Some, however, do not want this report to become public and are seeking to discredit it.
Critics’ two most common refrains: The report was written to support a predetermined outcome, and it is flawed because of a lack of interviews. Both assertions are false and can easily be refuted.
It is important to understand the origins of the committee’s study.
The full committee was not briefed on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program until September 2006 — more than four years after the program had begun — and learned about the existence and eventual destruction of CIA interrogation tapes only from news reports in late 2007.
In December 2007, media reports revealed that the CIA had destroyed videotapes depicting the interrogations of its first two detainees, Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri . The CIA had destroyed those tapes in 2005 over the objections of President George W. Bush’s White House counsel and the director of national intelligence, among others.
On Dec. 11, 2007, CIA Director Michael Hayden told the Senate intelligence committee that the destruction of the tapes did not amount to destruction of evidence because detailed records of the interrogations existed in the form of CIA operational cables. Hayden also assured the committee that those cables were a more-than-adequate representation of the tapes and said that committee staff would be given access to them.
Over the following year, staff members pored over those cables. In February 2009, they reported their findings to the committee. By that time, one of us, Sen. Feinstein, had taken over the chairmanship from the other, Sen. Rockefeller.
Working with then-Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), the vice chairman of the committee, terms for a comprehensive review of the CIA’s program were drafted. The intelligence committee voted 14 to 1 to initiate that study.
After reaching an agreement with the CIA on how the study would be conducted, committee staff began working on a bipartisan basis.
Contrary to recent allegations, the final report was not written to support preconceived notions. It was written to document the facts of the CIA’s detention and interrogation practices — nothing more and nothing less.
Almost every sentence in the 6,600-page report is attributed to CIA documents, including cables, internal memoranda and e-mails, briefing materials, interview transcripts, classified testimony, financial documents and more.
When the executive summary is released, the public will see how thoroughly documented and fact-based it is.
The criticism that committee staff did not conduct interviews is also misleading.
In August 2009, just five months after the committee had authorized its study, the Justice Department broadened its look at the CIA program from a review of the destruction of the videotapes to an investigation into CIA interrogations.
This meant that CIA officers whom the committee might have interviewed now faced legal jeopardy, which led then-CIA Director Leon Panetta to decide not to compel agency personnel to participate in our interviews.
And it was this Justice Department review, not partisanship, that led Republicans on the intelligence committee to withdraw from the study.
Although the committee was not able to conduct new interviews, it had access to and used transcripts from more than 100 interviews conducted by the CIA inspector general and other agency offices while the program was ongoing and shortly after it ended.
Many of these transcripts were from interviews of the same people the committee would have talked to, with answers to the same questions that would have been asked. This included top managers, lawyers, counterterrorism personnel, analysts, interrogators and others at the CIA.
Ultimately, the Senate intelligence committee’s report should be judged on the accuracy of its findings and the quality of its conclusions, not on whether its information came from documents or interviews.
Soon, the American people will be able to judge this for themselves. We have confidence that they will conclude, as we have, that this program was a mistake that must never be repeated.
Read more on this issue:
Eugene Robinson: An emotional response to the torture report
Ruth Marcus: The emotional double standard applied to Sen. Feinstein
Marc A. Thiessen: Brennan must defend CIA’s terrorist interrogation program
Jose A. Rodriguez Jr.: I ran the CIA interrogation program
David Ignatius: A tortured debate between Congress and the CIA