The CIA’s torture program during George W. Bush’s presidency was ineffective, deeply flawed and “far more brutal” than government officials have previously said, according to an executive summary of the long-awaited torture report released Tuesday.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s five-year review of the CIA’s post-Sept. 11, 2001 detention and interrogation program found that the agency used inaccurate information to obtain legal authority and approval, as well as essentially misleading the White House, federal lawmakers and the American public.
The study was especially critical in its assessment of the agency’s end game—whether information otherwise unavailable to the CIA was obtained through enhanced interrogation, such as “waterboarding,” a technique that simulates drowning.
“At no time did the CIA’s coercive interrogation techniques lead to the collection of imminent threat intelligence,” the study found.
The CIA had 119 known detainees in custody, of whom 26 were wrongfully held—about 20 percent of those detained. Interrogations sometimes went on “non-stop” for days or weeks at a time, the study found. And the interrogation techniques imposed were far more brutal than previously disclosed. Some detainees were forced to remain awake for up to 180 hours by either standing in stressful positions or having their hands shackled above their heads. At least five detainees were subjected to “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration” without presenting any previously documented medical need. Other men were forced to walk around naked with hoods covering their heads as they were slapped and punched.
Detainees reportedly referred to one interrogation site as the “dungeon” because they were kept in complete darkness. Shackled to their cell, they were forced to hear loud noise or music for hours without end. Guards left the detainee a bucket in the cell to urinate and defecate in.
In one instance, a detainee died due to a lack of heat at the site, the study found.
Despite the CIA’s claims to the contrary, the committee said there’s an indication that the agency waterboarded more than the three detainees it had said. The committee cited a photo of a waterboard with buckets of water at a detention site where the CIA had previously said it never used the technique.
In 2011, former Vice President Dick Cheney claimed that waterboarding Khaled Sheikh Mohammed had produced “phenomenal results for us” and lead to the intelligence that “allowed us to get Osama bin Laden.” But the report disputed that assertion, reviewing 20 of the CIA’s most frequently cited examples of purported “successes” attributed to the use of these enhanced interrogation techniques and found each one to be wrong.
The release of the so-called “torture report” comes two years after the study was approved and a little more than a year after the committee voted to declassify the report.
Committee members sifted through some 6.3 million CIA records during the process. The Senate committee and the White House negotiated for eight months, determining what information needed to be redacted as to “protect national security.”
Some lawmakers currently on Capitol Hill objected to the report’s release, saying doing so would harm national security.
The CIA released a statement noting that such practices were deemed lawful at the time and were authorized by President Bush’s administration. The agency disagrees with the study’s finding regarding intelligence gained from the techniques and believes that the report provides an “incomplete and selective picture of what occurred,” according to the statement.
None of the CIA officers involved in the program were ever interviewed for the report, CIA Director John Brennan said.
“As noted in CIA’s response to the study, we acknowledge that the detention and interrogation program had shortcomings and that the Agency made mistakes,” Brennan said. “The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the Agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies required to carry out an unprecedented, worldwide program of detaining and interrogating suspected al-Qa’ida and affiliated terrorists.
“In carrying out that program, we did not always live up to the high standards that we set for ourselves and that the American people expect of us,” Brennand conceded. “As an Agency, we have learned from these mistakes, which is why my predecessors and I have implemented various remedial measures over the years to address institutional deficiencies.”
The full Senate Intelligence Committee was not briefed on the program until September 2006, just before it was publicly disclosed.
Several senators, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), objected to the program, but the CIA purportedly told the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel in a classified meeting that no senators objected to the techniques, according to the study.
“The CIA provided incomplete and inaccurate information to the White House regarding the operation and effectiveness of the detention and interrogation program,” according to the executive summary. “In addition to inaccurate statements provided to other policymakers, there were instances in which specific questions from White House officials were not answered truthfully or completely.”
The CIA’s problems weren’t limited to top-level officials. At a detention facility referred to as “COBALT,” insufficient records of detainees were kept, a junior officer in charge of the facility did not have the required experience, and untrained officers often conducted unsupervised and unauthorized interrogations.
“The CIA did not employ adequately trained and vetted personnel,” said the executive summary. “The CIA deployed individuals without relevant training or experience. CIA also deployed officers who had documented personal and professional problems of a serious nature—including histories of violence and abusive treatment of others—that should have called into question their employment, let alone their suitability to participate in the sensitive CIA program.”