The CIA routinely misled the White House and Congress over its harsh interrogation program for terrorism suspects and its methods, which included waterboarding, were more brutal than the agency acknowledged, a Senate report said on Tuesday.
The program, devised by two agency contractors to squeeze information from suspects after the Sept. 11 2001 attacks, was ineffective and never led to the disruption of a single plot, the report by the Senate Intelligence Committee said.
The program ran from 2002 to 2006 and involved questioning al Qaeda and other captives in secret detention facilities in various countries, including Afghanistan, Poland, Romania and Thailand.
The report, which followed a five-year investigation, found the techniques used were “far more brutal” than the CIA told the public or policymakers. Its release prompted a boost of security at U.S. facilities abroad.
“This document examines the CIA’s secret overseas detention of at least 119 individuals and the use of coercive interrogation techniques – in some cases amounting to torture,” committee chair Dianne Feinstein said.
The CIA dismissed the findings, saying the interrogations did result in valuable information. Man Republicans condemned the report, which was put together by the committee’s Democratic majority, saying it would put Americans at risk.
Specific examples of brutality cited include the November 2002 death from hypothermia of a detainee held partially nude and chained to a concrete floor at a CIA prison.
The report said the CIA had tried to justify its use of the program by giving examples of what it called “thwarted” terrorist plots and suspect captures, but the “representations were inaccurate and contradicted by the CIA’s own records.”
Some captives were deprived of sleep for up to 180 hours, at times with their hands shackled above their heads, and the report recorded cases of “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration” without any documented medical need.
It described one secret CIA prison, whose location was not identified, as a “dungeon” where detainees were kept in total darkness and shackled in isolated cells, bombarded with loud noise and given only a bucket in which to relieve themselves.
It says that during one of the 83 occasions on which he was subjected to a simulated drowning technique the CIA called “waterboarding,” an al Qaeda detainee known as Abu Zubaydah became “completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open full mouth,” though he later was revived.
The report said CIA records showed that seven of 39 CIA detainees subjected to harsh interrogations produced no intelligence at all while in CIA custody. Others made up stories, “resulting in faulty intelligence.”
It said: “The methods in question, which were based on discredited coercive interrogation techniques such as those used by torturous regimes during the Cold War to elicit false confessions, regularly resulted in fabricated information.”
The report also said the CIA had failed to use adequately trained and vetted personnel. Two psychologists were contracted to set up the program and run it, but neither had any experience in interrogation or specialized knowledge of al Qaeda
One detainee subjected to some of the harshest treatment, Al Qaeda commander Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, accused of being the mastermind of the Sept. 11 hijacked plane attacks, was among the militants who gave interrogators false information, the report said.
In his case, such information included a bogus claim that he had assigned Dhiren Barot, a British al Qaeda operative, to recruit African-Americans in Montana to the Qaeda cause.
The report said internal CIA records described the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as evolving into a “series of near drownings.”
President Barack Obama said in a statement the techniques damaged American interests abroad without serving broad counter terrorism efforts. “Rather than another reason to refight old arguments, I hope that today’s report can help us leave these techniques where they belong, in the past,” he said.
CIA Director John Brennan acknowledged that the CIA detention and interrogation program “had shortcomings and that the agency made mistakes.”
But he denied the agency misled anyone about it and said the agency’s own review indicated that detainees who were subjected to harsh interrogations “did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives.”
A law enforcement official said that the Justice Department had no plans to conduct any investigation of the CIA’s actions in light of the release of the report.
Intelligence officials said that at one point, the Justice Department, through a specially-designated prosecutor conducted a criminal investigation into around 20 cases of allegations the CIA abused detainees. However, that investigation was closed without charges being filed.
The report charts the history of the CIA’s “Rendition, Detention and Interrogation” program, which President George W. Bush authorized after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Bush ended many aspects of the program before leaving office, and Obama swiftly banned “enhanced interrogation techniques” after his 2009 inauguration.
Republican Senator John McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam in the 1960s, said Americans were entitled to the truth about the program and its disclosure that such methods were ineffective.
Two Republican senators, Marco Rubio and Jim Risch, issued a statement calling the release of the report “reckless and irresponsible.
They said it “could endanger the lives of Americans overseas, jeopardize U.S. relations with foreign partners, potentially incite violence, create political problems for our allies, and be used as a recruitment tool for our enemies.”
The executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero, said in an opinion piece in The New York Times that Obama should issue formal pardons to senior officials and others to make clear that these actions were crimes and help ensure that “the American government never tortures again.”
The 500-plus page report that the Intelligence Committee has prepared for release, a summary of a much more detailed, 6,000-page narrative which will remain secret, includes 200 pages on the interrogation program’s history and 20 case studies.