Vietnam, 1968: A US soldier questions an enemy suspect with the help of a water-boarding technique. Photo Courtesy: United Press International
The US Senate Intelligence Committee will send President Barack Obama a classified report on CIA interrogation tactics that uncovers "startling details" about a program kept secret for years, the Democratic leader of the panel said.
Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said in a statement yesterday the report documents the program the Central Intelligence Agency developed in 2002, under George W. Bush's administration, to detain and question high-value terrorism suspects.
The CIA used so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, including simulated drowning known as waterboarding, that critics such as the American Civil Liberties Union have called torture. Obama signed an executive order in 2009 ending the program.
"The report uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight," Feinstein said after her panel voted 9-6 to approve it. She declined to discuss the details while the report remains classified.
The Democratic majority on the Intelligence Committee conducted the investigation, which lasted almost four years and examined more than 6 million documents. Republicans on the panel boycotted the effort.
Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the intelligence panel, voted against the report. He said in a statement that the vote was premature because the CIA hadn't provided input and Republicans didn't receive the final version of the report until Dec. 12, the day before the roll call.
"In the limited time we have had to review it, a number of significant errors, omissions, assumptions and ambiguities -- as well as a lot of cherry-picking -- were found that call the conclusions into question," Chambliss said. He said the panel didn't offer "anyone the opportunity to respond to these findings and correct inaccuracies.''
Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, who is retiring at the end of this year, crossed party lines to vote for the report, her spokesman, Scott Ogden, said in an e-mail. She was the only Republican on the panel to do so.
Emerging from a closed-door meeting at a Senate office building, Feinstein said in an interview that the report reinforces her belief that harsh interrogation methods didn't produce "actionable" intelligence.
The report also disputes Republican claims that harsh interrogations led to intelligence that helped track down Osama bin Laden, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said in an interview after the meeting.
A team of Navy SEALs killed bin Laden at his compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan, last year.
A movie being released this month about the hunt for bin Laden, "Zero Dark Thirty," depicts the use of the disputed interrogation practices. It has helped rekindle controversy over whether the tactics produced valuable intelligence.
In its more than 6,000 pages, the report describes the cases of every detainee in CIA custody and whether the CIA provided accurate descriptions of the program to the White House, Justice Department and Congress, Feinstein said in her statement.
"I strongly believe that the creation of long-term, clandestine 'black sites' and the use of so-called enhanced-interrogation techniques were terrible mistakes," she said. "The majority of the committee agrees."
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, who claimed he was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said in a statement he supports the report. He isn't a member of the intelligence panel so he didn't have a vote on whether to approve it.
"What I have learned confirms for me what I have always believed and insisted to be true -- that the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners is not only wrong in principle and a stain on our country's conscience, but also an ineffective and unreliable means of gathering intelligence," McCain said.
McCain said in his statement he believes the report should be declassified.
"It is my sincerest hope that we Americans, for all of our many disagreements, can nonetheless manage to agree that torture of the kind described in this report is unworthy of our national honor and should no longer be a matter for discussion," he said.
"The report will not be declassified at this time," Feinstein said. "The report will go out to certain departments with very limited, very precise classified distribution for review, technical amendment and comment," she said, with comments due back to the committee by Feb. 15.
Chambliss said he doesn't support declassifying the report.
In a message today to CIA employees, Acting Director Michael Morell said the detention and interrogation program "has been the subject of multiple internal and external inquiries and investigations, and it is important to remember that the program was terminated by presidential executive order almost four years ago."
He said the agency would study and respond to the report and vouched for "the courage and commitment" that CIA employees bring to their work. "This is especially true for the officers who are on the front line of the fight against terrorism," Morell said.
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