The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee recently voted to declassify parts of its report on the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” to extract information from terrorist detainees, but parts of the work that have been leaked appear to confirm Americans’ worst fears about the secret program.
Committee investigators found that the brutal treatment of prisoners was far more widespread than the agency has acknowledged, and that CIA officials deliberately misled Congress about the effectiveness of methods that brought shame on the nation and amounted to little more than torture by another name.
Indeed, the greatest irony of the interrogation program was precisely that it failed to uncover the kind of useful intelligence in the war on terror that the agency claimed as its main reason for being.
In fact, Senate investigators couldn’t find a single instance in which information gained through torture led to the capture or killing of high-ranking terrorist operatives or helped thwart a major attack on the American homeland by al-Qaida and its affiliates. On the contrary, whatever useful intelligence the agency did glean from the suspects it captured was obtained by more traditional means before they were ever tortured – and ceased as soon as they were.
The Senate committee investigators also charged that to cover up the fact that the interrogation program wasn’t working as advertised, CIA officials repeatedly lied to Congress about the real sources of their information. In one case, for example, the agency went so far as to take credit for intelligence that was actually generated by an FBI agent who interviewed the suspect before the CIA started torturing him. Even so, CIA officials later reported that the U.S. couldn’t have gotten such useful information had it not been for its secret interrogation program.
That the agency continued to torture detainees long after it became evident that no useful information was forthcoming – and despite it being plainly immoral and a violation of international law – raises questions about its true purpose and the motives of those who ordered it and carried it out. That’s bad enough, but what was worse was that, as a result, the agency put itself in a position that forced it to routinely inflate the significance of the alleged terrorist plots it claimed to have thwarted as well as the importance of enemy combatants captured on the battlefield. It’s hard not to conclude that the agency’s resistance to ending the program or to holding anyone accountable for its abuses was based more on a desire to save its own skin rather than to serve the country.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the Intelligence Committee chairwoman, is leading the effort to release the 480-page executive summary of her committee’s report, which runs some 6,300 pages in total. It now goes to President Obama for review and possible redaction.
Obama entered office in 2009 on a pledge to rein in the CIA’s use of torture, and we urge him promptly to make public the evidence of this most shameful episode in our history.
It’s necessary not only to galvanize Congress and the White House to greater oversight of intelligence community operations but also because the American people deserve to know the grisly details of the crimes committed in their name so that they will never be allowed to happen again.