For years, the CIA has been feuding with the Senate Intelligence Committee over its report on Bush-era “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and now we know why. While the 6,300-page report remains classified, on Monday U.S. officials described its contents in detail to the Washington Post. The report concludes that the CIA routinely misled members of Congress and the public by suggesting detainees gave up key information due to the use of those brutal techniques, when they had actually talked before the interrogation. “The CIA described [its program] repeatedly both to the Department of Justice and eventually to Congress as getting unique, otherwise unobtainable intelligence that helped disrupt terrorist plots and save thousands of lives,” said one U.S. official. “Was that actually true? The answer is no.”
Senate staffers have been working on the probe since 2009, when they were given access to millions of CIA documents (and obtained some they weren’t meant to see, sparking the recent sniping over alleged computer hacking). The report includes detailed chronologies on most CIA detainees captured after 9/11, and an assessment of intelligence officials’ claims about how enhanced interrogation techniques were being used.
One previously undisclosed technique involved the the CIA dunking detainees in tubs of ice water in a method similar to waterboarding. Khalid Sheik Mohammed’s nephew, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali was subjected to it at a CIA black site near Kabul in 2003. According to the Post, “CIA interrogators forcibly kept his head under the water while he struggled to breathe and beat him repeatedly, hitting him with a truncheon-like object and smashing his head against a wall, officials said.” He is still in Guantanamo Bay.
Echoing the complaints several senators made when Zero Dark Thirty was released, a second official says the CIA “conflated what was gotten when, which led them to misrepresent the effectiveness of the program.” For instance, Al Qaeda operative Hassan Ghul revealed a detail that led to Osama bin Laden’s killing – that his courier was known as “al-Kuwaiti” – while being questioned by Kurdish authorities in Iraq. In reports that was combined with less important information he revealed later at a CIA prison in Romania.
While the agency has yet to release an official response, many CIA officials say the report contains errors and draws incorrect conclusions. Soon their dispute with the Senate committee may get a public airing. Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says she plans to hold a committee vote Thursday on whether to release the 400-page summary. Then it will be up to the White House to declassify the summary. “I believe they will, hopefully quickly,” Feinstein said.