With the National Security Agency (NSA) spying scandal continuing to make news, another secretive U.S. agency is now the subject of its own public humiliation.
In early April, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee (SIC) voted to partially declassify a 6,600-page report on Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) treatment of “terror suspects” during the George W. Bush administration (2000-2008). Only the 480-page executive summary of the report, which investigates the interrogation, detention, rendition and often torture of more than 100 CIA detainees, will be released to the public along with 20 conclusions and findings. The summary will be made public after the CIA has vetted it for declassification, which could take months.
Senate Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, a Democratic senator from California, explained that the report “includes details of each detainee in CIA custody, the conditions under which they were detained, how they were interrogated, the intelligence they actually provided and the accuracy–or inaccuracy–of CIA descriptions about the program to the White House, Department of Justice, Congress and others.”
Feinstein called the report’s findings “shocking” and said the CIA’s behaviour was “in stark contrast to our values as a nation.” The report accuses the CIA of engaging in widespread torture, illegal detentions and kidnappings or “renderings” of suspected terrorists to partner countries, and “then misleading the Bush administration and Congress about its effectiveness in providing good intelligence,” which the Agency was unable to get much of from the detainees.
Failure and Incompetence
The Senate report is a scathing indictment CIA brutality and incompetence, and of the agency’s failure in the U.S.-led “Global War on Terror,” just as the country’s armed forces are now widely seen to have failed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Feinstein also accused the CIA of secretly removing classified documents from a computer system used by Congress to compile the torture report, which she warned may have violated “the constitutional principle of congressional oversight, as well as both the Fourth Amendment and a presidential executive order that prohibits the CIA from engaging in domestic search and surveillance.”
“There’s a couple of stories [in the Senate report] that are so chilling that I can’t repeat them now,” said Republican Senator John McCain. One case he did mention was that of an agent reporting to CIA headquarters that he had “gotten everything we can out of the guy” through waterboarding. The message came back, “Waterboard him some more.” McCain called this “unconscionable.”
Waterboarding is a form of torture in which a victim is held down on a table with a cloth covering his face while water is poured over the cloth. It causes the person to gag and think that they are drowning. Since gagging can cause the victim to vomit, this form of torture, or “enhanced interrogation technique,” as the CIA refers to waterboarding, can kill a person. McCain pointed out that the U.S. hanged Japanese soldiers accused of waterboarding during the Second World War.
This “excruciating” torture on terror suspects produced little valuable intelligence for the CIA. One U.S. official who was briefed on the Senate report said: “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. Was that actually true? The answer is no.”
The high-profile CIA prisoner known as Abu Zubaida was waterboarded 83 times by the agency after his capture in Pakistan in 2002. But according to a U.S. official quoted in the Washington Post, almost all of the important information from Zubaida was obtained by FBI agent Ali Soufan in conversations with the suspect at a hospital in Pakistan. This didn’t stop the CIA from taking credit for getting this information in later communications with other U.S. intelligence agencies, the Justice Department and Congress.
“The CIA conflated what was gotten when, which led them to misrepresent the effectiveness of the program,” a second U.S. official told the Post, adding that the “persistence of such misstatements” was among “the most damaging” of the report’s conclusions. In other words, the CIA tortured blatantly and uselessly and then lied about the efficacy of its brutality.