Here’s What The U.S. Senate’s Declassified CIA Torture Report Says

Photo of Dianne Feinstein courtesy of John D. Rockefeller via Flickr. 

Since its creation, the U.S. Select Senate Committee (SSCI), which consists of 15 Senators rotated among chamber members, has had the responsibility of overseeing Intelligence programs and reporting their activities to the Senate.

Most recently, this duty has come in the form of a 5-year-long investigative report on the CIA’s Bush-era post-9/11 detainee programs.

This long-anticipated (and highly classified) 6000+ paged “torture report” was completed in 2014, and 525-page summary released on December 9, 2014. According to the report:

  • interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists were not approved by the Department of Justice, White House, or CIA headquarters
  • interrogation techniques/conditions were far more brutal than the agency communicated to policymakers
  • the use of “enhanced interrogation” (such as waterboarding) did not effectively assist the agency in acquiring intelligence or gaining detainee cooperation. The CIA lied about the efficacy, however
  • specific abuses included forcing detainees to stand on broken feet, inserting hummus in a detainee’s rectum, keeping detainees awake for over a week, and mistakenly torturing CIA informants

The report has been years in the making,  and cost around $40 million.

A long time coming

When Obama took presidency in 2009, one of his first actions was shutting down the detainee program, followed by an executive order banning torture. Even so, he then decided against a broad Bush-era intelligence investigation to focus on the future instead of dwelling on the past.

In spite of this, the Senate Intelligence Committee decided they wanted to investigate, and the panel voted 14-1 to proceed. Obama stated he might be open to prosecutions once the reports were released (at the time it was estimated to take 6 to 8 months.)

Obviously, the extensive report ended up taking longer than that. But why?

Here’s a brief timeline of important events in the report’s making, from 2009-2014.

2009: The CIA created a “secure facility” for the SSCI to investigate, described later by committee chair Dianne Feinstein as a “standalone computer” “segregated from CIA networks.” The CIA hired contractors to read each document before passing it to the committee,  which slowed progress.

Republicans on the committee withdrew from the panel’s review, arguing that the investigation could make CIA employees more hesitant to answer questions.

2010: Some 870 documents (by Feinstein’s account) disappeared from computers in the CIA investigation facility. The CIA denied the disappearance before blaming IT and the White House. In May, the CIA apologized for removing them, but documents continued to disappear.

2011: The Justice Department’s special prosecutor cleared CIA members from wrongdoing in 99 cases of detainee mistreatment, leaving only two cases involving detainee deaths.

2012: Attorney General Eric Holder announced that no CIA members would be prosecuted for detainee deaths. The SSCI voted 9-6 to approve the near-completed report for declassification, and sent it to the CIA and White House for review.

2013: The CIA and White House failed to submit responses to the report by  their February deadline. The CIA completed its122-page rebuttal in June, accusing the SSCI of errors, holes, and not interviewing CIA members (according to the SSCI, employees had refused).

The CIA’s response was allegedly at odds with a key document called the Panetta Review that implicated CIA wrongdoing, which was retracted from the Senate committee, and was refused to be handed back over.

2014: The CIA accused Senate aides of hacking their computer networks; simultaneously, a crime report was filed accusing the CIA of spying on the Senate, resulting in a publicized feud.

The completed report’s summarized findings were made public through a leak in late March 2014, and the committee voted 11-3 to declassify yet to be determined parts in April. The declassified summary was finally released on December 9.

The takeaway

According to the New York Times, defenders of the program see Senate criticism as misrepresentative of “actions taken in a desperate time to stop terrorist attacks.”

Critics see it as a necessary coming to terms with “a shameful departure from American values” that should never be repeated.

Now that more details are out in the open after many years of secrecy, it’s unclear if there will be further ramifications.

We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?

Updated. Originally published on April 28, 2014. 

Jennifer Markert