CIA 'torture' report: 10 things you need to know about the Senate report on interrogation methods

The US Senate will release its long-awaited waterboarding report today

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What is it and who wrote it?

Beginning in 2009, the US Senate Intelligence Committee launched an official probe into what CIA operatives did to al-Qa’ida suspects in the wake of the September 11 attacks of 2001 as they tried to extract information on the network and its plans.  The report’s compilation was supported by Democrats on the committee, led by chairperson Dianne Feinstein, but not by Republicans.  The result is a 6,000-tome that cost $40 million.  Today about 10 per cent of that, roughly 600 pages, will be released to the public. All together about 6 million CIA cables and memos were raked through.

Will we be told everything?

No.  Under pressure from the CIA, the panel agreed to keep many elements classified lest their publication risked the security of any individuals who had any connection with the CIA programme. No names of CIA personnel will be included.  Nor will we learn the names of the countries that hosted the so-called ‘black site’ prisons where the clandestine interrogations took place.

Who is unhappy that this is coming out today? And who is happy?

We can expect an attachment to the report authored by the CIA laying out its objections to the summary.  Republicans, many of whom consider the report a partisan hatchet job on the US intelligence community, will also issue a rebuttal document.  Recent days have seen several Republicans and former intelligence officials and indeed the US Secretary of State, warn that the release of the report risks triggering violent protests around the globe.  But the White House has consistently said the report should come out so lessons can be learned and human rights groups have demanded it also.


Don't we pretty much know what happened anyway?

That’s true.  Former President George W. Bush ordered the black site prisons closed 8 years ago and there have been numerous efforts, some successful, to access details of the interrogation programme via freedom of information laws.  There were also extensive reviews by the International Red Cross. Methods already detailed include simulated drowning, waterboarding, of suspects as well as sleep deprivation and putting them in boxes. Some of these methods were disclosed by the CIA back in 2002. It has long been known that countries that hosted black sites included Poland and Thailand.

So what's new here?

We will see.  It is likely that other techniques not previously disclosed may come to light include intimidating detainees with threats of sexual abuse, possibly including anal penetration with rods.  We know that the CIA asked permission to conduct mock burials but was told it could not.


Has the CIA cooperated with the investigation?

Yes and no.  A huge row broke out last year when Ms Feinstein accused the agency on spying on the computers its investigators were using to the get to the bottom of the interrogation programme.  The current CIA director, John Brennan, denied the allegation but later admitted his staff had crossed a line in doing just that.  However at the same time the agency accused the investigators of accessing documents that were meant to be out of bounds to them.  Meanwhile haggling since August between the CIA and Ms Feinstein on what could actually be made public today has been intense and acrimonious.

Torture or no torture?

We can expect the CIA to maintain, as it always has, that its operatives did not engage in torture and it will get backing from some Republicans and former agency officials.  However, ever Mr Obama himself has said some of what was done as torture. So have several other top officials like Attorney General Eric Holder, former C.I.A. director Leon Panetta and Senator John McCain, a Republican who was himself tortured during the Vietnam War.   Legal opinions first issued by the Justice Department approving CIA methods were also serially withdrawn.

Did the methods actually elicit any important intelligence?

We can expect the report to address the efficacy of the techniques.  Most attention will be paid to a Pakistani named Hasan Ghul, who helped the CIA understand the role of an al-Qa’ida courier who would eventually provide the lead to the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and his capture and demise.  But Ghul provided that intelligence before he was subjected to enhanced interrogation.

Will anyone be arrested and tried?

Almost certainly not.  The Justice Department had several earlier opportunities to pursue prosecution of former CIA personnel but also demurred even when it emerged in 2007 that videos that showed some of the interrogation sessions in question were mysteriously destroyed, depriving the panel of key evidence.

Did the CIA lie to Bush?

This is a very sensitive issue.  The CIA says it never did.  For his part George Bush has himself said this week that he rejects any notion that he was hoodwinked by the agency as has former Vice President Dick Cheney. “What I keep hearing out there is they portray this as a rogue operation, and the agency was way out of bounds and then they lied about it,” Mr Cheney told the New York Times. “I think that’s all a bunch of hooey. The program was authorised.”