Executive Summary of Senate torture report released

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence finally released the Executive Summary of its report on torture practices by the US government. You can read the ‘most gruesome moments’ of the report here and they are disgusting.

The Guardian has a summary of the main conclusions

The CIA’s post-9/11 embrace of torture was brutal and ineffective – and the agency repeatedly lied and misled the White House, Congress and the public about its usefulness, a milestone report by the Senate intelligence committee released on Tuesday concludes.

The methods of torture carried out by the CIA were even more extreme than what it portrayed to the George W Bush administration and went beyond techniques already made public through a decade of leaks and lawsuits, which had revealed that agency interrogators subjected detainees to the quasi-drowning known as waterboarding, staged mock executions and revved power drills near their heads.

I have not had time to read the full document but here are its findings and conclusions.

#1: The CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.

#2: The CIA’s justification for the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness.

#3: The interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others.

#4: The conditions of confinement for CIA detainees were harsher than the CIA had represented to policymakers and others.

#5: The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice, impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.

#6: The CIA has actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight of the program.

#7: The CIA impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making.

#8: The CIA’s operation and management of the program complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions of other Executive Branch agencies.

#9; The CIA impeded oversight by the CIA’s Office of Inspector General.

#10: The CIA coordinated the release of classified information to the media, including inaccurate information concerning the effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.

#11: The CIA was unprepared as it began operating its Detention and Interrogation Program more than six months after being granted detention authorities.

#12: The CIA’s management and operation of its Detention and Interrogation Program was deeply flawed throughout the program’s duration, particularly so in 2002 and early 2003.

#13: Two contract psychologists devised the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques and played a central role in the operation, assessments, and management of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. By 2005, the CIA had overwhelmingly outsourced operations related to the program.

#14: CIA detainees were subjected to coercive interrogation techniques that had not been approved by the Department of Justice or had not been authorized by CIA Headquarters.

#15: The CIA did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained, and held individuals who did not meet the legal standard for detention. The CIA’s claims about the number of detainees held and subjected to its enhanced Interrogation techniques were inaccurate.

#16: The CIA failed to adequately evaluate the effectiveness of its enhanced interrogation techniques.

#17: The CIA rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable for serious and significant violations, inappropriate activities, and systemic and individual management failures.

#18: The CIA marginalized and ignored numerous internal critiques, criticisms, and objections concerning the operation and management of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.

#19; The CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program was inherently unsustainable and had effectively ended by 2006 due to unauthorized press disclosures, reduced cooperation from other nations, and legal and oversight concerns.

#20; The CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program damaged the United States’ standing in the world, and resulted in other significant monetary and non-monetary costs.

So basically we had intelligence agencies running amuck and brutally torturing people with no oversight and for no perceivable gain.

While this is damning enough, Dan Froomkin wrote last week the things to bear in mind when the report is finally released because it is a sanitized version of events and that the reality is much worse. Here are his main points.

1) You’re not actually reading the torture report. You’re just reading an executive summary…

2) The CIA got to cut out parts…

3) Senate Democrats had their backs to the wall. Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein faced enormous pressure to get the summary out in some form, before the incoming Republican Senate majority could do the White House a solid and squelch it completely.

4) The investigation was extremely narrow in its focus. Committee staffers only looked at what the CIA did in its black sites; whether it misled other officials; and whether it complied with orders…

5) The investigation didn’t examine who gave the CIA its orders, or why. The summary doesn’t assess who told the CIA to torture – despite the abundant evidence that former vice president Dick Cheney and his cabal architected, choreographed and defended its use, with former president George W. Bush’s knowing or unknowing support.

6) Torture was hardly limited to the CIA…

7) Senate investigators conducted no interviews of torture victims…

8) Senate investigators conducted no interviews of CIA officials…

9) In fact, Senate investigators conducted no interviews at all…

10) Bush and Cheney have acknowledged their roles in the program…

11) The report’s conclusion that torture didn’t do any good is a big deal. You may argue, as I do, that even if torture sometimes “worked”, it’s still immoral, criminal and ultimately counterproductive. As I wrote during the “Zero Dark Thirty” furor, torture is not about extracting information, it’s about power, revenge, rage and cruelty. It’s about stripping people of their humanity. Throughout its history, its only reliable byproduct has been false confessions. But the pro-torture argument is simple: The ends justify the means. So if the evidence is overwhelming that torture achieves nothing — or less than nothing — then we win the argument by default.

12) No one has been held accountable.

Froomkin’s last point is crucial. We have a system of government where torture and its cover up extend to the highest levels and where there is absolutely no accountability for war crimes.

Even this limited release of information reveals a lawless government that has no moral standing whatsoever. But don’t expect that this is going to stop them from lecturing other countries on how to behave and acting like they are moral guardians.


  1. dean says

    “Torture is an ethical concept but it is also a legal concept. We went to the Department of Justice several times for advice and we were told what we were doing was not torture. We feel very confident what we did was not torture.”

    “The people we interrogated were not signatories to the Geneva Convention, so the notion that we violated that convention is not correct.”

    “We may have made a few terrorists uncomfortable for a short period of time in order to get invaluable information. Remember we had credible information that Bin Laden had met with nuclear scientists in Pakistan. We were in the ticking time bomb scenario.”

    “There were a few situations where the program got harsh, but the committee over-emphasizes that to the exclusion of other things that were beneficial.”

    “This program was not perfect but we struggled to make it better.”

    “When we discovered things that were not proceeding the way things were approved by the DOJ we reported it.”

    “I don’t see anything wrong with transparency as long as it reflects the opinions of all sides.”

    John McLaughlin, former Deputy Director of the CIA, interviewed on NPR.

    It’s difficult for me to imagine who is the bigger villain, this guy or the folks who did the deeds.

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