After years of painstaking work at a cost of an estimated $40 million, the Senate Intelligence Committee's Democratic staff is finally ready to release what they view as the most authoritative, in-depth and comprehensive study about the CIA's former program of enhanced interrogations.
The study, designed to look into "[h]ow the CIA created, operated and maintained its detention and interrogation program," was first launched back in March 2009 with overwhelming bipartisan support. Indeed, only one member of the committee voted against forming the study group, a strong indication at the time that Republicans and Democrats alike wanted to confront the tricky issue of what actually happened in those CIA "black-sites" and whether the techniques used by CIA personnel on captured Al'Qaeda detainees yielded any intelligence benefit.
Five years later, however, what was once a bipartisan endeavor has degenerated into yet another example of rapid Washington partisan infighting. Shortly after the review was undertaken, Republicans on the committee decided to cease their participation over what they considered to be sketchy investigative work by their Democratic colleagues. Since that withdrawal, the review over enhanced interrogations has been an entirely Democratic-led affair led by a determined Democratic Chairwoman, Senator Dianne Feinstein.
The final report encompasses a whopping 6,300 pages, complete with a nearly 400-page executive summary outlining the Democratic staff's conclusions about interrogation techniques and whether any of them produced valuable intelligence on al Qaeda operatives on the run or future terrorist attacks that were set to take place. The committee completed its work in December 2012, where on a strict partly-line vote, they approved the report's findings and prepared the tedious work of getting responses and rebuttals from the intelligence community.
While committee Democrats work to send the study over to President Obama's desk for declassification, the fact of the matter is that Americans who have any interest in the issue at all already know what the central conclusion of the report is: The interrogation techniques that were used on al Qaeda detainees, like waterboarding, had nothing to do with finding Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, nor did it provide the United States with the information that was needed to stop further al Qaeda operations from taking place. Courtesy of Chairwoman Feinstein and her Democratic colleague, Sen. Carl Levin:
- CIA did not first learn about the existence of the UBL courier from detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques. Nor did the agency discover the courier's identity from detainees subjected to coercive techniques. No detainee reported on the courier's full name or specific whereabouts, and no detainee identified the compound in which UBL was hidden. Instead, the CIA learned of the existence of the courier, his true name and location through means unrelated to the CIA detention and interrogation program.
- Information to support this operation was obtained from a wide variety of intelligence sources and methods. CIA officers and their colleagues throughout the Intelligence Community sifted through massive amounts of information, identified possible leads, tracked them down, and made considered judgments based on all of the available intelligence.
- The CIA detainee who provided the most significant information about the courier provided the information prior to being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques.
- The three detainees subjected to waterboarding provided no new information about the courier. In fact, the CIA detainees who were subjected to coercive techniques downplayed the courier's significance, with some of those detainees denying they knew him at all, in the face of significant evidence to the contrary.
- Detainees whom the CIA believed to have information on UBL's location provided no locational information, even after significant use of the CIA's coercive interrogation techniques.
Sen. Feinstein is set to urge her committee to vote this Thursday on putting a final stamp of approval on the exhaustive document, and thanks to the Democratic majority on the Intelligence Committee, she will no doubt get that approval. The question then, becomes, will the United States be able to put the heated waterboarding controversy permanently to rest?
*Update as of 1:25 PM, April 2, 2014: Politico reported that Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) will both back Sen. Feinstein's push to release the executive summary of the committee's report. Due to Collins' support, Democrats on the Intel committee will at least have one Republican on their side. Here is the joint statement from Collins and King expressing their endorsement:
We remain strongly opposed to the use of torture, believing that it is fundamentally contrary to American values. While we have some concerns about the process for developing the report, its findings lead us to conclude that some detainees were subjected to techniques that constituted torture. This inhumane and brutal treatment never should have occurred. Further, the report raises serious concerns about the CIA's management of this program.
Our vote to declassify this report does not signal our full endorsement of all of its conclusions or its methodology. The report has some intrinsic limitations because it did not involve direct interviews of CIA officials, contract personnel, or other Executive branch personnel. It also, unfortunately, did not include the participation of the staff of Republican Committee members. We do, however, believe in transparency and believe that the Executive Summary, and Additional and Dissenting Views, and the CIA's rebuttal should be made public with appropriate redactions so the American public can reach their own conclusions about the conduct of this program.
Torture is wrong, and we must make sure that the misconduct and the grave errors made in the CIA's detention and interrogation program never happen again.
*Update #2 as of 8:14 p.m., April 3, 2014: The Senate Intelligence Committee has officially voted 11-3 in favor of declassifying the findings of the CIA's detention and interrogation program. Three Republicans-- Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jim Ritsch (R-Idaho), and Dan Coats (R -Ind.) were reportedly the three nay votes, according to Politico.