Dec. 9, 2014: Senate Select Intelligence Committee Report on Torture Executive Summary

After a two year tug of war between Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Chair of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and the CIA, the “redaction—studded version” of the Executive Summary (500 pages of the 6,000 page report) was released on December 9, 2014. The Committee staff had reviewed more than six million pages of CIA documents. The findings confirm those of the Report of the CIA Inspector General (2004), the Senate Armed Services Committee Report (2006) and investigative journalists’ reports, while adding previously undisclosed details.

The Report documents that even before the first suspected terrorist was captured, CIA lawyers mulled over rationales for obtaining approval for “interrogation methods that might normally be considered torture.” The lawyers set out to fabricate a rationale; they determined that if it could be shown that these tactics “saved lives,” Americans would not disapprove. However, the facts did not support the “saved lives” claim. Furthermore, the report makes clear that the brutal tactics did not work and there was no reliable evidence to indicate they ever would. Although the report does not use the word lie, it documents CIA lying to everyone about the tactics’ effectiveness; the CIA lied to the White House, the Pentagon, Congress and they all lied to the public.

The report documents CIA’s endorsement of sheer brutality and the use of sadistically calibrated dehumanizing physical and psychological techniques of torture at its off-shore detention and interrogation centers. The architects of CIA’s torture operations (identified in the Report by pseudonym) were clinical psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen whom the CIA hired when neither had any interrogation experience, no knowledge of the culture or language of the detainees. Their prescription for torture of prisoners and suspected terrorists was a throw-back to the days of the 13th-14th century Inquisition. This disastrous course of unrelenting brutality earned the United States worldwide condemnation and caused bitter infighting within the agency and denunciation by experienced military and FBI interrogation specialists.

Though many of the gruesome tactics—such as waterboarding to the point of death—have been disclosed in previous media coverage, the report makes clear that the extreme tactics were used without any discrimination, and by so-called interrogators who had little training. According to the report, interrogators started using the tactics three months before any training took place. They were using brutality on the fly. And the committee concluded that of the 119 detainees who had been abused, “at least 26 were wrongfully held.” Senator Dianne Feinstein called these brutal practices “a stain on our values and our history.” (Risen & Apuzzo. C.I.A., on Path to Torture, New York Times, Dec. 2014)

CIA assurances “inaccurate” “incongruent” “inconsistent with CIA practice”
In May 2005, the CIA assured the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that according to the experience of health professionals in the CIA Office of Medical Services (OMS), “the program has effectively avoided severe pain and suffering and should continue to do so.”

However, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee Executive Summary, an OMS memo dated April 11, 2005, shows that CIA’s assurance about the safety of using the techniques and their physical effects on detainees was “inaccurate,” “incongruent” with “CIA records,” “incongruent with the operational history of the program,” and “inconsistent with CIA practice.” (p. 420-422)

The Justice Department “torture memos written by OLC director Steven Bradbury re-authorizing the use of  torture (“enhanced” techniques) required monitoring and evaluation of their safety and efficacy by healthcare professionals. CIA’s false assurances, attributed to OMS led Bradbury to declare the brutal inhuman techniques “safe, ethical and legal.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee cited a memo showing that when OMS personnel reviewed a draft OLC opinion, they objected: “OMS personnel specifically protested being asked to define torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (CIDT), a role they believed to lie outside their medical and scientific expertise.” An OMS memo dated April 11, 2005, three months before the PENS meeting, stated:

“OMS is not in the business of saying what is acceptable in causing discomfort to other human beings, and will not take on that burden…. OMS did not review or vet these techniques prior to their introduction, but rather came into this program with the understanding of your office and DOJ that they were already determined as legal, permitted and safe.

We see this current iteration [of the OLC guidance] as a reversal of that sequence, and a relocation of those decisions to OMS. If this is the case, that OMS has now the responsibility for determining a procedure’s legality through its determination of safety, then we will need to review all procedures in that light given this new responsibility.” (p. 420)

The CIA misrepresented the views of OMS healthcare professionals; and failed to disclose to Justice Department lawyers that OMS personnel were protesting “the business of saying what is acceptable in causing discomfort to other human beings” as a professionally inappropriate and unsuitable role.

The professionals at OMS had apparently reached an ethical limit on doing research on human subjects whose goal is to cause and/or measure harm. As the authors of All the President’s Psychologists (2015) note:

“The resistance of OMS staff to collecting and providing data on the techniques and guaranteeing that they were medically “safe” and did not constitute torture or [cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment] CIDT, meant the legal justification for the program was in jeopardy.”

According to the Executive Summary, Mitchell and Jessen’s CIA contract was for $180 million; by 2005, the CIA had turned over all its “enhanced interrogations” to Mitchell, Jessen & Associates which was a thriving multi-million dollar business from 2002 to 2009. They developed a “menu” of 20 enhanced techniques of which 10 were eliminated – such as “mock burial” as “too harsh.” In 2007, “the CIA provided a multi-year indemnification agreement to protect the company and its employees from legal liability arising out of the enhanced interrogation program. The CIA has since paid out more than $1 million pursuant to the agreement.” By 2009, when their contract was terminated by CIA director, Leon Panetta, the two psychologists collected $81 million from the CIA for their services.