Public airing of post-9/11 practices, coming after months of negotiation, is likely to attract attention worldwide and could come as early as Tuesday
Spencer Ackerman in New York
The Guardian, Tuesday 9 December 2014
Photograph: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
The CIA is bracing for what could be one of the most damaging moments in its history: a public airing of its post-9/11 embrace of torture.
The Senate intelligence committee is poised to release a landmark inquiry into torture as early as Tuesday, after the Obama administration made a last-ditch effort to suppress a report that has plunged relations between the CIA and its Senate overseer to a historic low point.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Monday the administration welcomed the release of the report, but warned US interests overseas were at risk of potentially violent reactions to its contents.
The release of the torture report will represent the third major airing of faulty CIA intelligence in 15 years, following official commissions into the 9/11 plot and Saddam Hussein’s defunct illicit weapons programs.
Despite months of negotiation over how much of the 6,000-page report will be declassified, most of its findings will never see the light of the day. But even a partial release of the report will yield a furious response from the CIA and its allies.
On Sunday, George W Bush made a show of support for CIA operatives who had participated in torture, calling them “patriots”.
“We’re fortunate to have men and women who work hard at the CIA serving on our behalf,” he told CNN. “These are patriots and whatever the report says, if it diminishes their contributions to our country, it is way off base.”
The Senate report is likely to attract global attention, owing to the CIA’s network of unacknowledged prisons in places like Poland, Thailand and Afghanistan.
Human-rights investigators have found 54 countries cooperated in various ways with the CIA’s renditions, detentions and interrogations, but the commitee is unlikely to reveal the agency’s foreign torture partners.
On Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry called Senator Dianne Feinstein – the California Democrat who spearheaded the inquiry – to urge consideration of what spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the “foreign policy implications” of the report’s timing, suggesting it could inflame anti-American outrage worldwide.
Bloomberg first reported that the committee understood Kerry to be arguing for suppressing the report, though the State Department denies it.
Congressman Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said on Sunday that US allies have warned that the release of the report could provoke “violence and deaths”.
“I think this is a terrible idea,” Rogers told CNN. “Foreign leaders have approached the government and said, ‘You do this, this will cause violence and deaths.’ Our own intelligence community has assessed that this will cause violence and deaths”.
Several foreign governments, including the UK and Poland, are fearful of identification by the Senate and have added to the pressure on the committee.
Some of the CIA’s major allies included dictators whom Barack Obama relinquished US support for or even went to war to depose, such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.
Jose Rodriguez, a former senior CIA official who has ardently defended torture, has already published an op-ed accusing Feinstein and her committee allies of breaking faith with a CIA it once wanted to do its utmost to stop terrorism. Several former CIA directors and Bush officials intend to argue that the Senate investigation is itself misleading.
Rodriguez, writing in the Washington Post, said that the committee’s conclusion that torture “brought no intelligence value is an egregious falsehood” and termed the report “a dishonest attempt to rewrite history”.
The report’s fundamental conclusions have been well-trailed. Senate investigators determined that the CIA’s embrace of mock-drowning, sleep deprivation, “stress positions”, sensory and dietary manipulation and other torture techniques were ineffective, and the CIA covered up that ineffectiveness by misrepresenting its results to Bush officials, Congress and the public.
Its executive summary examines 20 such instances during the 2002-2006 height of what the CIA prefers to call “enhanced interrogation techniques”.
After the committee voted in April to declassify sections of the report, Feinstein called the CIA’s actions a “stain on our history”.
Feinstein hoped the committee would finish its declassification negotiations with the administration within 30 days. Yet the White House placed the CIA in charge of censoring a report into its own conduct and discussions have stretched into their 10th month. In August, Feinstein and other leading Senate Democrats rejected proposed administration redactions, saying they would leave the committee’s findings incomprehensible. The agency has rejected even the use of pseudonyms for its operatives on the grounds they could reveal classified identities.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Feinstein conceded that she had been obliged to give in on some of her demands for transparency: “We have to get this report out.”
“We will find another way to make known some of the problems,” she said.
The drawn-out process has prompted speculation that the administration wants to outlast Feinstein’s tenure as chairwoman and prefers for committee Republicans, who consider the inquiry a wasteful witch hunt, to preside over its partial release come January. Two committee Democrats, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, have publicly flirted with using parliamentary procedure to force disclosure, considered to be an attempt at exerting pressure on the administration.
Human rights campaigners have pressured the White House for months to release a maximally declassified report so as to hold the CIA accountable. It is unlikely to lead to any legal consequence for CIA officials, particularly after a special Justice Department inquiry into torture declined to indict anyone for abuses in the CIA program. The report’s greatest legal impact may be on the military tribunal for the accused 9/11 co-conspirators, whose lawyers wish to introduce the report into evidence that their clients were tortured into delivering inadmissible statements implicating themselves.
Hostility to the report is not restricted to the right wing. Human rights groups have criticized Senate investigators for not looking into the Bush administration architects of the program in a concession to committee Republicans, and for declining to attempt a definitive legal analysis of torture. While the CIA has criticized the inquiry for not interviewing its operatives, lawyers for CIA torture victims have said Senate investigators did not seek to interview their clients, either.
Beyond questions of accountability, a lingering effect of the report is likely to be damage between the CIA and the secret Senate committee that oversees the powerful intelligence agency.
Director John Brennan had to apologize in July after the CIA inspector general determined that agency officials surreptitiously accessed committee work product and email on a firewalled shared network. Brennan had initially denied wrongdoing that Feinstein stated had provoked a constitutional crisis. Udall and others have called on Brennan – himself a senior CIA official during the time of the inquiry’s focus – to resign.