Washington (CNN) — The CIA’s harsh interrogations of terrorist detainees during the Bush era didn’t work, were more brutal than previously revealed and delivered no “ticking time bomb” information that prevented an attack, according to an explosive Senate report released Tuesday.
The majority report issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee is a damning condemnation of the tactics — branded by critics as torture — the George W. Bush administration deployed in the fear-laden days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The techniques, according to the report, were “deeply flawed,” poorly managed and often resulted in “fabricated” information.
The long-delayed study, distilled from more than six million CIA documents, also says the agency consistently misled Congress and the Bush White House about the harsh methods it used and the results it obtained from interrogating al Qaeda suspects.
The report is reigniting the partisan divide over combating terrorism that dominated Washington a decade ago. Democrats argue the tactics conflict with American values while leading members of the Bush administration insist they were vital to preventing another attack.
It contains grisly details of detainees held in secret overseas facilities being subjected to near drowning, or waterboarding, driven to delirium by days of sleep deprivation, threatened with mock executions and threats that their relatives would be sexually abused.
The central claim of the report is that the controversial CIA methods did not produce information necessary to save lives that was not already available from other means. That is important because supporters of the program have always said that it was vital to obtaining actionable intelligence from detainees that could not be extracted through conventional interrogations.
CIA Director John Brennan strongly disagreed with the finding.
“Our review indicates that interrogations of detainees (subject to enhanced interrogation) did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives,” he said. “The intelligence gained from the program was critical to our understanding of al Qaeda continues to inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day.”
Brennan said the agency had learned from its mistakes, but refuted the idea that it systematically misled top officials about its tactics and results.
But President Barack Obama said in a statement the report reinforced his view that the harsh interrogation methods “were not only inconsistent with our values as a nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests.”
“I think overall, the men and women at the CIA do a really tough job and they do it really well,” Obama said later Tuesday in an interview with Telemundo. “But in the aftermath of 9/11, in the midst of a national trauma, and uncertainty as to whether these attacks were gonna repeat themselves, what’s clear is that the CIA set up something very fast without a lot of forethought to what the ramifications might be.”
The Senate report also reveals new information that former president George W. Bush was not briefed by any CIA officer on the extent of the interrogations until April 2006.
When he finally was told, Bush expressed discomfort about the “image of a detainee, chained to the ceiling, clothed in a diaper, and forced to go to the bathroom on himself,” according to the report, a declassified 525 page summary of a still-confidential 6,000 page document.
In its most graphic details, the report finds that conditions for detainees at top secret overseas interrogation sites were much harsher than the CIA has previously admitted. It finds that high value detainees were subjected to methods like waterboarding and sleep deprivation “in near nonstop fashion for days or weeks at a time.”
“In many cases, the most aggressive techniques were used immediately, in combination and nonstop,” the report says. “Sleep deprivation involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in painful stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads.”
In one facility, a detainee was said to have died of hypothermia after being held “partially nude” and chained to a concrete floor, while at other times, naked prisoners were hooded and dragged up and down corridors while being slapped and punched.
Multiple CIA detainees subjected to the techniques suffered from hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia and tried to mutilate themselves, the report says.
On one occasion, high-value al Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah became completely unresponsive after a period of intense waterboarding. He had “bubbles rising through his open full mouth,” the report says.
Meanwhile, the confessed mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, was subjected to a “series of near drownings.”
The report finds that at least 119 detainees went through the CIA detention program and at least 26 were held “wrongfully,” partly because there was no information to justify their detention.
Previously, the CIA had said only 100 prisoners had been processed through the program, Democratic Senate aides said.
The report challenges CIA claims in 2011 that enhanced interrogation of al Qaeda operative Hassan Ghul produced unique information which led them to Osama bin Laden’s “courier” Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti. The breakthrough, which eventually helped the agency track down the al Qaeda leader’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was extracted before Ghul was subjected to harsh treatment, the report said.
But the CIA said in its own report published Tuesday that Ghul spilled intelligence that was “more concrete and less speculative” after he was subject to more coercive interrogation.
The agency says the conclusions of the report contained “too many flaws” for it to “stand as official record of the program” and said many of the charges were “based on authors’ flawed analysis of the value of the intelligence obtained from the detainees.”
Obama outlawed enhanced interrogation techniques soon after becoming President in 2009 and admitted in August “we tortured some folks.” As commander in chief, he faces many of the same dilemmas on how to fight terrorism as his predecessor. But the tone of his response to the report was nevertheless critical.
He acknowledged in his statement that the Bush administration had faced “agonizing choices about how to pursue al Qaeda and prevent additional terrorist attacks against our country.”
“Our nation did many things right in those difficult years. At the same time, some of the actions that were taken were contrary to our values. “
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said that the CIA’s actions in the aftermath of 9/11 were a “stain on our values and on our history.”
“The release of this 500-page summary cannot remove that stain, but it can and does say to our people and the world that America is big enough to admit when it’s wrong and confident enough to learn from its mistakes,” she said.
In April, three Republicans on the Intelligence Committee voted to declassify the report. But Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the committee’s top GOP member, also released a minority rebuttal to the document, taking issues with its methodology and findings.
The rebuttal said the report created the “false impression that the CIA was actively misleading policy makers and impeding the counterterrorism efforts of other federal government agencies during the Program’s operation.”
Thousands of marines at U.S. diplomatic posts and military bases around the world are on alert amid fears the graphic details of how detainees were treated could spark a violent backlash.
But there was little initial interest on Jihadi forums about the report, said Laith Alkhouri, a senior analyst at Flashpoint Partners, a U.S. organization that tracks Jihadi websites.
Intelligence sources told CNN’s Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr, however, that the threat of retaliatory attacks could come in days rather than hours, as information filters across the world. Those sources added that currently, there is no specific threat.
According to a federal law enforcement official, a joint FBI/DHS bulletin was issued this afternoon to federal, state and local law enforcement officials as a cautionary measure. The bulletin warned the report could spark online reaction, influence homegrown violent extremists and that terrorist groups may exploit the findings for recruitment purposes.
Bush told CNN’s Candy Crowley last week that the United States was “fortunate to have men and women who work hard at the CIA serving on our behalf. These are patriots.”
“These are good people. Really good people.”
Former Vice President Dick Cheney told the New York Times that claims that the CIA was out of bounds or that the interrogation program was a rogue operations were “a bunch of hooey.”
“The program was authorized. The agency did not want to proceed without authorization, and it was also reviewed legally by the Justice Department before they undertook the program,” Cheney said.
Countries that cooperated with the CIA, hosting black site prisons and assisting in transferring detainees, are identified only obliquely and not by name.
CIA employees, referred to by pseudonyms in the report, aren’t being identified. However, the agency pushed for the pseudonyms to be redacted because other information in the report could be used to determine who the employees are.
For some Republicans and CIA supporters, there’s still a dispute about whether techniques such as waterboarding constitute torture.
The Justice Department twice has investigated the conduct of CIA employees involved in the program and decided not to bring charges.
CNN’s Ed Payne, Jake Tapper, Jim Acosta, Paul Cruickshank and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.