The Senate Intelligence Committee voted 9-6 on Thursday to approve the findings of a report on the Central Intelligence Agency's post-9/11 'enhanced interrogation' techniques.
The 6,000-page classified report probed the use of interrogation methods which are considered torture under US and international law and have been called torture by both Democrats and Republicans, including President Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). More than six million pages of documents were analyzed over the course of the past three and a half years.
Senate Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) called the use of torture techniques and the establishment of secret CIA 'black sites' where suspected terrorists were abused "terrible mistakes."
"The report uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight," Sen. Feinstein said in a statement. "I strongly believe that the creation of long-term, clandestine 'black sites' and the use of so-called 'enhanced interrogation techniques' were terrible mistakes. The majority of the Committee agrees."
Among the 'harsh interrogation techniques' investigated in the report is the interrupted drowning torture known as waterboarding, which the US and other countries have prosecuted as torture over the centuries. Many conservatives refuse to acknowledge that waterboarding is torture, but a significant number of Republicans admit that it is. Among these are McCain, who was tortured for years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.
McCain said that he hopes the report would convince Americans that "torture of the kind described in this report is unworthy of our national honor."
"The cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners is not only wrong in principle and a stain on our country's conscience, but also an ineffective and unreliable means of gathering intelligence," McCain added.
Sen. Feinstein said the report contains "details of each detainee in CIA custody, the conditions under which they were detained, how they were interrogated, the intelligence they actually provided and the accuracy-- or inaccuracy-- of CIA descriptions about the program."
In April, Reuters reported that the committee found little evidence that torture was an effective tool in the War on Terror, an assessment shared by many veteran intelligence professionals, who claim that abusing detainees is a sign of an incompetent interrogator.
Among the torture techniques and other mistreatment that US military and CIA detainees have been subjected to during the course of the 11-year War on Terror (but not necessarily covered in the Senate report) are: murder, rape of male and female detainees, imprisonment of family members as bargaining chips, beatings, refusal of medical treatment, interrupted drowning (waterboarding), solitary confinement, sensory deprivation, sleep and food deprivation, force-feeding, extremes-- sometimes deadly-- of heat and cold, exposure to insects, exposure to deafeningly loud music, sexual humiliation, menacing and attacking with dogs, shackling in painful stress positions, 'walling,'death and rape threats against detainees and their families, forced standing, 'Palestinian crucifixion,' and many others, all of them violations of US and international laws including the federal anti-torture statute, the War Crimes Act and the Geneva Conventions.
Compounding the abhorrent nature of these abuses is the fact that the vast majority of detainees in US custody in both Iraq and Guantánamo Bay were known to be innocent by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and others, but were held anyway. Dozens of innocent Guantánamo detainees, some of them cleared for release since 2004, are still being imprisoned at GITMO.
Many, but not all, of the above torture techniques were approved at the highest levels of the George W. Bush administration. President Barack Obama banned torture, yet reports of its use persisted after he took office and his administration has gone out of its way to protect the Bush torturers from justice and to prosecute government and military personnel who blow the whistle on torture.
Obama's refusal to hold those who torture accountable will once again become an issue, as the Senate report now gets sent to the White House, the attorney general, the director of national intelligence and the CIA for review. The president has until February 15 to send the Senate committee its comments and recommendations for possible declassification.
Sen. McCain said that he hopes the committee will "take whatever steps necessary to finalize and declassify this report, so that all Americans can see the record for themselves, which I believe will finally close this painful chapter for our country."
The report's approval coincides with the impending release of Kathryn Bigelow's film "Zero Dark Thirty," which recounts the hunt for Osama bin Laden and opens with a 15-minute waterboarding scene. Bigelow, who won an Oscar for her Iraq war film "The Hurt Locker," claims the film has no agenda, but some critics have accused it of glorifying torture and falsely suggesting that torture led to bin Laden's location.
The report has also made headlines just a day after a judge presiding over the Guantánamo Bay military commission that will try the alleged 9/11 plotters ruled that any and all mention of detainee torture will be banned from the court proceedings.