The 600-page executive summary of the report details the techniques used by the CIA on terrorism suspects, including waterboarding, sexual threats, sleep deprivation, and the use of a blacked out “dungeon” where detainees were kept in total darkness and bombarded with loud music.
The US Senate Intelligence Committee report also found the CIA provided extensive inaccurate information about the program to the White House, Congress, Department of Justice and American people.
“It was morally, legally, administratively misguided,” Senator Dianne Feinstein said as she released the report.
The report itself took seven years to be compiled and come to light.
There were five years of research looking at CIA memos, cables and real-time chats as well as other official documents.
It was approved by the Committee for release two years ago and has taken until now to be revealed publicly because of the fighting over what should be redacted.
Torture program a ‘stain’ on nation’s history
On the floor of the Senate Committee, Senator Feinstein spoke almost non-stop for an hour, describing a “stain” on the nation’s history that should “never happen again”.
Some detainees were held in a “dungeon” without light. Others were subjected to the “most aggressive techniques immediately – stripped naked, diapered, physically struck and put in various painful stress positions for long periods of time”.
“They were deprived of sleep for days – in one case up to 180 hours,” she said.
“That’s seven and a half days – over a week with no sleep. Usually standing or in stress positions – at times with their hands tied together over their heads – chained to the ceiling.”
One “black site” prison the report called COBALT began operating in September 2002.
“The facility kept few formal records of the detainees housed there. Untrained CIA officers conducted frequent unauthorised and unsupervised interrogations using techniques that were not, nor ever became, part of the CIA’s formal Enhanced Interrogation Technique program.”
“The CIA placed a junior officer with no relevant experience in charge of the site. In November 2002 an otherwise healthy detainee who was being held mostly nude and chained to a concrete floor died at the facility from what is believed to have been hypothermia.
“The CIA deployed officers who had histories of personal, ethical and professional problems of a serious nature including histories of violence and abusive treatment of others and should have called into question their employment with the United States government, let alone their suitability to participated in a sensitive CIA covert program.”
CIA kept Congress, White House in the dark
More extraordinary is the report’s conclusion that the CIA provided extensive inaccurate information about the operation of the program to the Justice Department, Congress, the CIA inspector-general, the White House, the media and the American people.
Senator Feinstein did not use the word “lie” – instead citing failures to provide information repeatedly.
The CIA even destroyed video tapes of brutal interrogations on the basis that the committee had not asked to see them – when they did not even know they existed.
Senator Feinstein even took aim at former CIA director Michael Hayden, citing the time and day when he attempted to explain for the first time to the intelligence committee what these interrogation techniques were.
“He referred specifically to a ‘tummy slap’ among other techniques and presented the entire set of techniques as minimally harmful and applied in a highly clinically and professional manner. They were not,” she said.
The immediate speaker after Senator Feinstein was Republican senator John McCain – a former prisoner of war.
“The American people have a right to know what was done in their name,” he said, adding that the techniques “stained our nation’s honour and did little practical good”.
Obama says America must confront its mistakes.
President Barack Obama issued a statement saying he had “consistently supported the declassification of today’s report”.
“No nation is perfect,” he said.
“But one of the strengths that makes America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes and do better. Rather than another reason to refight old arguments, I hope that today’s report can help us leave these techniques where they belong – in the past.”
The CIA issued its own response, saying it had acknowledged that the program had “shortcomings” and the agency made “mistakes”.
“The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies required to undertake an unprecedented program of detaining and interrogating suspected terrorists around the world,” it said.
“CIA reviews indicate that the program, including interrogations of detainees on whom EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques] were used, did produce valuable and unique intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives.”
In August, Mr Obama had set out in four words exactly what he thought happened, and what he said “fair-minded” people would take away from reading today’s report.
“We tortured some folks,” he said.
Interrogators should receive medals, not criticism says Cheney
“A bunch of hooey,” was the dismissive response from former vice president Dick Cheney when asked about the report ahead of its release.
Quoted in the New York Times at the weekend, he said those CIA people who took part in the interrogations should be “decorated, not criticised”.
Any criticism of them was “way off base,” said former president George W Bush – the man who ultimately signed off on the enhanced interrogation techniques.
“We’re fortunate to have men and women work hard at the CIA serving on our behalf. These are patriots. Whatever the report says, if it diminishes their contributions to our country it is way off base. And I knew the directors, I knew the deputy directors, I knew a lot of the operators. These are good people, really good people, and we’re lucky as a nation to have them,” Mr Bush said.
Mr Obama has not spoken ill of the people who undertook the interrogations, and in that August 1 press conference at the White House he was happy to put the “torture” in context.
“I understand why it happened,” he said.
“I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this.
“It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.”
Mr Obama said he wanted the report released because “it reminds us once again that the character of our country has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard”.
This post originally appeared on ABC News and has been republished with permission.