Senate panel to investigate CIA’s actions under Bush
Officials say inquiry will be fact-finding, rather than punitive
WASHINGTON – The Senate Intelligence Committee is preparing to launch an investigation of the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs under President George W. Bush, setting the stage for a sweeping examination of some of the most secretive and controversial operations in recent agency history.
The investigation is aimed at uncovering new information about the origins of the programs as well as scrutinizing how they were executed – including the conditions at clandestine CIA prison sites and the interrogation regimens used to break al-Qaida prisoners – according to Senate aides familiar with the plans.
Officials said the inquiry was not designed to determine whether CIA officials broke laws.
“The purpose here is to do fact-finding in order to learn lessons from the programs and see if there are recommendations to be made for detention and interrogations in the future,” said a senior Senate aide who, like others, described the plans on condition of anonymity because they had not been made public.
The investigation is likely to call new attention to the agency’s conduct in operations that drew condemnation from around the world. It also is bound to renew friction between Democrats and Republicans who have spent much of the past five years fighting over the Bush administration’s prosecution of the war on terrorism.
The terms and scope of the new inquiry still were being negotiated by members of the committee and senior staff Thursday. The senior aide said that the committee had no plans to hold public hearings and that it was not clear whether the panel would release its final report to the public.
The inquiry, which could take a year or longer to complete, means the CIA will be the target of intense congressional scrutiny at a time when it is engaged in two wars and its ongoing pursuit of al-Qaida.
The agency was stripped of some of its power and prestige after coming under severe criticism in investigations of its failures leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks and the war in Iraq.
But whereas those investigations focused largely on the CIA’s error-prone analytic efforts, the new inquiry will dive directly into its most sensitive operations, seeking to unearth details that previous generations of agency officials have referred to as the “crown jewels.”
The administration of President Barack Obama is expected to give congressional investigators new access to classified records as well as to individuals who took part in operating secret prisons and interrogating detainees.
CIA Director Leon Panetta pledged this week that he would cooperate with any congressional investigation.
Panetta argued, however, that CIA officers should not face prosecution if they were acting on orders in accordance with Bush administration legal opinions.
Some agency veterans greeted news of the inquiry with concern.
“There is a good deal of investigation fatigue – and a feeling that the agency has become, even more than before, a piñata,” said a former high-ranking CIA official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The new investigation is likely to “stimulate more risk-aversion,” the former official said.