WASHINGTON – The most extensive review of U.S. intelligence-gathering tactics in generations is set to be made public today, reigniting a post-9/11 public debate over the use of torture to combat terrorism.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s much-anticipated report comes after a yearslong review of CIA practices and subsequent wrangling with the spy agency and the White House over whether its contents should be made public and, if so, which parts should be redacted.
In one of her final acts after six years as chair of the committee that oversaw the review, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., plans to discuss the findings in a speech on the Senate floor this morning as the report’s 480-page executive summary is released online. A response by Republican members of the committee will be released almost simultaneously, as will one by the CIA itself. But the full 6,300-page report on Rendition, Detention and Interrogation, or RDI, will remain classified.
Feinstein said she hoped the public would view the report in the “spirit of a just society (that) functions under law, and that when we make mistakes we admit them, we correct them, and we move on,” she told reporters Monday. “I think that’s an important thing.”
The inquiry is expected to reveal how the agency used waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions and other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques more frequently than was legally authorized at then-secret prisons known as “black sites.”
It also rebuts claims that the interrogations were key to locating Osama bin Laden or thwarting other terrorist plots, concluding that nearly all the intelligence gleaned through harsh techniques could have been obtained from more traditional intelligence-gathering systems.
As Feinstein finalized plans to release part of the report, Secretary of State John Kerry phoned her Friday to warn of the potential consequences of releasing the report at this time. The State Department called for a review of security measures at overseas missions as a precaution against possible demonstrations, and White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that the administration has taken “prudent steps to ensure that the proper security precautions are in place” at U.S. facilities around the world.
The administration insisted, though, that it supported the review and that the timing of its publication was entirely up to the committee. Obama said this year that the nation “did a whole lot of things that were right” in the aftermath of 9/11, but also “we tortured some folks.”
“When we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques – techniques that I believe and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture – we crossed a line,” he said at an August news conference. “That needs to be understood and accepted. And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so that, hopefully, we don’t do it again in the future.”
Former President George W. Bush defended the work of the CIA under his administration, and said that if the report “diminishes their contributions to our country, it is way off base.”
“These are good people, really good people, and we’re lucky as a nation to have them,” he told CNN in an interview aired Sunday.
The review was launched by members of the Democrat-led committee in 2009 shortly after Obama succeeded Bush in the White House and ordered a halt to controversial interrogation tactics his predecessor had sanctioned. Its initial intent was in part to determine if lawmakers were kept fully informed of such practices, and its creation drew comparisons to the 1975 Church Committee, whose work ultimately led to the creation of permanent committees on intelligence agencies in Congress.
The interrogation committee completed an initial review in 2012. In August, the White House returned a draft to the committee that blacked out some of its contents, beginning an intense round of negotiations between Feinstein and the administration. Feinstein said last week that from a list of hundreds of redactions she had narrowed the differences to just two.
As word of the report’s impending release spread throughout Washington, Democrats defended it as an essential self-examination by a global superpower.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., called it a “gut-check moment for our democracy,” saying, “It’s incumbent upon a democracy in terms of our values that we represent to the world that when we have bad moments we hold ourselves accountable.”
Republicans warned of the potential fallout from the release.
“Think of the cartoons in Denmark and how many people died as a result,” Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN on Sunday. “Think of the burning of the Qurans and how many people died as a result. They will use this to incite violence.”
“This is a defunct program that was put to bed six years ago,” said Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., a member of the intelligence committee who was one of three Republicans who voted not to declassify the report. “The report has no recommendations. It’s sort of like condemnation, but not constructive from the standpoint of saying what would you do differently.”
Coats said he did not expect the panel to conduct any follow-up when Republicans assume the Senate majority in January. “I think this comes out and we move on.”
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