Report On CIA Interrogation Tactics Revives Torture Debate
In a closed-door meeting Thursday, lawmakers will consider whether to approve a secret report that chronicles CIA detention and interrogation practices — including methods that critics have compared to torture.
That report — along with the release of a new movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden — is rekindling an old debate about whether those methods worked.
California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee that's meeting Thursday, told NPR in an email that her 6,000-page report is "comprehensive," "strictly factual" and "the most definitive review of the CIA program to be conducted."
Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the committee, has a different view.
"This draft report contains a number of significant errors and omissions about the history and the utility of the CIA's detention and interrogation program," he says. "It's really not surprising, given the fact that the review was conducted without interviewing any of the people involved. It was taken solely from written documents."
Chambliss and several other Republicans on the panel backed away from the investigation. And few — if any — of them are expected to vote to approve the report.
"It's entirely possible that a party-line vote would be interpreted in some quarters as just a political statement," says David Irvine, a retired Army brigadier general who taught junior officers how to interrogate suspects.
Irvine, a Republican, thinks a lot more than politics is at stake.
"We've been searching for evidence for six years that enhanced interrogation has made the nation safer," he says. "And we're still looking."
"Enhanced interrogation" is the name authorities in the Bush years gave to a series of tough practices: waterboarding, sleep deprivation, forced nudity.
Some of those tactics are on display in the new movie Zero Dark Thirty, which focuses on the search for bin Laden.
In one scene, a CIA operative gets tough with a detainee: "Can I be honest with you? I am bad news. I'm not your friend. I'm not going to help you. I'm going to break you."
When President Obama took office, he said he would put an end to the harshest interrogation tactics — which drew some pushback from former Vice President Dick Cheney.
"I don't think we should just roll over when the new administration says — accuses us of committing torture, which we did not, or somehow violating the law, which we did not," Cheney said. "I think you need to stand up and respond to that, and that's what I've done."
Melina Milazzo of Human Rights First points out that Feinstein "has said that this report would show that there is no evidence that torture led to Osama bin Laden's whereabouts or any significant portion of that operation."
Former Bush intelligence officials disagree, but say they can't talk in detail because the information is still classified. That's why human rights groups are pushing for the Senate to make most of the report public as soon as possible.
"Societies are not able to move on until they confront the truth," says Curt Goering, who directs The Center for Victims of Torture. "They can't bury the past. They can't simply move on. There's a process of reckoning with what happened."
Part of that reckoning, he says, is looking at what was gained from the interrogations and what may have been lost.
Tony Camerino, who conducted 300 interrogations in Iraq, opposes the use of harsh tactics.
"As someone much smarter than me once said, 'If you use coercion, you might get the location of a house. But if you get somebody to cooperate, they'll tell you if it's booby-trapped,' " he says.
Camerino says he'd like to see accountability, such as criminal prosecutions of the people who employed harsh tactics.
That's unlikely, since a Justice Department investigation into interrogation abuses ended this year with no indictments. But opponents of those methods say they want to keep talking about them, as a reminder for history.
In her email, Feinstein made clear that whatever happens Thursday on Capitol Hill, it won't be the final chapter.
"The Intelligence Committee's 3-year review of the CIA's detention and enhanced interrogation technique program (2002-2009) will not be released this week," Feinstein said. "The committee is, however, scheduled to vote to approve the report. ... Any decision on declassification and release of any portion of the report will be decided by committee members at a later time."
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