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Q&A: What is the CIA torture report?

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday released its review on the torture of prisoners held by the CIA during the George W. Bush administration. Here are some questions and answers about the long-awaited report.

Q: Who wrote this report and what does it cover?

A: The 6,000-page report was researched and written by Democratic staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee between 2009 and 2013 after committee Republicans chose not to participate. It examines the interrogation program created by the CIA at the request of President George W. Bush to question captured al-Qaida suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Only the executive summary of the report, which runs about 600 pages, was released Tuesday, with the names of CIA personnel, countries that hosted the agency’s secret prisons and some other details blacked out. The committee’s Republicans are expected to release a dissent challenging some of the report’s conclusions.

Q: Don’t we already know a lot about the CIA interrogation program?


A: The Senate report, based on the examination of more than 6 million internal CIA documents and costing more than $40 million, is by far the most thorough study of the program to date. But a great deal about the program has already surfaced, through leaks, Freedom of Information Act requests, a review by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the official release of limited information. We know the list of “enhanced interrogation techniques” the agency used, including the suffocation treatment called waterboarding; the identity of the two military psychologists who designed the methods; the names of many of approximately 100 prisoners the CIA has said passed through the secret prisons; and at least some of the countries where the jails were located, including Thailand and Poland.

Q: Why has it taken so long for the report to be released?


A: The Senate study was originally intended to take a year but took far longer. It was approved in a committee vote in December 2012 and given to the CIA for review. The agency claimed it was full of inaccuracies and wrote a lengthy rebuttal, which is still secret. Last year, the Senate committee accused the CIA of spying on its work on the report by intruding into the computers used by committee staff members and removing some documents. The CIA subsequently accused the Senate staff of looking at material it was not authorized to see. Eventually, the current CIA director, John O. Brennan, acknowledged that the agency had inappropriately spied on the Senate computers and apologized. In August, the CIA produced a heavily redacted version of the report’s summary for public release, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Intelligence Committee’s Democratic chairwoman, objected that far too much information was blacked out. The two sides have been negotiating a compromise since then.

Q: Is the report likely to settle the controversy over the CIA program?

A: Hardly. Former CIA officials who oversaw the program say the report is inaccurate, ignores evidence of the efficacy of the disputed methods and amounts to a partisan hatchet job. They still maintain that the brutal interrogation methods the agency used were not torture, although the Justice Department legal opinions that approved the methods were withdrawn, and many others have said the worst methods were torture, including President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, former CIA director Leon E. Panetta, Sen. John McCain, a Republican who was himself tortured when held by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, and a host of independent human rights and legal experts. Members of the Bush administration and former intelligence officials began to challenge the report’s conclusions before it was even released, and former Vice President Dick Cheney defended the harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects Monday as “absolutely, totally justified.”


Q: Will the Senate report lead to the prosecution of anyone for torture or other crimes?

A: Highly unlikely. The Justice Department conducted a limited review of the interrogation program, as well as the CIA’s destruction of video recordings of waterboarding and other interrogation sessions, but brought no criminal charges. Holder had directed prosecutors to consider charges only against those who engaged in unauthorized activities, since the use of the brutal interrogation methods was approved by CIA leaders and the George W. Bush White House.