The Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday voted to publicly release key portions of its report on the CIA’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation program, Chairman Dianne Feinstein told reporters following a closed-door meeting of the committee.
The report draws a harsh portrait of the agency and the legality of its tactics, U.S. officials familiar with the findings have said.
The White House must now formally declassify the findings before they are released, and it’s not known how long that process could take.
Critics, including President Barack Obama, have called the use of the controversial techniques, including waterboarding, a violation of laws prohibiting torture. Upon taking office, Obama banned the practices, which the CIA had already ceased.
Defenders say the program cobbled together to respond to the emergency of the terror attacks yielded valuable intelligence that led to major victories in the fight against al Qaeda, including the operation that killed Osama bin Laden.
Before Thursday’s decision, Feinstein said her committee would vote to declassify several hundred pages that include findings and an executive summary. The committee will submit the entire 6,000-page report prepared by committee staffers to the White House, which has final authority on declassification.
Feinstein, in a Senate floor speech last month, outlined part of the reason to make the report public.
“The interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detention sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us,” she said.
Current and former officials familiar with the findings say it portrays efforts by CIA officials to burnish internal reports of how effective the program was, even when it was clear that wasn’t the case.
The tactics used were approved by legal memos from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, though several of the memos were later withdrawn as erroneous.
The Justice Department reviewed the conduct of some employees and contractors involved in the program, which the officials say showed excesses beyond those approved by the Justice Department, but declined to bring criminal prosecutions.
One of those expected to come under criticism in the Senate report is John Rizzo, who was acting general counsel at the agency during the post-9/11 period.
Rizzo, who recently published his memoir “Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA,” supports declassifying and releasing the Senate report and the CIA’s rebuttal “and let people judge.”
He disputes the idea that he or any other officials mislead Congress, something he said he would have told congressional investigators if they asked for an interview.
“I believed the program yielded valuable intelligence and I continue to believe this. Now, could it have been gotten through other ways? I don’t know; that is unknowable,” Rizzo said in an interview.
Rizzo says a dozen years later it’s important to recall that CIA employees did the best they could given the threat at the time. The program began when Congress and the President were pushing the CIA and other security agencies to do everything to prevent another attack, which at the time was believed to be very likely.
Feinstein, usually one of the agency’s staunchest backers, has recently lashed out at the CIA in a dispute over the committee staff’s preparation of the report, which has been complete since 2012.
The CIA has asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Senate staffers violated the law by accessing classified internal information based on the same documents the agency turned over to the Senate for its review.
Feinstein accused the CIA of snooping on computers used by the Senate staffers, which were in a CIA facility designated for the committee’s use.
The CIA in the past has disputed some of the findings of the Senate committee report.
Dean Boyd, a CIA spokesman, said: “The CIA has not been provided with a final copy of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on the former Rendition Detention and Interrogation (RDI) program and until we’re given the opportunity to review it, we are unable to comment on details it may contain. If portions of the report are submitted to the CIA for classification review, the CIA will carry out the review expeditiously.”
Obama came into office in 2009 urging Democratic critics of the CIA program and other counterterrorism measures under the administration of President George W. Bush to help turn the page on the past. But recently, he said he supported declassification of the Senate’s CIA report.
“I would urge them to go ahead and complete the report and send it to us and we will declassify those findings so that the American people can understand what happened in the past and that can help guide us as we move forward,” Obama said last month.
Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, a member of the intelligence panel who has pushed for the report’s publication, says he is motivated in part by accountability for the past and to ensure it won’t happen again.
“The American people cannot have faith that the agency is acting effectively and within the law until the flaws of this program are acknowledged and the CIA’s misrepresentations are finally corrected,” he said.