POLITICS

Senate finds evidence of 'torture' in CIA tactics that central figures in controversy ardently defend

  • Senator Feinstein on the Senate floor at the Capitol December 9, 2014 on Capitol Hill.

    Senator Feinstein on the Senate floor at the Capitol December 9, 2014 on Capitol Hill.  (2014 Getty Images)

  • Jose Rodriguez, who headed the CIA's controversial interrogation program, defended the tactics, saying they helped save American lives.

    Jose Rodriguez, who headed the CIA's controversial interrogation program, defended the tactics, saying they helped save American lives.  (AP)

Senate investigators delivered a damning indictment of CIA practices Tuesday, accusing the spy agency of inflicting pain and suffering on prisoners beyond legal limits and deceiving the nation with narratives of life-saving interrogations unsubstantiated by its own records.

Treatment in secret prisons a decade ago was worse than the government told Congress or the public, the Senate Intelligence Committee's torture report found. Five hundred pages were released, representing the executive summary and conclusions of a still-classified 6,700-page full investigation.

"Under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the committee chairman, declared.

Tactics included weeks of sleep deprivation, slapping and slamming of detainees against walls, confining them to small boxes, keeping them isolated for prolonged periods and threatening them with death. Three detainees faced the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding. Many developed psychological problems.

The tactics were so harsh, the report noted, that at times even CIA people carrying them out got teary and anxious, reaching out to more senior people in the agency about whether the actions were legal.

A central figure in the controversy, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., who was the head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and was in charge of the interrogations program, rebuked an officer who questioned the utility and legality of the often degrading and painful methods they used to extract information.

“Strongly urge that any speculative language as to the legality of given activities or, more precisely, judgment calls as to their legality vis-à-vis operational guidelines for this activity agreed upon and vetted at the most senior levels of the agency, be refrained from in written traffic (email or cable traffic),” Rodriguez wrote, according to published reports. “Such language is not helpful.”

Rodriguez, who retired from the CIA in 2008, wrote a book in 2012 about counterterrorism tactics titled "Hard Measures," in which he staunchly defended the controversial treatment of detainees.

"We made some al-Qaida terrorists with American blood on their hands uncomfortable for a few days," he said in an interview with CBS shortly after the release of the book. "But we did the right thing for the right reason. And the right reason was to protect the homeland and to protect American lives. So, yes, I had no qualms."

Rodriguez said in the interview that the interrogation methods "included stress positions, nudity and 'insult slaps,'" that aimed at "instilling a sense of hopelessness ... despair ... so that [the detainee] would conclude on his own that he was better off cooperating with us."

In 2005, Rodriguez, who was born in Puerto Rico and now works in the private sector, ordered the destruction of more than 90 videotapes of interrogations at a so-called “black site” (or secret prison) in Thailand, where two al-Qaida leaders were waterboarded. He said the images captured in the video were too disturbing and could have endangered the lives of CIA officers.

The report released Tuesday argued that the "enhanced interrogation techniques" didn't produce the results that really mattered.

It cites CIA cables, emails and interview transcripts to rebut the central justification for torture — that it thwarted terror plots and saved American lives.

The report, released after months of negotiations with the administration about what should be censored, was issued amid concerns of an anti-American backlash overseas. American embassies and military sites worldwide were taking extra precautions.

Earlier this year, Feinstein accused the CIA of infiltrating Senate computer systems in a dispute over documents as relations between the investigators and the spy agency deteriorated, the issue still sensitive years after President Barack Obama halted the interrogation practices upon taking office.

Former CIA officials disputed the report's findings. So did Senate Republicans, whose written dissent accuses Democrats of inaccuracies, sloppy analysis and cherry-picking evidence to reach a predetermined conclusion. CIA officials prepared their own response acknowledging serious mistakes, but saying they gained vital intelligence that still guides counterterrorism efforts.

"The program led to the capture of al-Qaida leaders and took them off the battlefield," said George Tenet, CIA director when the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks occurred. He said it saved "thousands of American lives."

President George W. Bush approved the program through a covert finding in 2002, but he wasn't briefed by the CIA about the details until 2006. At that time Bush expressed discomfort with the "image of a detainee, chained to the ceiling, clothed in a diaper and forced to go to the bathroom on himself." Bush said in his 2010 memoirs that he discussed the program with CIA Director George Tenet, but Tenet told the CIA inspector general that never happened.

After al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah was arrested in Pakistan, the CIA received permission to use waterboarding, sleep deprivation, close confinement and other techniques. Agency officials added unauthorized methods into the mix, the report says.

At least five men in CIA detention received "rectal rehydration," a form of feeding through the rectum. The report found no medical necessity for the treatment.

Others received "ice baths" and death threats. At least three in captivity were told their families would suffer, with CIA officers threatening to harm their children, sexually abuse the mother of one man, and cut the throat of another man's mother.

Zubaydah was held in a secret facility in Thailand, called "detention Site Green" in the report. Early on, with CIA officials believing he had information on an imminent plot, Zubaydah was left isolated for 47 days without questioning, the report says. Later, he was subjected to the panoply of techniques. He later suffered mental problems.

He wasn't alone. In September 2002, at a facility referred to as COBALT— understood as the CIA's "Salt Pit" in Afghanistan — detainees were kept isolated and in darkness. Their cells had only a bucket for human waste.

Redha al-Najar, a former Osama bin Laden bodyguard, was the first prisoner there. After a month of sleep deprivation, CIA interrogators found him a "broken man." But the treatment got worse, with officials lowering food rations, shackling him in the cold and giving him a diaper instead of toilet access.

Gul Rahman, a suspected extremist, received enhanced interrogation there in late 2002, shackled to a wall in his cell and forced to rest on a bare concrete floor in only a sweatshirt. The next day he was dead. A CIA review and autopsy found he died of hypothermia.

Justice Department investigations into that and another death of a CIA detainee resulted in no charges.

During a waterboarding session, Zubaydah became "completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open full mouth," according to internal CIA records.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind, received the waterboarding treatment 183 times. Though officers noted he wasn't becoming more compliant, they waterboarded him for 10 more days. He was waterboarded for not confirming a "nuclear suitcase" plot the CIA later deemed a scam. Another time, his waterboarding produced a fabricated confession about recruiting black Muslims in Montana.

After reviewing 6 million agency documents, investigators said they could find no example of unique, life-saving intelligence gleaned from coercive techniques — another sweeping conclusion the CIA and Republicans contest.

The report claims to debunk the CIA's assertion its practices led to bin Laden's killing. The agency says its interrogation of detainee Ammar al-Baluchi revealed a known courier was taking messages to and from bin Laden.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Jose Rodriguez, author of Hard Measures, speaks out on Hannity about enhanced interrogation techniques

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