Senate’s CIA Torture Review Still Classified, But Details Are Leaking

Source: Colleen Casey

Source: Colleen Casey

Earlier this month, a long-standing point of contention between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Senate came to a head; Chair of the Intelligence Committee, Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California, confirmed to reporters that the CIA was under investigation for allegedly spying on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

The history of the alleged surveillance dates back to the administration of George W. Bush when, in the aftermath of 9/11, the Senate committee began a lengthy examination of the CIA’s discontinued detention and interrogation program. But it appears that the agency wanted to keep secret the details of the program, details that the still-classified, 6,300-page report would reveal. Through sources familiar with the disagreement, Al Jazeera learned that the report alleges that at least-one “high-value detainee” was subjected to torture techniques that went beyond those authorized by the Bush administration’s Department of Justice.

Feinstein spoke at length on the now-defunct detention and interrogation program on the floor of the Senate on March 11. “Over the past week, there have been numerous press articles written about the Intelligence Committee’s oversight review of the Detention and Interrogation Program of the CIA, specifically, press attention has focused on the CIA’s intrusion and search of the Senate Select Committee’s computers as well as the committee’s acquisition of a certain internal CIA document known as the Panetta Review,” she said. The name of the review refers to former director of the agency, Leon Panetta, who ordered a 2012 internal C.I.A. review.

While initially the central focus of the Senate outrage dealt with the agency’s alleged spying on the Senate committee, concerns about the findings of the report are growing more pressing. Two Senate staffers and another government official told Al Jazeera that the Intelligence committee’s analysis of the 6 million pages of classified records revealed the harsh measures employed by agency interrogators had been used on at least one detainee before official authorization had been given by the Justice Department. That detainee was Zain Abidin Mohammed Husain Abu Zubaydah.

Later, the CIA knowingly misled the White House, Congress, and the Justice Department about the value of the intelligence gained in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, the government officials informed the publication. His interrogation was used to justify harsher methods.

Similarly, while the report remains classified, the New York Times reported that those that have read the document say it is a withering indictment of the agency’s program; it details numerous occasions on which the CIA misled Congress, the White House, and the American public about the success of the agency’s interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, all of which reportedly revealed little information of value to U.S. intelligence.

The Senate Intelligence Committee first began looking into the detention and interrogation program in 2009 after allegations surfaced that detainees had been tortured by the CIA following 9/11. Since then, lawmakers spent years investing the alleged torture practices, and the committee found that, “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,” as Feinstein said on the floor of the Senate.

The controversy between the agency and the Senate is encompassed in the classified, 120-page rebuttal sent to Feinstein’s committee by CIA Director John Brennan four months after the deadline for the response had passed. According to Al Jazeera, it addressed the flaws in the Senate report. He also argued that the Senate lawmakers were given access to documents they never should have seen because they contained sensitive material protected by executive privilege. Christopher White, a CIA spokesperson, declined to answer the publication’s questions about the report.

An early 2008 briefing from former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Ali Soufan gave the committee crucial information as well. Committee staffers told Al Jazeera that Soufan’s notes detailed the methods used by CIA-contracted psychologist to interrogate Abu Zubaydah at a CIA black site in Thailand after his capture in Pakistan in March of 2002. That account revealed that certain torture techniques were used on Abu Zubaydah before they had been deemed permissible by the Bush administration, the publication’s sources said. In his memoir, The Black Banners, Soufan recounted his briefing of the Intelligence Committee researchers. “In early 2008, in a conference room that is referred to as a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF), I gave a classified briefing on Abu Zubaydah to staffers of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The staffers present were shocked. What I told them contradicted everything they had been told by Bush administration and CIA officials. When the discussion turned to whether I could prove everything I was saying, I told them, ‘Remember, an FBI agent always keep his notes.’”

When lawmakers attempted to review the notes — which were then in the possession of the CIA and the FBI — after their investigation began in 2009, they were informed that the documents were missing, as staffers told Al Jazeera, although they eventually did access the notes.

Committee staffers also met with Abu Zubaydah’s attorney Brent Mickum, who told the publication that the Intelligence Committee wanted to know whether the torture methods were effective. “I was able to relate to them what Abu Zubaydah told me. We talked about where he was tortured. I told them where we thought he was. I told them that the government confirmed he was never a member of Al-Qaeda. The drawings were then passed around the room,” said Mickum. He and his co-counsel, Amy Jacobsen, also turned over a series of ink drawings on yellow note paper marked “top secret” by the CIA. The legal team told the publication that Abu Zubaydah had drawn them to depict the torture of himself and two other high-value detainees. Knowledgeable intelligence officials told the publication that the drawings show Abu Zubaydah being waterboarded, but his lawyer said the contents were classified.

In essence, the CIA’s alleged surveillance on Intelligence committee’s review was an effort to control how the history of the interrogation program was written, as the agency’s detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists was among the most controversial elements of the United States government’s response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. When announcing the Senate review, Panetta told agency employees in early 2009 that Feinstein and the committee’s Vice Chair Kit Bond, a Republican from Missouri, had assured him that, “Their goal is to draw lessons for future policy decisions, not to punish those who followed guidance from the Department of Justice. That is only fair.” But now, given what the report found on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah and other captives, CIA officials are seeking further assurances, Al Jazeera reported.

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