Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Dueling political narratives surface ahead of torture report release

With the imminent release of a Senate summary detailing CIA interrogation methods, principals try to head off firestorm

The expected release of the summary of a Senate committee investigation — dubbed the torture report for detailing the CIA’s so-called enhanced interrogation techniques — has touched off a firestorm as former and current U.S. government figures seek to justify their competing accounts.

People who have seen prior versions of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) report say its contents cast doubt on the value of intelligence gleaned from an interrogation program in operation from 2002 to 2006 that allowed techniques, such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation, that are commonly defined as torture. The committee voted in April of this year to declassify the 480-page summary of the full report, which is more than 6,300 pages long and was completed in December 2012.

The CIA has fiercely objected to the report’s conclusions, and Barack Obama’s administration has warned that public disclosure of the material could prove embarrassing for the United States and could even compromise national security.

Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday reportedly phoned SSCI Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and asked her to consider U.S. interests when deciding on the release date, though White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Tuesday reaffirmed the administration’s support for releasing the document.

The U.S. government has warned its personnel and embassies around the world about the potential fallout from the release, with an unnamed senior intelligence official telling Reuters on Monday that the government had “an obligation ... to warn of the heightened potential that the release could stimulate a violent response.”

Others echoed the White House cautions about the possible global effects of releasing the report’s executive summary, and some rejected releasing it at all.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said on CNN’s “State of the Union With Candy Crowley” on Sunday that the release would have dire consequences for the U.S. around the globe.

“Foreign leaders have approached the government and said, ‘You do this, this will cause violence and deaths.’ Our own intelligence community has assessed that this will cause violence and deaths,” he said. “What good will come of this report?”

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, who led the agency from 2006 to 2009, said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the summary’s release would “be used by our enemies to motivate people to attack Americans in American facilities overseas.”

But many analysts have disputed the potential for violence stemming from the release.

“Although there may be some demonstrations and even some violence, I don’t think that it will particularly directly endanger Americans or American allies, because those who represent a danger are already doing everything they can to inflict harm,” said Charlie Dunlap Jr., a former deputy judge advocate general of the U.S. Air Force and currently the executive director of Duke’s Center on Law, Ethics and National Security, in a press release.

“After all, ISIS is beheading innocent Americans and others. They hardly need more motivation for barbarism,” he said, using the acronym for another name of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Daniel Drezner, a professor of international relations at Tufts University, agreed, writing in The Washington Post, “There is no shortage of U.S. foreign policy actions and inactions in the region to inflame enemies. The Senate report is small potatoes compared to that.”

Whatever the possible global effects of releasing the SSCI report, many individuals who had a role in the CIA program and the administration of George W. Bush have sought to pre-emptively dispute the report’s findings.

Bush and some of his former advisers plan to rebut the Senate report’s summary, according to The New York Times. He has defended the use of tactics like waterboarding, which his administration called enhanced interrogation techniques — not torture. During the Bush presidency, administration lawyers produced several memos that outlined legal justifications for the methods used by the CIA.

“Once the release occurs, we’ll have things to say and will be making some documents available that bear on the case,” John E. McLaughlin, a former deputy CIA director and acting director under Bush, told The New York Times.

He said the report “uses information selectively, often distorts to make its points and, as I recall, contains no recommendations.”

Bush also appeared Sunday on “State of the Union,” calling CIA officers who were part of the interrogation program “patriots” and asserting, “Whatever the report says, if it diminishes their contributions to our country, it is way off base.”

Writing in The Washington Post on Dec. 5, former CIA official Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., who oversaw the CIA’s interrogation program after 9/11, rejected the report’s leaked conclusions ahead of the summary’s release.

“We did what we were asked to do, we did what we were assured was legal, and we know our actions were effective,” he said. “The CIA got the necessary approvals to do so and kept Congress briefed throughout. But as our successes grew, some lawmakers’ recollections shrank in regard to the support they once offered.”

Rodriguez sparked controversy after it came to light that he ordered the destruction of 92 videotapes of CIA interrogations in 2005. The CIA inspector general reprimanded him for his actions, but Rodriguez remains adamant that techniques such as waterboarding are necessary tools for fighting terrorism.

But former FBI agent Ali Soufan — an interrogator for terrorism suspects after 9/11 — has publicly disputed Rodriguez’s claims, which he says have been “discredited by the likes of the Department of Justice, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA’s inspector general.” 

“Today those responsible for the program, who made a decision that was terrible for our national security — both in the short term and the long term — are doing their best to try to salvage their reputation,” he said in a 2012 interview with The New Yorker.

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CIA, Torture
Barack Obama

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Barack Obama

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