CIA Torture Report Poised for Release -- At Least Some of It

Portions of the Senate's long-awaited report on Bush-era interrogation practices are poised to be released, according to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

On Thursday night, Feinstein said the CIA and the Obama administration have agreed that portions of her committee's exhaustive, 6,000-page report should be shared with the public. News of the agreement follows an intense struggle between the CIA and lawmakers that will likely shape how history views one of the most controversial periods in the post-9/11 era, when the CIA used tactics that President Obama and others have condemned as torture in an attempt to elicit information about terrorism.

"I am pleased the CIA and Obama administration have agreed that a portion of the report should be made public," Feinstein said in a statement. "The committee will vote shortly to adopt and release the executive summary, findings and conclusions which will reflect the CIA's comments as appropriate."

The report is the product of three year's work and $40 million in preparation costs. Ever since its completion there's been strong disagreement among intelligence officials and lawmakers over how much information the public should be allowed to read, in large part because there's no agreement on the findings. Officials familiar with the report tell The Cable it is deeply flawed and inaccurate, but others consider it the most authoritative account of one of the darkest chapters in the CIA's history. One year ago today, Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats voted unanimously to approve the report's findings. Nearly all Republicans voted against it. The CIA also believes the report contains significant inaccuracies.

While the outcome of the committee's vote to release the report remains uncertain, opposing sides appear to agree that the report can't be concealed forever.

"CIA and Committee staff have had extensive dialogue on this issue and the agency is prepared to work with the Committee to determine the best way forward on potential declassification," said CIA spokesman Dean Boyd.

Democrats on the committee, such as Sen. Ron Wyden, tell The Cable they are making a concerted effort to push the report across the finish line.

"Without the significant facts and analysis provided by this report, the public debate over these interrogation techniques will continue to consist of opponents like myself saying torture doesn't work, and some former CIA officials claiming that it does," said Wyden. "The public needs to see an infusion of facts so they can make up their minds for themselves and finally put this debate to rest."

A spokesman for Sen. Mark Udall says the Colorado Democrat will raise questions about the report's declassification on Tuesday during a confirmation hearing for the CIA's general counsel.

President Barack Obama has repeatedly said "by using torture to interrogate our enemies," the country compromised its core values. However, he has largely avoided weighing in on the usefulness of enhanced interrogation techniques in counterterrorism efforts.

On Friday, the White House applauded cooperation between the CIA and the Senate panel. "We believe that it is important for the Committee and the CIA to continue working together to address issues associated with the report - including factual questions," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told The Cable. "The President has made clear that the program that is the subject of the committee's work is inconsistent with our values as a Nation."

Officials who are familiar with the report's conclusions say that it offers detailed examples of how subjecting prisoners to harsh interrogations, including what human rights groups and others call torture, may have been counterproductive, and that the techniques didn't produce any leads that helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden, as some current and former CIA officials claim. Feinstein said in a statement last year that the CIA had made "terrible mistakes" by interrogating suspects in secret prisons, and that the report "will settle the debate once and for all over whether our nation should every employ coercive interrogation techniques."

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the intelligence committee's top Republican, has said the report contains "omissions about the history and utility of the CIA's detention program." He also said investigators compiled their findings "without interviewing any of the people involved" in the CIA program.

The CIA read the report and sent a written response to the committee in late June. The agency "agreed with a number of the study's findings, but also detailed significant errors in the study," said Boyd, the CIA spokesman. "The CIA Director has publicly stated that enhanced interrogation techniques are not an appropriate method to obtain intelligence and that their use impairs our ability to play a leadership role in the world."

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, told The Cable that the agency's willingness to collaborate with the Senate panel is notable. "I support transparency and am glad to see CIA's willingness to work with Congress on this vital issue," he said. Ruppersberger added that he supports "the potential declassification of portions of the report as long as sources and methods are protected and our personnel in the field are not endangered."

Getty Images

National Security

Hagel: I Met Hafez al-Assad Six Months After He Died

For Chuck Hagel, it was the meeting that wasn't. 

It was December 2000, and Hagel, then a Republican senator from Nebraska, was traveling the Mideast seeking the answer to a single question. Then-President Bill Clinton had brought Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to Camp David in July for intensive negotiations that brought the two sides tantalizingly close to a full peace treaty. Arafat would have received a sovereign state of Palestine with its capital in Jerusalem, just as he had demanded for decades.  Clinton and Barak both thought they had a deal, but Arafat backed away at the last moment. Why, Hagel wondered, wouldn't Arafat take yes for an answer?

"He had 95 percent of what he asked for and then turned it down," Hagel writes in his 2008 autobiography "America: Our Next Chapter." "How do you get what appears to be such a good deal and then walk away from it?" 

Fortunately, Hagel writes, he soon had the chance to ask one of the Mideast's canniest and most-experienced leaders that very question. Hagel, according to his memoir, traveled to Damascus for a meeting with Syrian strongman Hafez al-Assad, the father of the country's current dictator.  In his book, Hagel says that Assad told him that he was prepared to a sign a peace treaty with Israel provided the Jewish state agreed to give up both East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Then, Hagel writes, he asked Assad for his views on the Camp David talks.

"He does not have the sole authority to make a deal," Assad replied, according to the book. 

Hagel believed that Assad was trying to pass along an important lesson about the modern Mideast: the Israel-Palestine issue was so important to the region's other Arab leaders that Arafat couldn't sign a treaty without their approval.

There is just one problem with Hagel's account of the meeting: it never happened. Assad died in June, six months before purportedly sitting down with Hagel and one month before the Camp David talks had even begun. The book vividly recounts a conversation that couldn't have taken place. 

The defense secretary is currently dealing with a different Assad, at a very different time in U.S.-Syrian relations. Hagel met with Bashar al-Assad in Damascus in 2002 to discuss regional security issues, including the stalled peace process.  Eleven years later, Hagel was a key player in the Obama administration's internal deliberations over whether to bomb Syria after the younger Assad used chemical weapons to kill hundreds of his own people. 

In his decades in public life, Hagel has earned a well-deserved reputation for candor and honesty. There is no reason to think that he intentionally fabricated the meeting with the elder Assad or tried to mislead his readers. All the same, the book - co-written with Peter Kaminsky - contains a significant error on the subject of Mideast peace, a topic that Hagel has worked on for years, first in the Senate, then at the Atlantic Council, and now at the Pentagon. The book came out in 2008, and has been reprinted as a paperback and e-book. The erroneous account has never been corrected.

Carl Woog, a Pentagon spokesman, said the mistake stemmed from a "simple editing error."

Hagel, Woog said, met with Assad in Damascus in August 1998 to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The Syrian leader made his comment about Arafat lacking the authority to make a deal with Israel during that meeting. Hagel returned to Damascus in December 2000 and discussed the failed Camp David talks with senior Syrian government officials, including then-Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara. Woog said that Hagel's editors at his publisher, Ecco, a HarperCollins imprint, mistakenly combined the two trips into a single one.

"Secretary Hagel has asked the publisher to correct the error in this passage," Woog added.

A spokeswoman for HarperCollins said she was unaware of how the error crept into the book and couldn't confirm whether the publisher had received Hagel's request to fix that part of the memoir.

Alex Wong/Getty Image News