WASHINGTON — The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says she is planning a push to declassify hundreds of pages of a secret committee report that accuses the Central Intelligence Agency of misleading Congress and the White House about the agency’s detention and interrogation program, which is now defunct.
The 6,000-page report, which took years to complete and cost more than $40 million, is the only detailed account to date of a program that set off a national debate about torture. The report has been the subject of a fierce partisan fight and a vigorous effort by the C.I.A. to challenge its conclusions, and last month, the agency’s director, John O. Brennan, delivered a lengthy rebuttal to the report to committee leaders.
But the committee’s chairwoman, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said in a statement this week that the report was on “firm ground” and that she planned to ask the White House and C.I.A. to declassify its 300-page executive summary after “making any factual changes to our report that are warranted after the C.I.A.’s response.”
The committee’s top Republican, Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, said he believed the report was deeply flawed and agreed with the intelligence agency’s critique. But he said he believed that a summary of the report could be made public, as long as it was accompanied by a summary of the agency’s response and a dissenting statement from committee Republicans.
The clash over the report is, at its core, a fight over who writes the history of what is perhaps the most bitterly disputed part of the American government’s response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. More than four years have passed since the C.I.A. closed its secret prisons, and nearly a decade since agency interrogators subjected Qaeda detainees to the most brutal interrogation methods, including the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.
For defenders of the interrogation program, the Senate criticism represents second-guessing of actions taken at a desperate time to stop terrorist attacks. For critics, the report is a first step toward coming to terms with a shameful departure from American values that included the official embrace of torture.
According to several people who have read it, the Senate report is particularly damning in its portrait of a C.I.A. so intent on justifying extreme interrogation techniques that it blatantly misled President George W. Bush, the White House, the Justice Department and the Congressional intelligence committees about the efficacy of its methods.
Several senators have also said the report concludes that the use of waterboarding, wall-slamming, shackling in painful positions, forced nudity and sleep deprivation produced little information of value. It concludes that the use of those techniques did not disrupt any terrorist plots and made no significant contribution to finding Osama bin Laden, the Qaeda founder, who was killed in a SEAL team raid in 2011.
The C.I.A. response challenges a number of these conclusions, in part by questioning the accuracy of facts cited in the report.
A C.I.A. spokesman, Dean Boyd, said the agency’s response “detailed significant errors in the study,” though he added that the agency “agrees with a number of the study’s findings.”
In a separate statement, Mr. Brennan made clear his continuing opposition to coercive interrogation methods, which were used by the agency when he held high-level positions. “I remain firm in my belief 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,” he said.
Mr. Chambliss said the report’s shortcomings stemmed from its being based exclusively on documents. “The folks doing the report got 100 percent of their information from documents and didn’t interview a single person,” he said, adding that while there were “some abuses,” the program was more effective than the report concludes.
The committee completed its report late last year and submitted it to the C.I.A., where it sat for months. The agency’s response to the report was due in February, but it was not delivered to the committee until the end of June.
Senator Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, suggested that the committee would not automatically accept the agency’s corrections to the report. “My colleagues and I will apply the same level of scrutiny to the C.I.A.’s response that we used during our own exhaustive review of the program,” he said.
Some Democratic lawmakers and human rights advocates are frustrated that the White House has remained largely absent from the debate, though a May 10 photograph on the White House Flickr feed shows Mr. Brennan speaking with President Obama while holding a copy of the C.I.A. response to the Senate report.
In a statement on Friday, Caitlin Hayden, a White House spokeswoman, urged the committee and the C.I.A. “to continue working together to address issues associated with the report — including factual questions.”
She said that at some point, “some version of the findings of the report should be made public.”
Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, said that squarely facing the mistakes of the interrogation program was “essential for the C.I.A.’s long-term institutional integrity, for the legitimacy of ongoing sensitive programs, and for this White House, which so far has rejected requests to discuss the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report with members or committee staff.”
Though the committee’s investigation began as a bipartisan effort, Republicans dropped out in August 2009 after Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced that the Justice Department was reviewing the interrogation program. In part because they expected many C.I.A. officers to refuse to discuss the program during the Justice Department review, committee Democrats decided to base their investigation solely on documents, ultimately reviewing some six million pages.
The costs of the investigation ballooned over four years. The C.I.A. insisted that committee staff members be allowed to pore over thousands of classified agency cables only at a secure facility in Northern Virginia — and only after a team of outside contractors had examined the cables first. Government officials said that between paying for the facility and for the contractors, the C.I.A. had spent more than $40 million on the study.
Mrs. Feinstein angrily complained about what she called a pattern of unnamed officials speaking to reporters to discredit the Senate report.
“I am appalled by the persistent media leaks by anonymous officials regarding the C.I.A.’s response to the committee’s study,” she said, adding that the leaks began three months before the agency delivered its formal response.
“Leaks defending the C.I.A. interrogation program regardless of underlying facts or costs have been a persistent problem for many years,” she said. “This behavior was, and remains, unacceptable.”
July 19, 2013
By MARK MAZZETTI and SCOTT SHANE
© 2013 The New York Times Company