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Senate Report Reveals More Details on Interrogation Tactics

April 22, 2009 at 6:00 PM EDT
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A newly-declassified Senate panel report shed new light on the approval of harsh interrogation tactics used on terrorism suspects at Iraq's Abu Ghraib and the Guantanamo military prison camp. Kwame Holman reports.

GWEN IFILL: A tough Senate report out today raised new questions about drastic interrogations of terror suspects in the Bush years. NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman has our lead story report.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate report was the product of an 18-month investigation by the Armed Services Committee. It drew on more than 70 interviews and 200,000 pages of documents.

The committee found CIA and military officials began exploring waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods shortly after 9/11 and months before Justice Department lawyers approved them.

In short order, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and others authorized tactics that also ranged from stripping prisoners naked to exposing them to extremes of heat and cold.

The report found that approval led ultimately to notorious abuses in military prisons at Guantanamo and then in Iraq and Afghanistan, including Abu Ghraib.

The findings were sure to fuel a debate that began with President Obama’s release of the Bush-era legal memos last week.

The growing political tension over interrogations surfaced at a House hearing with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, held in this room today. As Clinton testified, some of the president’s critics zeroed in on his handling of the issue.

California Republican Dana Rohrabacher pressed Clinton on whether putting out the memos has made the country less safe.

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER,R-Calif.: There are senior intelligence officers who are suggesting that release of that information may end up damaging our ability to thwart terrorist attacks. Do you have any comment on that?

HILLARY CLINTON, secretary of State: Number one: No one will be prosecuted who acted within the four corners of the legal advice that was given, following that advice, to perform any function that that person believed was legal.

However, those who formulated the legal opinions and gave those orders should be reviewed. And the president has referred that to the attorney general and has also said that there may be an opportunity for a non-political, bipartisan — I might say nonpartisan — review to get all of this out in the open in the way that we function best as a democracy.

Clinton responds to Cheney

KWAME HOLMAN: That response mirrored the president's comments on the matter yesterday, but the secretary sidestepped former Vice President Cheney's demands that the CIA release other memos giving a different perspective.

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER: He says there are other -- there are several specific documents that are being kept classified by the administration that would show that those -- that any time there was a problem, people tried to correct it. Are you in favor of releasing the documents that Dick Cheney has been requesting be released?

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, it won't surprise you that I don't consider him a particularly reliable source of information.

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER: Madam -- Madam Secretary, I asked you a specific question. Are you -- Dick Cheney has asked for specific documents to be unclassified. We're not asking for your opinion of Dick Cheney -- about those documents. You want to maintain your credibility with us, what is your position on the release of those documents?

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, Congressman, I believe that we ought to get to the bottom of this entire matter. I think it's in the best interest of our country, and that is what the president believes, and that is why he has taken the actions he did.

KWAME HOLMAN: Mr. Cheney also has claimed the interrogations did produce valuable intelligence.

And it was widely reported today that Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, agreed. In a private memo, he wrote, "High-value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used."

After the memo became public, Blair issued a statement saying, "There is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means."

As the debate over interrogations mounted in Congress, so did the pressure to investigate those who crafted the policy. As Attorney General Eric Holder said today, "We are going to follow the evidence where it takes us."