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December 10, 2014

Senate report outlines harsh CIA interrogation methods

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A Senate report released this week criticizes interrogation tactics used by the CIA on suspected terrorists after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The report is the result of a five-year process and outlines the “enhanced interrogation” program the CIA used between 2001 and 2006 under the Bush administration. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called the CIA’s behavior “a stain on our value and on our history.” There was debate in Congress about releasing the report, which some lawmakers said would put troops and American embassies around the world at risk for retaliation.

The program used practices that President Obama, Sen. John McCain and others described as “torture,” including waterboarding and sleep deprivation. Of the 119 people in the program, some were stripped, physically struck and placed in painful physical positions for long amounts of time. In one case, a detainee was forced to stay awake for 180 hours – seven and a half days.

The tactics were largely developed by two contractors who received $80 million from the federal government for their work. Neither of them had previous training as interrogators.

According to the report, the CIA misrepresented the effectiveness of the program during its use, telling the White House and members of the public that the methods yielded valuable and “otherwise unavailable” information from detainees. In reality, the report argues, the interrogation techniques commonly led to detainees lying to interrogators in an attempt to stop the treatment.

CIA Director John Brennan disagreed in a statement, saying the CIA learned useful intelligence from the program while acknowledging that it was flawed.

The report also said the CIA “wrongfully held” at least 26 people during the program, including two detainees who had actually worked as CIA informants. And during the program, at least one detainee died; the report states that the officer responsible for the death was not penalized.

President Obama signed an executive order when he took the oath of office in January 2009 banning the use of enhanced interrogation.


Warm up questions
  1. Who is responsible for the national security of the United States and how do they do their work?
  2. Do you think it is ever morally just to use torture on someone? If yes, when and why?
Critical thinking questions
  1. Who has the responsibility to make sure the CIA is operating within the laws of the United States and international laws against the use of torture?
  2. What should happen to the people at the CIA and contractors who used the enhanced interrogation techniques on the detainees? For example, should they be fired, sent to jail, forgiven, etc.?
  3. How do you think other governments around the world will view the report?
  4. How might terrorist groups use it in propaganda? Is that a reason to prevent its release?
  5. Does the report show that American democracy is strong and can admit and take responsibility for its mistakes? Or does it show that the government is secretive and violates international laws?
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