What You Need to Know About the Senate's CIA Torture Report

PHOTO: The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) logo is displayed in the lobby of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Va, Aug. 14, 2008. PlaySaul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
WATCH Senate Torture Report Condemns CIA Tactics

The Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence is expected to make public today a redacted version of the executive summary of its comprehensive investigation of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. The comprehensive report has come to be known in shorthand as the “CIA Torture Report."

The committee’s investigation began in 2009 and three years later morphed into a 6,300 page report with 35,000 footnotes. The CIA’s security concerns about releasing the full report resulted in a compromise earlier this year by the White House and the committee to release a redacted version of the executive summary that was 500 pages in length.

WATCH: CIA Torture Report Expected to Be Made Public

Obama Says ‘We Tortured Some Folks’

The report is expected to provide details about the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and use of stress positions that human rights groups have described as torture. Concerns that the report’s contents could incite violence overseas have led the Obama administration to raise security precautions at U.S. embassies worldwide.


In 2002, the CIA began a program to seize al Qaeda members and hold them in secret prisons overseas that became known as “black sites." At those locations, the CIA conducted interrogations of those detainees to learn more about al Qaeda, prevent future plots and eventually find Osama bin Laden. The list of detainees included Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-professed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, one of the 9/11 plotters.

In 2002, the Justice Department secretly authorized the use of specific “enhanced interrogation techniques” that would enable CIA interrogators to extract more information from uncooperative detainees. These techniques -- or EIT’s as they became known -- included the use of stress positions, waterboarding and prolonged sleep deprivation designed to coerce detainees into providing more information.

In September 2006, President Bush publicly revealed the existence of the CIA’s secret prison program and announced that detainees under the agency's control would be transferred to the detention facility at Guantanamo. Upon taking office in January 2009, President Obama issued an executive order banning the use of the enhanced interrogation techniques.


In March 2009, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence undertook what it expected to be a year-long investigation to review the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. A committee press release said that in addition to researching the program’s history, committee investigators were also tasked with determining “Whether the CIA accurately described the detention and interrogation program to other parts of the U.S. government, including the Office of Legal Counsel and the Senate Intelligence Committee.”

It would also compare the intelligence gathered through both standard and enhanced interrogation techniques. The CIA established a secure facility with its own computer network where Senate investigators eventually reviewed more than 6.2 million pages of relevant classified CIA documents. This arrangement would later lead to further delays following allegations that CIA employees had improperly accessed the senate investigators’ computer system.

At the same time, Republican members of the committee withdrew from the investigation in September 2009 because they felt that an ongoing Justice Department probe would hobble the committee's investigators. Committee Republicans are expected to release their own response to the committee report.


Some of the report’s conclusions have leaked out over the past year, but committee members have provided significant insights through press releases or public statements to counter what they saw as foot dragging by the CIA. In April 2012, Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) issued a press release saying the "enhanced interrogation techniques" had not provided the information that led to finding bin Laden as former CIA officials had claimed.

Instead, the senators said that key information about the courier that eventually led the agency to find bin Laden’s compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan came from sources other than the CIA detainees. They also said that when EIT’s were used on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Faraj al-Libi to gather more information about the courier they provided “false and misleading information." And they said that the “the CIA detainee who provided the most significant information about the courier provided the information prior to being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques."

By December 2012, the committee’s investigators had concluded their work and sought comments from the White House and the CIA. The CIA eventually provided a response in June 2013 in which Feinstein said the agency “disagrees and disputes important parts” of the committee report.


A secret 2004 CIA Inspector General report, made public in 2009, listed incidents early in the EIT program where CIA officers went beyond the authorized enhanced interrogation techniques. The report detailed how in some cases CIA officers used a power drill, mock executions and threats against children in efforts to get detainees to provide information.

The committee’s report is expected to expand on the previously reported details of the harsh interrogation methods, as well as provide new details on other incidents. The report to be released today reportedly says that the CIA misled Congress and the White House about how well the enhanced interrogation techniques were working.

An official familiar with the report’s contents says the it concludes the opposite, that the enhanced interrogation techniques produced zero actionable intelligence. The report appeared to be ready for release this past August, but the CIA requested further redactions to protect the identities of CIA officers cited in the report. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough became personally involved in talks with the committee to resolve the matter.