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5 things to look for in the Senate's torture report

Who did this? Who did they do it to? Did they lie? Here is what you need to know about the Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture.
Detainees in camp 4 of Guantanamo Bay in June 2006. (Photo by Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum Photos)
Detainees in camp 4 of Guantanamo Bay in June 2006.

Two years ago, the Senate Intelligence Committee completed its investigation into the detention and torture of detainees in CIA custody during the Bush administration. The report has been the subject of lengthy negotiations, conflicts and even legal threats between the committee and the CIA, and it has sparked intense partisan battles within the committee itself. At issue is who is to blame, what the White House and Congress knew and what details can be shared with the public.

RELATED: Showdown between the Senate and CIA ends without charges

A heavily redacted executive summary, more than 500 pages long, is expected to include graphic accounts of interrogation methods. It will name CIA officials involved in decision-making and will include a rebuttal from the spy agency that ran secret prisons in which a still-unknown number of people were held in conditions never officially acknowledged.

The CIA began holding suspects around the world after al-Qaeda attacked the United States in 2001. The systematic torture, detention and kidnappings that followed occurred without public disclosure or debate and often in partnership with some of the world’s worst human rights violators. Some methods used were clearly outlawed and evidence was concealed or destroyed by the CIA, even as attempts to operate outside the law were repeatedly rejected in U.S. courts. Thirteen years after the so-called “Global War on Terror” began, no full accounting exists of the identities of those held by the CIA between 2001 and 2006, and no one has ever been held responsible in a court of law for their treatment.

Here are the five things to look for when the report is released Tuesday:

1. One word: Torture. Since The New York Times first exposed in 2004 that the CIA was "waterboarding” select al-Qaeda detainees and had approved a secret list of interrogation techniques, a political debate has raged over whether to call those methods by their right name: “torture.” The Bush administration called them “enhanced interrogation techniques” and rejected the notion that anything the CIA did constituted torture. When asked, President Bush would simply say “we do not torture,” and that is because “torture” is illegal. 

2. Was it worth it? Members of the Bush administration, most notably former Vice President Dick Cheney and former CIA Director Michael Hayden, have publicly insisted, along with prominent Republican member of Congress, that torture works. Once out of office, Cheney said that the waterboarding of three al-Qaeda detainees, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- long considered the orchestrator of the 2001 attacks -- “produced phenomenal results for us.” But many others have disagreed. The report is expected to reach a judgment on this question. But even as readers weigh the evidence, it’s worth asking: Does it matter? If torture is illegal – because it constitutes cruel and inhumane treatment -- and is immoral, do we want our spy agencies doing it, even if it could work?

3. Who did this? The report is not going to identify the people who carried out the interrogations, and it won't name the Bush administration officials who knew of their actions. Cheney once famously explained that to win the war against al-Qaeda, the United States needed to "work the dark side, if you will." But this report doesn't go there, so don't expect revelations along the lines of: “Jack Bauer in the Salt Pit with a wooden plank.” The names of Bush administration officials associated with “the torture memos,” including John Yoo, now a law professor at the University of Berkeley, or Jay Bybee, now a federal judge, are unlikely to surface in this report. 

The Senate committee focused its work exclusively on the CIA and decisions by its leadership relating to the treatment of detainees in secret prisons run in Afghanistan, Thailand, Poland and Romania. But detainees were also held in proxy detention at sites run by foreign intelligence services, but with CIA involvement, in Pakistan, Jordan and elsewhere. Names to look for include three former CIA directors on whose watch the programs took place: George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden. 

RELATED: CIA admits to spying on Senate committee

Robert Eatinger, a CIA lawyer who approved the destruction of videotaped evidence of interrogations, is said to be named repeatedly in the report along with John McLaughlin who was Tenet’s deputy and Steve Kappes, a career spy who served as No. 2 under Hayden. Kappes was convicted in absentia in an Italian court for orchestrating the kidnapping of an Egyptian citizen who was later tortured. None of them were interviewed by Senate staff. In fact, the committee didn’t conduct any interviews. Instead, it relied on transcripts and work by the CIA’s inspector general’s office, notes, email and other official classified records. It was those records that nearly set off a constitutional crisis earlier this year when it was revealed that the CIA had secretly accessed the Senate’s computers where the documents were stored.

Because the report only focuses on the CIA, it will not recount the brutal actions by members of the military who tortured detainees in Iraq and on the Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Those horrors were examined in a 2008 report issued by the Senate Armed Services Committee.  4. Who did they do it to? Senate investigators didn’t interview a single victim or detainee. Previously released documents, many of which the Senate report relies on, identified the three men who were subjected to waterboarding. But dozens, possibly 100 more men, were subjected to other forms of torture from 2001-2006. The exact number of detainees held within the CIA’s black sites program, revealed in a 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post series, remains secret. Hayden has said publicly that the number was “fewer than 100.” Only 14 men were transferred from black sites to Guantanamo Bay in September 2006, after the Supreme Court ruled that they could not be held extra-legally.

The Bush administration and CIA defended these programs by claiming that the detainees held within them were terrorists who posed the gravest danger to our society. But the fact is, most of the people who were held in these sites were let go – also in secret. Some were likely transferred to allies such as Pakistan with terrible human rights records, others were later killed in drone strikes. Some are simply missing.  Human rights groups and reporters have spent years trying to assemble a list of missing detainees. No list of their identities has been made public. I found one in 2007 and interviewed him. Read his story.

5. Who lied? The report is likely to blame CIA leaders for false portrayals of the value of the interrogations or for keeping details from congressional leaders and even the White House. Expect every named former CIA official to deny it. And expect to never know the truth. The Senate didn’t investigate itself. There is no gathered evidence of what the committee – which routinely meets behind closed doors -- was told exactly, what it authorized or what CIA leaders believed they were authorized by Congress to do. There will be no quote from Bush or any member of his staff claiming that falsehoods occurred. And don’t look for good guys -- there aren’t any in this report.