Washington: The State Department has endorsed the broad conclusions of a harshly critical Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation and detention practices after the 9/11 attacks that accuses the agency of brutally treating terror suspects and misleading Congress, according to a White House document.
“This report tells a story of which no American is proud,” says the four-page document, which contains the State Department’s preliminary proposed talking points in response to the classified Senate report, a summary of which is expected to be released in the coming weeks.
“But it is also part of another story of which we can be proud,” adds the document, which was circulating this week among White House officials and which the White House accidentally emailed to an Associated Press reporter. “America’s democratic system worked just as it was designed to work in bringing an end to actions inconsistent with our democratic values.”
It’s not clear who wrote the document or how influential it will be in tailoring the Obama administration’s ultimate response to an investigation that has been the subject of bitter disputes. It is common practice for the White House to solicit talking points from key agencies involved in responding to a major news event, which the release of the Senate report will be.
The Senate report concludes that CIA’s techniques on al Qaeda detainees captured after the 2001 attacks were far more brutal than previously understood. The tactics failed to produce life-saving intelligence, the report asserts, and the CIA misled Congress and the Justice Department about the interrogation programme.
Current and former CIA officials hotly dispute those findings, as do some Senate Republicans. The fight over the report has poisoned the relationship between the CIA and Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and left the White House in a delicate position. President Barack Obama has branded some CIA techniques torture and ordered them stopped, but he also relies heavily on the spy agency, which still employs hundreds of people who were involved in some way in the interrogation programme.
The report does not draw the legal conclusion that the CIA’s actions constituted torture, though it makes clear that in some cases they amounted to torture by a common definition, two people who have read the report said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the still-classified document publicly by name.
The Senate report, the State Department proposes to say, “leaves no doubt that the methods used to extract information from some terrorist suspects caused profound pain, suffering and humiliation. It also leaves no doubt that the harm caused by the use of these techniques outweighed any potential benefit.”
Those methods included slapping, humiliation, exposure to cold, sleep deprivation and the near-drowning technique known as water boarding.
The White House document is significant because it also reveals some of the State Department’s concerns about how CIA’s tactics will be portrayed around the world.
The document lists a series of questions that appear to be designed to gauge what reporters, members of Congress and others might ask about the Obama administration’s response to the Senate report. The document focuses in particular on the State Department’s role.
“Doesn’t the report make clear that at least some who authorised or participated in the RDI programme committed crimes?” the document asks, referring to the programme’s formal internal name, the Rendition, Detention and Interrogation programme. “Will the Justice Department revisit its decision not to prosecute anyone?”
And: “Until now the (US government) has avoided conceding that the techniques used in the RDI program constituted torture. Now that the report is released is the White House prepared to concede that people were tortured?”
The document also says, “Isn’t it clear that the CIA engaged in torture as defined in the Torture Convention?”
The document also sheds new light on what the Senate report says about the State Department’s role in the CIA interrogation programme.
It concludes that the agency initially kept the secretary of state and some US ambassadors in the dark about harsh techniques and secret prisons, according to the document.
The report also says some ambassadors who were informed about interrogations of al Qaeda detainees at so-called black sites in their countries were instructed not to tell their superiors at the State Department, the document says.
A congressional official who has read the Senate report confirmed that it makes the findings outlined in the document. A former senior CIA official said the secretary of state at the time, Colin Powell, eventually was informed about the programme and sat in meetings in which harsh interrogation techniques were discussed. But Powell may not have been read in when the techniques were first used in 2002, the official said. Powell cannot comment on a document he hasn’t seen, a spokeswoman said on Wednesday.
The former CIA official said it would be standard practice for ambassadors informed about a covert operation to be instructed not to share it with others who did not have a “need to know,” as determined by the National Security Council. Ambassadors in countries in which the CIA set up black sites to interrogate prisoners were usually told about it, said the official, who, like others interviewed for this story, would not be quoted by name because some of the information remained classified.
It’s not clear exactly which US officials knew about the practices at the time they began.