Lawmakers Need Facts to Ensure Secret Detention, Other Abuses, Not Repeated
December 13, 2012
The Senate report is of monumental importance given the many uninformed claims that torture was central to US intelligence successes. Only by making the facts public and understanding past mistakes can policymakers ensure that such illegal and destructive national security policies never happen again.
Kenneth Roth, executive director

(Washington, DC) The United States Senate intelligence committee’s long-awaited review of the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret detention and interrogation program after September 11, 2001, should promptly be declassified and released. On December 13, 2012, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence adopted the report, which contains important information on the use and ineffectiveness of torture.

“The Senate report is of monumental importance given the many uninformed claims that torture was central to US intelligence successes,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Only by making the facts public and understanding past mistakes can policymakers ensure that such illegal and destructive national security policies never happen again.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the intelligence committee chair, said that the more than 6,000 page report is the most comprehensive and definitive review of the CIA program. It has taken nearly four years to complete and Committee staff reviewed more than 6 million pages of records. The report includes detailed descriptions of each detainee in CIA custody, interrogation techniques, detention conditions, and the intelligence gained or not gained from the program. Feinstein said the report refutes claims that the use of harsh interrogation techniques led to effective intelligence gathering and important operations like the killing of Osama Bin Laden. It also includes information about the accuracy or inaccuracy of CIA descriptions of the program to the White House, Department of Justice, Congress, and others.

Although adopted, the intelligence committee report remains classified. Feinstein said the report will first be sent to the executive branch for review, and then a decision on declassification will be made at a later date. The US government has released little information about its secret CIA detention program or facilities. Feinstein said the report uncovers “startling details” about the program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight. Human rights organizations and the media have uncovered some information about the program from former detainees, other first-hand sources, foreign court cases, discovered documents, and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation, but much information about the program remains secret. Lawsuits brought by former detainees in US federal court have repeatedly been dismissed on the basis of the state secrets privilege, which has been used to prevent introduction of testimony on torture methods.

In a related development, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously ruled on December 13 that Macedonia was responsible for violations of European Convention on Human Rights prohibitions on unlawful detention, torture, and other ill-treatment, and unlawful transfer of Khaled El Masri, a German national turned over to the CIA in Macedonia in late 2003. The court found that the Macedonian police held him incommunicado at the border for three weeks where he was interrogated. He was then transferred into the custody of CIA agents at Skopje airport who severely beat him, and then to a US-run prison in Afghanistan where he was repeatedly interrogated, beaten, and threatened over four months before being released. The court noted that Macedonian authorities knew or should have known that El Masri faced a real risk of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in US custody. The judgment, which cannot be appealed, awarded el-Masri 60,000 Euros (US$78,000) in compensation.

El Masri’s lawsuit in US court for illegal detention was dismissed in 2006 when the court accepted the US government position that it could invoke the state secrets privilege. The privilege prevents cases from going forward if it is accepted that permitting the litigation might reveal state secrets.

“Without prosecutions of those responsible for the abusive CIA program, the Senate report is the best available vehicle for the public to learn what happened,” Roth said. “The report should be declassified to the fullest extent possible so that the US will never again embrace secret prisons and torture.”