The US Senate Intelligence Committee is supposed to act as a watchdog over the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). But recent media reports indicate it may be the other way around. The CIA’s inspector general has reportedly asked the Department of Justice to look into whether the agency improperly spied on Intelligence Committee staff investigating CIA abuse of terrorism suspects detained after 9/11.  

There has never been any accountability for abuse that occurred in the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, despite overwhelming evidence that detainees were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. Human Rights Watch has been documenting cases for years. The most important criminal investigation, led by the Justice Department, into alleged abuses against 101 detainees, two of whom died in custody, closed nearly two years ago without anyone being charged.

In the US, the only real hope of at least a public accounting of what happened in the CIA program is a study produced by the Senate Intelligence Committee completed in 2012. The 6,000-page report documents the abuse that occurred in CIA custody and also evaluates the value of the intelligence gathered. According to public press statements from the Committee the report finds that the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” many of which amounted to torture, failed to produce valuable intelligence, contrary to what the CIA told Congress, the White House, and the public. Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called the CIA’s program and creation of secret black sites “terrible mistakes.” Yet the report remains classified, and so the public record of the CIA’s use of torture remains piecemeal and incomplete – often distorted by CIA officials whose version of events does not survive public scrutiny. The CIA has, not surprisingly, fought against public release of the report.  

The CIA’s efforts that have gone into keeping this information secret and protecting those who authorized the abuse highlight the importance of public release of the full Senate Intelligence report. Not only would this bring the details of detainee abuse to the light of day, but also prevent the CIA from further misleading Congress and the public. Not until the government and the people know what was done in their name will they be able to ensure the proper checks and balances are in place that prevent the US government from resorting to illegal, immoral, and counterproductive treatment of detainees again.