WASHINGTON — A scathing report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday found that the Central Intelligence Agency routinely misled the White House and Congress about the information it obtained from the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects, and that its methods were more brutal than the C.I.A. acknowledged either to Bush administration officials or to the public.
The long-delayed report, which took five years to produce and is based on more than six million internal agency documents, is a sweeping indictment of the C.I.A.’s operation and oversight of a program carried out by agency officials and contractors in secret prisons around the world in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It also provides a macabre accounting of some of the grisliest techniques that the C.I.A. used to torture and imprison terrorism suspects.
Detainees were deprived of sleep for as long as a week, and were sometimes told that they would be killed while in American custody. With the approval of the C.I.A.’s medical staff, some C.I.A. prisoners were subjected to medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration” — a technique that the C.I.A.’s chief of interrogations described as a way to exert “total control over the detainee.” C.I.A. medical staff members described the waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, as a “series of near drownings.”
The report also suggests that more prisoners were subjected to waterboarding than the three the C.I.A. has acknowledged in the past. The committee obtained a photograph of a waterboard surrounded by buckets of water at the prison in Afghanistan commonly known as the Salt Pit — a facility where the C.I.A. had claimed that waterboarding was never used. One clandestine officer described the prison as a “dungeon,” and another said that some prisoners there “literally looked like a dog that had been kenneled.”
During his administration, President George W. Bush repeatedly said that the detention and interrogation program, which President Obama dismantled when he succeeded him, was humane and legal. The intelligence gleaned during interrogations, he said, was instrumental both in thwarting terrorism plots and in capturing senior figures of Al Qaeda.
Mr. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and a number of former C.I.A. officials have said more recently that the program was essential for ultimately finding Osama bin Laden, who was killed by members of the Navy SEALs in May 2011 in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
The Intelligence Committee’s report tries to refute each of these claims, using the C.I.A.’s internal records to present 20 case studies that bolster its conclusion that the most extreme interrogation methods played no role in disrupting terrorism plots, capturing terrorist leaders — even finding Bin Laden.
The report said that senior officials — including the former C.I.A. directors George J. Tenet, Porter J. Goss and Michael V. Hayden — repeatedly inflated the value of the program in secret briefings both at the White House and on Capitol Hill, and in public speeches.
In the report’s foreword, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said that she “could understand the C.I.A.’s impulse to consider the use of every possible tool to gather intelligence and remove terrorists from the battlefield, and C.I.A. was encouraged by political leaders and the public to do whatever it could to prevent another attack.”
“Nevertheless,” she continued, “such pressure, fear and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations in the name of national security. The major lesson of this report is that regardless of the pressures and the need to act, the intelligence community’s actions must always reflect who we are as a nation, and adhere to our laws and standards.”
Ms. Feinstein is expected to speak about the report in the Senate on Tuesday.
The C.I.A. issued an angry response to the report, saying in a statement that it “tells part of the story,” but that “there are too many flaws for it to stand as the official record of the program.”
The response acknowledged mistakes in the detention and interrogation program and in the agency’s analysis of the information gathered in interrogations. But, the agency said, “we still must question a report that impugns the integrity of so many C.I.A. officers when it implies — as it does clearly through the conclusions — that the agency’s assessments were willfully misrepresented in a calculated effort to manipulate.”
The entire report is more than 6,000 pages long, but the committee voted in April to declassify only its 524-page executive summary and a rebuttal by Republican members of the committee. The investigation was conducted by staff members working for Democratic senators on the committee.
The New York Times and other news organizations received an advance copy of the report and agreed not to publish any of its findings until the Senate Intelligence Committee made them public. The Times did not receive an advance copy of the Republican rebuttal.
Many of the most extreme interrogation methods — including waterboarding — were authorized by Justice Department lawyers during the Bush administration. But the report also found evidence that a number of detainees had been subjected to other, unapproved methods while in C.I.A. custody.
The torture of prisoners at times was so extreme that some C.I.A. personnel tried to put a halt to the techniques, but were told by senior agency officials to continue the interrogation sessions.
The Senate report quotes a series of August 2002 cables from a C.I.A. facility in Thailand, where the agency’s first prisoner was held. Within days of the Justice Department’s approval to begin waterboarding the prisoner, Abu Zubaydah, the sessions became so extreme that some C.I.A. officers were “to the point of tears and choking up,” and several said they would elect to be transferred out of the facility if the brutal interrogations continued.
During one waterboarding session, Abu Zubaydah became “completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.” The interrogations lasted for weeks, and some C.I.A. officers began sending messages to the agency’s headquarters in Virginia questioning the utility — and the legality — of what they were doing. But such questions were rejected.
“Strongly urge that any speculative language as to the legality of given activities or, more precisely, judgment calls as to their legality vis-à-vis operational guidelines for this activity agreed upon and vetted at the most senior levels of the agency, be refrained from in written traffic (email or cable traffic),” wrote Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then the head of the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center.
“Such language is not helpful.”
The Senate report found that the detention and interrogation of Mr. Zubaydah and dozens of other prisoners were ineffective in giving the government “unique” intelligence information that the C.I.A. or other intelligence agencies could not get from other means.
The report also said that the C.I.A.’s leadership for years gave false information about the total number of prisoners held by the C.I.A., saying there had been 98 prisoners when C.I.A. records showed that 119 men had been held. In late 2008, according to one internal email, a C.I.A. official giving a briefing expressed concern about the discrepancy and was told by Mr. Hayden, then the agency’s director, “to keep the number at 98” and not to count any additional detainees.
The committee’s report concluded that of the 119 detainees, “at least 26 were wrongfully held.”
“These included an ‘intellectually challenged’ man whose C.I.A. detention was used solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information, two individuals who were intelligence sources for foreign liaison services and were former C.I.A. sources, and two individuals whom the C.I.A. assessed to be connected to Al Qaeda based solely on information fabricated by a C.I.A. detainee subjected to the C.I.A.’s enhanced interrogation techniques,” the report said.
Many Republicans have said that the report is an attempt to smear both the C.I.A. and the Bush White House, and that the report cherry-picked information to support a claim that the C.I.A.’s detention program yielded no valuable information. Former C.I.A. officials have already begun a vigorous public campaign to dispute the report’s findings.
In its response to the Senate report, the C.I.A. said that to accept the Intelligence Committee’s conclusions, “there would have had to have been a yearslong conspiracy among C.I.A. leaders at all levels, supported by a large number of analysts and other line officers.
“This conspiracy would have had to include three former C.I.A. directors, including one who led the agency after the program had largely wound down,” it added.
“We cannot vouch for every individual statement that was made over the years of the program, and we acknowledge that some of those statements were wrong. But the image portrayed in the study of an organization that — on an institutional scale — intentionally misled and routinely resisted oversight from the White House, the Congress, the Department of Justice and its own O.I.G. simply does not comport with the record,” the statement said. O.I.G. stands for Office of Inspector General.
The battle over the report’s conclusions has been waged behind closed doors for years, and provided the backdrop to the more recent fight over the C.I.A.’s penetration of a computer network used by committee staff members working on the investigation. C.I.A. officers came to suspect that the staff members had improperly obtained an internal agency review of the detention program over the course of their investigation, and that they broke into the network that had been designated for the committee’s use.
Most of the detention program’s architects have left the C.I.A., but their legacy endures inside the agency. The chief of the agency’s Counterterrorism Center said during a meeting with John O. Brennan, the current C.I.A. director, in April that more than 200 people working for him had at one point participated in the program.
According to the Senate report, even before the agency captured its first prisoner, C.I.A. lawyers began thinking about how to get approval for interrogation methods that might normally be considered torture. Such methods might gain wider approval, the lawyers figured, if they were proved to have saved lives.
“A policy decision must be made with regard to U.S. use of torture,” C.I.A. lawyers wrote in November 2001, in a previously undisclosed memo titled “Hostile Interrogations: Legal Considerations for C.I.A. Officers.”
The lawyers argued that “states may be very unwilling to call the U.S. to task for torture when it resulted in saving thousands of lives.”
The Intelligence Committee report describes repeated efforts by the C.I.A. to make that case, even when the facts did not support it. For example, the C.I.A. helped edit a speech by Mr. Bush in 2006 to make it seem as if key intelligence was obtained through the most brutal interrogation tactics, even when C.I.A. records suggested otherwise.
In 2002, the C.I.A. took custody of Abu Zubaydah, who was brought to Thailand. There, two C.I.A. contractors named James E. Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were in charge of the interrogation sessions, using methods that had been authorized by Justice Department lawyers. The two contractors, both psychologists, are identified in the Senate report under the pseudonyms Grayson Swigert and Hammond Dunbar.
The program expanded, with dozens of detainees taken to secret prisons in Poland, Romania, Lithuania and other countries. In September 2006, Mr. Bush ordered all of the detainees in C.I.A. custody to be transferred to the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and after that the C.I.A. held a small number of detainees in secret at a different facility for several months at a time — before they were also moved to Guantánamo Bay.
Mr. Obama spoke expansively about the Senate report in August, saying that any “fair minded” person would believe that some of the methods that the C.I.A. used against prisoners amounted to torture. He said he hoped that the report reminded people that the “character of our country has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy but what we do when things are hard.”
At the same time, Mr. Obama said that he understood the pressure that the C.I.A. was under after the Sept. 11 attacks, and that “it is important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had.”
Taken in its entirety, the report is a portrait of a spy agency that was wholly unprepared for its new mission as jailers and interrogators — but that embraced its assignment with vigor. The report chronicles millions of dollars in secret payments between 2002 and 2004 from the C.I.A. to foreign officials, aimed at getting other governments to agree to host secret prisons.
Cables from C.I.A. headquarters to field offices said that overseas officers should put together “wish lists” speculating about what foreign governments might want in exchange for bringing C.I.A. prisoners onto their soil.
As one 2003 cable put it, “Think big.”