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Reaction To 'Torture Report' Shows A Nation Divided


In the years after 9/11, the CIA conducted harsh interrogations, more brutal and widespread than many realized. And worse, those interrogations did not produce any intelligence that we could use in any significant way to fight terrorism. Those are the conclusions of a report partially released today by the Democratic chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Reactions to what's known as the torture report show a country divided. NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Senator Dianne Feinstein of California went to the Senate floor and spoke for nearly an hour about a CIA program that used techniques she says amounted to torture. Her committee's report is more than 6,000 pages long and five years in the making.


SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN: History will judge us by our commitment to a just society governed by law and the willingness to face an ugly truth and say never again.

KEITH: The CIA program of secret overseas detentions and so-called enhanced interrogation methods began shortly after the September 11 attacks.


FEINSTEIN: Stripped naked, diapered, physically struck and put in various painful stress positions for long periods of time. They were deprived of sleep for days - in one case, up to 180 hours. That's seven and a half days.

KEITH: President Obama formally ended the program in 2009 through an executive order. This report was controversial well before its release. It is drawn, Feinstein says, from more than 6 million pages of documents, cables and emails.


FEINSTEIN: Now, these documents are important because they aren't based on recollection. They aren't based on revision. And they aren't a rationalization a decade later.

KEITH: Only the executive summary of the report has been declassified, and even it has been redacted to protect national security interests. The key finding - these enhanced interrogation methods didn't make America safer. Feinstein says the CIA cited 20 cases as proof the program worked.


FEINSTEIN: Our staff reviewed every one of the 20 cases, and not a single case holds up.

KEITH: In a statement, CIA director John Brennan directly contradicts this claim, saying these interrogations did, quote, "produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives." Georgia Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss is vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee and a leading opponent of the report.


SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS: The executive summary and findings and conclusions released today contain a disturbing number of factual and analytical errors.

KEITH: He criticizes the author's failure to interview CIA officials, and argues airing this information so publicly could put Americans at risk.


CHAMBLISS: It could be used to incite unrest and even attacks against our service members, other personnel overseas and our international partners.

KEITH: Senior administration officials say they spent months working to mitigate possible threats following the release of the report. Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona who was tortured during the Vietnam War, thanked the report's authors for persevering through criticism from the intelligence community and beyond.


SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence. I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it.

KEITH: Just to make it stop. For his part, President Obama said in a statement, the report reinforced his belief that these interrogations methods were inconsistent with the nation's values and failed to serve its counterterrorism efforts. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.