WASHINGTON -- More than a year after the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to declassify its massive study on the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program -- and nearly 10 months after its gruesome executive summary was publicly released -- the CIA’s George W. Bush-era guard is still bitter.
And unsurprisingly, the former spies aren’t sorry.
In a volume to be released later this week, former CIA leaders Porter Goss, Jose Rodriguez and George Tenet, along with several other CIA leaders and lawyers, accuse the Intelligence panel’s now-minority Democrats of compiling a slanted report, and unequivocally defend the use of torture against high-level terror suspects.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, the executive summary of which was released in December, charged that the agency lied to the White House and grossly mismanaged and abused its interrogation program. It also asserted that contrary to the agency’s insistence, the use of torture did not lead to the capture of Osama bin Laden.
The forthcoming book, Rebuttal: The CIA Responds to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Study of Its Detention and Interrogation Program, offers a full-throated defense of the agency's actions.
“We were fully transparent and deceived no one,” writes Tenet, who led the agency in the early days of the torture program. “The Senate Committee’s majority staff issued a report that has left the American people with an outrageously false impression that a rogue organization lied to the President, the Attorney General, and the [National Security Council] and that the United States derived no value from its program of detention and interrogation.”
When asked to comment on the new publication, the CIA referred to its December 2014 response to the Senate report, in which the agency contested several of the Senate's findings, including the Senate's claim that the program did not yield certain information the CIA said it did.
The former spies responsible for Rebuttal have been rallying their defenses since the middle of last year, when, in an effort led by Tenet, they launched a campaign to get access to the highly classified Senate document prior to its unveiling. With the help of Bill Harlow, a Bush-era CIA spokesman who would go on to edit Rebuttal, the group launched the website CIASavedLives.com in December to counter the Senate report’s public release.
Among the authors' charges is that the Democratic staffers who compiled the Senate report did not conduct interviews with CIA leaders or agency personnel involved in the torture program, instead relying solely on documents to construct the 6,700-page study. While many of the former spy leaders admit the torture program was controversial, all defend the use and legality of the harsh techniques, which included waterboarding and rectal feeding. They maintain that the use of such interrogations yielded valuable intelligence and did indeed lead to the capture of bin Laden.
While Rebuttal offers one of the first comprehensive collections of arguments in defense of the torture program from past and present agency leaders, many of the accusations detailed in the book have been made before.
Intelligence Committee ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who shepherded the Senate report through a vicious declassification process during her time as the panel’s chair, said as much in a statement Saturday.
“This book contains nothing new -- it recycles the same comments from former CIA officials when the executive summary of the SSCI Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation came out last December,” Feinstein said, using the abbreviated name for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “The vast majority of the book is literally reprints of pages of commentary that was published last December. The essays do not contradict the SSCI’s main conclusions: that these interrogation techniques were brutal and did not produce information that was not already obtained in more traditional and acceptable ways by intelligence and law enforcement personnel.”
Goss, who headed the agency after Tenet, takes a jab at Feinstein herself in the book.
“Chairman Feinstein publicly admitted that she began with a predrawn conclusion -- that the RDI program ‘must never happen again,’” writes Goss, using the shortened name for the agency's Rendition/Detention/Interrogation program. “What 'must never happen again' is betrayal of those who took the risks to keep us safe while following clear, lawful guidelines under programs properly vetted and approved by lawyers, the Department of Justice, policy makers and politicians.”
Rebuttal includes eight essays from former spy leaders, as well as the CIA’s official response to the Senate report and a minority report from Intelligence Committee Republicans, who slammed their Democratic colleagues’ conclusions and defended the agency’s program in a response released last year.
The essays wrangle with what some of the former spies contend are factual inaccuracies in the Democrats’ report. Despite what the Senate report found, they say, the CIA did not intentionally lie to Congress about the program’s operation, and the use of torture did indeed lead U.S. forces to bin Laden’s hideaway in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Feinstein said Saturday that she stands by the original Senate report.
“The new book doesn’t lay a glove on the factual accuracy of the Committee’s report, which remains the definitive word on the subject and which uses six million pages of the CIA’s own records as its foundation,” she said. “Based on the comments by these former CIA officers in the new rebuttal, all of whom played key roles in the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, it is clear that they still have not read the report.”
Congress, in an effort led by Feinstein, is expected to outlaw the use of torture in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.