Earlier in December the Senate released the “Committee Study on the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” an unclassified 526 page report, which included a forward, findings and conclusions by Dianne Feinstein, Chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee. President Obama’s office has stated that he fully supports the Committee’s release of the declassified report. However, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, originally over 6,700 pages long, remains classified.
The report paints a gruesome image of the CIA’s interrogation program including water boarding detainees, subjecting detainees to sleep deprivation for up to a week, standing up for extended periods of time in stress positions, medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” and so on. Further, the report reveals the use of bribes to countries for the permission to set up more “black sites” for these interrogation practices.
The public has found the proof of torture to be the most alarming aspect of the report. Even more disturbing to the public has been not just the brutality of the program but the conclusion that the program did not yield actionable intelligence.
The revelations of the incredible amount of money spent in five years on the program are the most unsettling. That is to point out that the CIA’s program cost well over $300 million in non-personnel costs. This figure includes funding for the construction and maintenance of these facilities. What it does not include is personnel costs, outsourced contractor costs, and the millions of dollars used in bribery or “subsidies” as the report refers to of host countries where the facilities were located. In addition, the $300 million figure does not include the $81 million paid to the company formed by the two psychologists who engineered the CIA’s Enhanced Interrogation Program (EIP).
The Senate’s efforts to investigate this program began in 2009. In April 2014 the investigation was completed. Investigations leading to the release of the unclassified version of the “torture report” have been estimated to cost $40 million dollars.
In total, the CIA spent at a rough estimate close to $400 million (not including personnel costs) for a program that ultimately did not produce actionable intelligence. The most high profile example is that of the capture of Osama bin Laden – the report reveals the intelligence that led to the capture of bin Laden came from the detainee, Hassan Ghul who was captured in 2004 prior to the EIP. The CIA disputes this claim and did so in a rare event, a CIA press conference on Thursday, December 11, 2014.
Since the release of the report, the White House, politicians, members of the U.S. Intelligence Community, private social media, and news outlets have been debating topics related to torture. These discussions include topics such as: whether enhanced interrogation includes torture, if enhanced interrogations lead to actionable intelligence, if releasing the report is a good political move for the Obama administration, what the consequences of the report are, and if anyone should be held accountable (a task that would cost even more money for an already expensive mistake) just to list a few. Luckily, a push for prosecutions is not a serious conversation in Washington.
Missing from the debate since the release of the report is how the White House, U.S. policy makers, and the U.S. Intelligence Community are planning to move forward. Provided that the U.S. government has spent over $440 million on an EIP, and the Senate another $40 million of tax payer money on investigating the program there needs to be at least a $480 million lesson learned and applied to policy. A White House reporter posed questions probing into why the report includes no recommendations as to how the President will ensure that these methods are not used again in future administrations.
Yet, this debate is missing from the arena. A core question that should be discussed is whether or not the U.S. needs some form of a well-researched and developed hard interrogation program. Vice News interviewed James Mitchell one of the two engineers behind the CIA’s program who suggested that the U.S. should “have some kind of a debate” regarding coercive interrogation techniques. He continues, “ the first piece of the debate should be why don’t we have an interrogation program, at some level.”
Mitchell brings up a piece that is certainly missing from the current debate. He adds that the choice between hard and soft interrogations is a policy decision. Yet, our policy makers are not having this discussion.
Formerly, in the days after 9/11 and until 2009 at the end of the CIA EIT program, the decision to use hard or soft interrogations appears to have been largely the choice of the CIA, as the report reveals. The report reveals grave agency oversights, deception and miscommunications.
What would a non-torture oriented legal hard interrogation program look like? Who would be in charge of such a program? What policies can be put into practice in order to avoid deceptions from one agency to another?
These and many more questions are being left unaddressed since the release of the torture report. As opposed to discussing whose at fault, those in charge in Washington should be discussing how to reverse engineer a $440 million mistake and turn it into a $440 million lesson.