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The CIA’s Interrogation Program: How Much Do we Need to Know?

HOST INTRO: The Senate Intelligence Committee voted last week to release a full report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program in the years following 9/11. The White House is allowing the CIA to review the 6,300 page report before it is disclosed. Rachel Vianna reports on the debate of how much the American public needs to know.


The CIA’s Interrogation program was discontinued more than 5 years ago. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report will go into detail about a variety of interrogation methods many have called torture. These types of practices are depicted in the movie Zero Dark Thirty, about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. In this scene, a CIA agent is threatening a detainee with starvation, sleep deprivation and waterboarding.

ZERO DARK THIRTY: Can I be honest with you? I am bad news. Not your friend. Not gonna help you. I’m gonna break you.

The Committee led by Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein is the most comprehensive inquiry into the controversial tactics the CIA used to get information from terrorism suspects. Feinstein says the report gets at the core of what the United States values as a nation.

FEINSTEIN: It chronicles a stain in our history that must never be allowed to happen again. This is not what Americans do.

Senator Feinstein says the report will bring accountability. Republican Senator Marco Rubio disagrees. He was one of two Committee members to vote against declassification.

RUBIO: I think people might be surprised to learn that in this case there were no good guys and maybe two or three bad ones.

But some defend the release of the classified documents as imperative for future policies on transparency.

PRASOW: It’s impossible to look forward if you don’t know where you’ve been.

Andrea Prasow with Human Rights Watch investigates US national security policies.

PRASOW: The Senate report and declassifying the CIA program entirely are an essential step in order for the American public and the international community to understand what actually happened, and to put in place necessary mechanisms to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The issue here is precedent. David Cole is a constitutional law professor at Georgetown and the author of several books criticizing the War on Terror, and he says this is an important moment for the public to reevaluate what the government has been doing on their behalf.

COLE: Accountability comes in a variety of forms, and an official US report that concludes that what was done was wrong, illegal, immoral and infective…can have a much stronger force in terms of educating the American public about what is right and what is wrong in respect to interrogation practices.

Those in favor of keeping the documents classified argue that this information may endanger the lives of CIA personnel who were involved in the Program and jeopardize diplomatic relations with countries that provided black sites where the interrogations happened.

Ronald Kessler, is a journalist who has written extensively on the CIA. He says the program was sanctioned by the government, and is enough proof of how imminent the threat was.

KESSLER: // I’m not saying that the end justify the means, I’m saying that it was a very reasonable decision, given the threat and given what finally came out of it.

Kessler says the trade off for what we learned – and how we learned it –is some level of secrecy. But according to researcher, Katherine Hawkins, this won’t serve the public if too much remains redacted.

HAWKINS: There is a provision saying you cannot classify information that conceals violations of law to protect any individual or any agency from embarrassment and that is just going completely unenforced.

Hawkins has conducted an extensive study on detainee treatment for the Constitution Project, and says that institutional secrecy has been carried too far.

HAWKINS: If the public waited only for the senate’s report to find out what happened about what the CIA was doing, we would wait forever.

President Obama is yet to set a date for the report’s release.

Rachel Vianna, Columbia Radio News.


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