Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell speaks at a 2004 news conference in Washington at the State Department. A document circulating among White House staff says a Senate report on the CIA's interrogation and detention practices after the 9/11 attacks concludes that the agency initially kept Powell and some U.S. ambassadors in the dark about harsh techniques and secret prisons. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)
WASHINGTON — A Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation and detention practices after the 9/11 attacks concludes that the agency initially kept the secretary of state and some U.S. ambassadors in the dark about harsh techniques and secret prisons, according to a document circulating among White House staff.
The still-classified report also says some ambassadors who were informed about interrogations of al-Qaida detainees at so-called black sites in their countries were instructed not to tell their superiors at the State Department, the document says.
The 6,300-page Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation program has been years in the making. The findings are expected to reveal additional details about the CIA’s program and renew criticisms that the U.S. engaged in torture as it questioned terrorism suspects after the 2001 attacks.
A congressional official who has read the Senate report confirmed that it makes the findings outlined in the document. A former senior CIA official said the secretary of state at the time, Colin Powell, eventually was informed about the program and sat in meetings in which harsh interrogation techniques were discussed. But Powell may not have been informed when the techniques were first used in 2002, the official said. A spokeswoman Wednesday said Powell would not comment.
The former CIA official said it would be standard practice for ambassadors informed about a covert operation to be instructed not to share it with others who did not have a “need to know,” as determined by the National Security Agency. Ambassadors in countries in which the CIA set up black sites to interrogate prisoners were usually told about it, said the official, who, like others interviewed for this story, would not be quoted by name because some of the information remains classified.
It’s not entirely clear exactly which U.S. officials knew about the practices at the time they began.
The four-page White House document contains the State Department’s proposed talking points in response to the Senate report. It’s not clear who wrote it or how influential it will be in tailoring the Obama administration’s ultimate response to an investigation that has been the subject of bitter disputes.
It is common practice for the White House to solicit talking points from key agencies involved in responding to a major news event, which the release of the Senate report will be. This document is significant because it also reveals some of the report’s conclusions as well as the State Department’s concerns about how the program will be portrayed around the world.
The Senate report, a summary of which is expected to be made public in the coming weeks, concludes that the CIA used brutal techniques on detainees that failed to produce life-saving intelligence, and then misled Congress and the Justice Department about the interrogation program.
Current and former CIA officials hotly dispute the conclusion that the techniques — which included waterboarding — failed to produce crucial information, as do some Senate Republicans. The fight over the report has poisoned the relationship between the CIA and Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and left the White House in a delicate position. President Obama has branded some CIA techniques torture and ordered them stopped, but he also relies heavily on the spy agency, which still employs hundreds of people who were involved in some way in the interrogation program.
The report does not draw the legal conclusion that the CIA’s actions constituted torture, though it makes clear that in some cases they amounted to torture by a common definition, two people who have read the report said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the still-classified document.
The State Department wants to embrace the conclusions of the Senate report and blast the CIA’s past practices, according to the document.
“This report tells a story of which no American is proud,” the document says in a section entitled “Topline Messages (as proposed by State).”
“But it is also part of another story of which we can be proud,” the document adds. “America’s democratic system worked just as it was designed to work in bringing an end to actions inconsistent with our democratic values.”
The Senate report, the State Department proposes to say, “leaves no doubt that the methods used to extract information from some terrorist suspects caused profound pain, suffering and humiliation. It also leaves no doubt that the harm caused by the use of these techniques outweighed any potential benefit.”
Those methods included slapping, humiliation, exposure to cold, sleep deprivation and the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.
The document then lists a series of questions that appear to be designed to gauge what reporters, members of Congress and others might ask about the Obama administration’s response to the Senate report.
One questioned whether it was wise to release such a report during a time of unrest in the Mideast.
Another question asked, “Doesn’t the report make clear that at least some who authorized or participated in the RDI program committed crimes?” the document asks, referring to the program’s formal internal name, the Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program. “Will the Justice Department revisit its decision not to prosecute anyone?”
And: “Until now the (U.S. government) has avoided conceding that the techniques used in the RDI program constituted torture. Now that the report is released is the White House prepared to concede that people were tortured?”
The document also says, “Isn’t it clear that the CIA engaged in torture as defined in the Torture Convention?”