Senate Report Stirs Torture Debate

A new Senate report offers the most detailed account so far of the military's use of harsh interrogation methods during the Bush administration. It examines how detainees were treated in Afghanistan, at Guantanamo and in Iraq.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. And we begin this hour with more revelations about the treatment of terrorist suspects during the Bush administration. A new Senate report presents the most detailed account so far of the military's use of harsh interrogation methods in Afghanistan, at Guantanamo Bay and in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The reports come from the Armed Services Committee. And we'll hear from the chairman of that committee, Senator Carl Levin, in just a moment. But first, NPR's Mary Louise Kelly explores this latest report for us and how it's fueling the debate over the use of torture.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: The report made publicly last night represents two years' work by Senate investigators. They found that military interrogators treated prisoners brutally, that that treatment was widespread and systematic and that it was approved at senior levels in the Bush administration. The report also concludes that CIA and Pentagon officials explored coercive interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, months before the Justice Department actually authorized such methods. Anthony Cortisman, with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says it's a damning account.

Mr. ANTHONY CORTISMAN (Center for Strategic and International Studies): What this report raises is a very clear picture of an administration that didn't check its facts, didn't get perspective, didn't really go to the experts and ignored history.

KELLY: Over 232 pages, the report explores the relationship between early policy decisions made in Washington and the abuse of detainees at places such as Abu Ghraib in Iraq. While the document goes into great detail, the findings are largely consistent with previous investigations. And many of those details have already been widely reported.

Mr. CORTISMAN: But sometimes it is the sheer weight of the evidence which speaks for itself.

KELLY: Again, Anthony Cortisman.

Mr. CORTISMAN: It is the fact that there is such a clear cumulative pattern, and what is missing is that there's very little to justify the claim that these techniques paid off in ways where other far more orthodox interrogation techniques could not have been equally or more successful.

KELLY: The Senate report focuses on military interrogators, not CIA. But its release comes less than a week after the disclosure of four secret memos that provided legal guidance for CIA interrogations. Together they're ratcheting up calls for an independent investigation into Bush era interrogation practices. Elisa Massimino, the head of Human Rights First, says that's the only way to get the whole picture.

Ms. ELISA MASSIMINO (CEO, Human Rights First): To me it really underscores the need for a single final nonpartisan investigation into this entire episode that evaluates how he got there, who made the decisions and the costs and benefits, if any, of engaging in these practices.

KELLY: The Obama administration has said it wants to look forward, not dwell on the past. Congress, though, isn't waiting to wade in. Today lawmakers on both sides of the isle fired off letters to the president arguing their views on whether Bush administration officials, who laid the legal groundwork for CIA interrogation policies, should face possible prosecution.

Some members opposed that, others think the door should be left open. And just this afternoon another document appeared. This latest from the Senate Intelligence Committee, a time line for how the CIA's interrogation program was conceived and approved.

Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington.

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