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As Torture Report's Release Nears, CIA And Opponents Ready Responses


The Senate report on torture may not contain all that much that's new. We already know the United States used a variety of brutal techniques to gain information after 9/11. But the report's release as soon as today is guaranteed to reignite debate. A vital question here is whether that information brought in by these now-abandoned practices was ever useful. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been covering this story. She's in our studios. Carrie, good morning.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What evidence exactly has the Senate been investigating?

JOHNSON: They have been looking at thousands of pages, mostly secret CIA cables and other internal documents. We're told Senate aides have spent weeks if not months sifting through papers in a SCIF, that's a secure facility, and looking at some fairly gruesome stuff. We're told the part of the report that's coming out today - or likely to come out today will focus on 20 case studies that involve treatment of high-value detainees. These are people, Steve, like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who's been described as the architect of the 9/11 attacks and Abu Zubaydah, who was sort of like a travel agent or an operative for jihadi movements.

And the key question, as you've said, is whether that harsh treatment of those folks paid off in terms of intelligence gathering. Dianne Feinstein, who's the Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman and a California Democrat, has said these practices - like waterboarding, and slapping and sleep deprivation - did not work to give the CIA any useful information. But some former leaders of the CIA very much disagree.

INSKEEP: I guess there's a question here because you've got all these techniques. The first question is whether the person being tortured just tells you anything to get out of the torture. And the other question is whether they know anything to begin with. And you don't really know. That's the question here. You said the CIA disagrees with her assessment that nothing was found in these 20 key cases.

JOHNSON: Yeah. A whole bunch of former CIA officials have written their own response. They're going to make that public as soon as Senator Feinstein's report comes out. They indicate that most everything the CIA did in that dark period after 9/11 was approved by the White House and the Justice Department at least once if not twice. And they say that these harsh tactics did result in intelligence breakthroughs that ultimately led to Osama bin Laden, Steve.

INSKEEP: Really? So we might get more details of this - we think we might anyway - in this summary, this Democratic summary if it comes out after years of waiting.

JOHNSON: As with most things in this chapter of history, I think we find out information by piecing together multiple accounts. So between whatever the CIA releases and the Senate Democrats release, that should give us a better picture of what happened.

INSKEEP: Now, there are two parts of this in terms of the response. One is the reaction around the world. And of course this has been delayed - this release has been delayed one more time because of concerns by Secretary of State John Kerry that there might be a negative reaction against Americans around the world. But the other question is accountability. Whether anybody who is or was in the government is going to be held accountable for what was done. What is the answer there, and where does this Senate report fit into that effort of accountability?

JOHNSON: Steve, federal prosecutors of the Justice Department have investigated this activity, or most of it, twice if not three times, and no one has been charged with any crimes, in part because government lawyers after 9/11 wrote memos that specifically approved some of these harsh strategies, including waterboarding which is simulated drowning, subjecting people to cold temperatures and hitting them. While President Obama has said he's not going to return to these practices, there's no bar on a future president deploying them.

INSKEEP: And because you had a lawyer in the government say it was OK, that means you're cleared if you were a CIA employee?

JOHNSON: President Obama and President Bush have both said so. The issue is for the operators in the CIA and contractors who went beyond the DOJ guidance, and so far no one has been prosecuted there.

INSKEEP: Carrie, thanks very much.

JOHNSON: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
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