The Other Torture Report: The Secret CIA Document That Could Unravel The Case For Torture

News that the Democrats knew about the Panetta Review sent the CIA into a frenzy over how the panel had managed to access or take parts of the document.

By Ali Watkins
The Huffington Post (12/22/14)

WASHINGTON — As the public grapples with the gruesome realities put forth in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s damning report on the CIA’s torture program, the agency has dug in to defend itself. The CIA claims the torture tactics it used in the years following 9/11 were legal and saved American lives. And despite what the Senate study alleges, the agency insists it never lied about the torture program.

One internal CIA document, though, could be key to discrediting this defense. And at this very moment, it’s tucked away in a Senate safe.

Over the past five years, this document, known colloquially as the Panetta Review, has made its way to the center of an unprecedented feud between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA. Committee members, who have spent those years investigating the torture program the CIA ran between roughly 2002 and 2006, believe the Panetta Review reveals that there was doubt within the agency itself about the morality and effectiveness of torture.

While the CIA’s official response to the Senate committee’s allegations has been to deny many charges of wrongdoing, senators on the intelligence panel say that the still-classified Panetta Review contradicts that official line. In fact, lawmakers believe the document actually confirms some of the incriminating charges that the committee made in its report.

A meticulous condemnation of the agency’s failings, the executive summary of the Senate document, released Dec. 9, accuses the CIA of using gruesome techniques like waterboarding, rectal feeding and sleep deprivation, all the while lying to authorities around Washington about the efficacy of these tactics.

Some senators say the Panetta Review concedes that the use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” — the spy agency’s often-used euphemism for what is widely considered to be torture — did not make detainees any more willing to talk, despite the CIA’s public insistence that the program was successful.

Similarly, the document apparently admits that the agency lied about the program to Congress, the White House and the public — another conclusion that aligns with the findings of the Senate report, and one that the CIA’s official response vehemently denies.

As the debate over torture intensifies, the Panetta Review could dent the spies’ credibility just as they’re trying to salvage it.

The content of the document, though, is only one part of a sensational story, which involves a feud so explosive that months later, some lawmakers are still calling for CIA Director John Brennan’s head.

It’s unclear whether the Panetta Review will ever be made public, and much remains unknown about it. But new details are emerging that paint the clearest picture yet of the document, its significance and the timeline of events that led Senate staffers to pilfer it from right under the CIA’s nose.

Outgoing Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who lost a tough re-election bid after a year of fighting fiercely with the agency over the Panetta Review, revealed previously unknown information this month in a farewell address on the Senate floor. Combined with other public statements, court documents and news reports, these details are helping to better shape the story, showing just how complicated the feud between the CIA and lawmakers has become.


Soon after President Barack Obama took office in 2009, he outlawed the use of enhanced interrogation techniques. Shortly after that, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced that her committee would conduct a massive study on the CIA’s purported use of torture.

The nation was still reeling from details that were trickling out from the darkest corners of the CIA’s detention facilities into public view. Although the agency’s torture program had been officially revealed in 2006 by then-President George W. Bush, new and disturbing information kept coming out, stoking the flames of the discussion and inspiring outrage at the apparent departure from American values. In late 2007, Americans learned that the CIA had destroyed certain interrogation videotapes. The public outcry — along with concern within the legislative branch that the agency had evaded its oversight mechanisms — inspired several congressional inquiries, including Feinstein’s.

When the Senate Intelligence Committee began its investigation of the program in 2009, the CIA agreed to provide a massive trove of documents to the committee investigators. In an effort to catalog those documents, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta commissioned an internal review group tasked with summarizing the millions of records. The review group was made up of officers from the agency, including undercover National Clandestine Service officers, who would be responsible for reading and summarizing the documents before they were provided to the committee.

Their summaries would collectively come to be known as the Panetta Review.

According to Panetta’s original statement as well as recently filed court documents, the collection of summaries was intended to eventually serve as a foundation for putting together official agency responses to the Senate report’s final conclusions.

“The Panetta Review appears to have been created in response to Director Panetta’s instructions to figure out what the records being provided to the [Senate Intelligence Committee] would reveal,” said a Senate source familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity given its extraordinary sensitivity.

Agency leadership, in Panetta’s vision, could use the internal summaries and analysis as a basis for constructing and issuing an official CIA position on the Senate study.

At this time, the CIA itself was struggling to find a voice in the ongoing national conversation about torture. The new Obama administration had made very clear it would not continue to support the practices of the Bush-era CIA, and the agency was quickly starting to feel the heat from the Senate investigation, an inter-branch executive review of detention policies and a soon-to-be-commissioned Justice Department review. Coming up with official agency positions to defend against these probes, it seemed, was in the CIA’s best interest.

“In each case, the Agency’s voice must be heard,” Panetta wrote when first commissioning the review group.

In a series of letters exchanged in 2009 between then-CIA Director Leon Panetta and Feinstein, an agreement was reached. Feinstein’s staff could have access to an unprecedented number of agency records — but only, the CIA insisted, at an off-site facility operated by the spies.

The terms of the agreement were outlined in both a March 2014 floor speech from Feinstein and a February 2014 court filing from the agency, in which it denied a Freedom of Information Act request for the then-unreleased Senate torture study.

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