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GOP report defends CIA interrogation tactics

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Last Updated Dec 9, 2014 1:00 PM EST

Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday released a report vigorously defending the interrogation tactics employed by the CIA in the years following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"The rendition, detention, and interrogation program [the CIA] created, of which enhanced interrogation was only a small part, enabled a stream of collection and intelligence validation that was unprecedented," the GOP report concludes. "The most important capability this program provided had nothing to do with enhanced interrogation--it was the ability to hold and question terrorists, who, if released, would certainly return to the fight, but whose guilt would be difficult to establish in a criminal proceeding without compromising sensitive sources and methods... We have no doubt that the CIA's detention program saved lives and played a vital role in weakening al Qa'ida while the Program was in operation."

The 106-page Republican report is a rebuttal to the controversial 6,000-page report produced by Democrats on the Intelligence Committee, which claims the CIA's coercive interrogation techniques were not effective and were far more brutal than the CIA let on to lawmakers or the public. The explosive report was six years in the making and led to endless battles between the Senate, the CIA and the White House. Democrats on Tuesday morning released a 500-page declassified summary of the report.

While the Democrats' report concludes the CIA was unprepared to initiate its detention program, the Republican report points out that "no element of our government" was immediately prepared to deal with the aftermath of the 2001 attacks.

"In reviewing the information the CIA provided for the Study, however, we were in awe of what the men and women of the CIA accomplished in their efforts to prevent another attack."

The Republicans' rebuttal charges that the Democrats' report was created "absent the support of the documentary record, and on the basis of a flawed analytical methodology."

The GOP report systematically refutes the points made in the Democratic report and gives specific examples of ways in which "enhanced interrogation" led to useful intelligence, including intelligence that led to the death of Osama bin Laden.

"After the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, Hassan Ghul cooperated," one section of the report says, claiming Ghul then gave interrogators more concrete information that corroborated the statements of another detainee. "While this information technically didn't result in the 'identification' or 'capture' of Bin Ladin, it most certainly played a crucial role in the U.S. Government's successful efforts to locate and neutralize Bin Ladin in his Abbottabad compound in Pakistan on May 2, 2011."

The CIA on Tuesday released a redacted version of its 2013 response to the Democrats' report, also asserting that its post-9/11 programs were valuable.

In a statement CIA Director John Brennan reiterated, "Our review indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom [enhanced interrogation techniques] were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives. The intelligence gained from the program was critical to our understanding of al-Qa'ida and continues to inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day."

Brennan added that the CIA "did not always live up to the high standards that we set for ourselves and that the American people expect of us. As an Agency, we have learned from these mistakes, which is why my predecessors and I have implemented various remedial measures over the years to address institutional deficiencies."

The agency's report said it takes no position on whether that intelligence could have been gathered through other means. "The answer to this question is and will forever remain unknowable," their response said.

The CIA also refuted the claim the agency misled Congress or the public about its programs. It did, however, agree with the Democrats' report that the agency was "unprepared and lacked core competencies to respond effectively to the decision made in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks that the Agency undertake what would be an unprecedented program of detaining and interrogating suspected Al Qa'ida and affiliated terrorists."

When the Democrats' report was completed in 2012, just one Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, joined Democrats in voting to approve it. The ranking Republican on the committee, Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, said when the report was approved in 2012 that, "a number of significant errors, omissions, assumptions, and ambiguities--as well as a lot of cherry-picking--were found that call the conclusions into question," partially because it was written without conducting interviews with people involved.

Though the Democrats' report claims the CIA misled lawmakers about its interrogation techniques, former President George W. Bush on Sunday stood by the agency.

"We're fortunate to have men and women who work hard at the CIA serving on our behalf," Mr. Bush told CNN, clarifying that he had not read the report. "These are patriots. And whatever the report says, if it diminishes their contributions to our country it is way off base."

Former Vice President Dick Cheney gave a more robust defense of the CIA, telling the New York Times that the interrogation techniques used were "absolutely, totally justified." Cheney, who had not read the report yet, said the suggestion that the CIA lied about its programs was "a bunch of hooey."

"The program was authorized," he said. "The agency did not want to proceed without authorization, and it was also reviewed legally by the Justice Department before they undertook the program."

Furthermore, Cheney suggested that the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee were simply trying to rewrite history. "It occurs to me it was sort of a cover for those on the Democratic side who were briefed on the program, but then were subsequently embarrassed to admit that and so are going back to construct a rationale to say, 'They didn't tell us the truth,'" Cheney said.

In addition to calling the Democrats' findings one-sided and inaccurate, Republicans have warned that the release of the report could pose a risk to Americans overseas. Ahead of the reports' release, two Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee -- Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Jim Risch of Idaho -- said the Democrats' decision to release their report was "reckless and irresponsible."

"It is unconscionable that the Committee and the White House would support releasing this report despite warnings from our allies, the U.S. State Department, and a new coordinated Intelligence Community document assessing the increased risk to the United States the release of this report poses," they said. "We are concerned that this release could endanger the lives of Americans overseas, jeopardize U.S. relations with foreign partners, potentially incite violence, create political problems for our allies, and be used as a recruitment tool for our enemies."

The concern for U.S. personnel abroad prompted Secretary of State John Kerry to call Feinstein to discuss "the impact that the release" of the report would have on factors ranging from U.S. efforts to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to the safety of American hostages around the world, State Department Jen Psaki told reporters Monday.

Both Psaki and White House spokesman Josh Earnest worked to show the administration as supportive of the report on Monday.

"The president believes that on principle, it's important to release that report so that people around the world and people here at home understand exactly what transpired," Earnest said.