Timeline: The Tortured History of the Senate’s Torture Report

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Timeline: The Tortured History of the Senate’s Torture Report

by Kara Brandeisky and Sisi Wei

ProPublica, April 8, 2014

It has been more than five years since the Senate began investigating the CIA’s detainee program, a period marked by White House indecisiveness, Republican opposition, and what we now know was CIA snooping.

Jan. 11, 2009

President-elect Barack Obama tells George Stephanopoulos he’s not interested in a broad investigation of Bush-era intelligence programs, saying, “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”

Jan. 22, 2009

Obama issues an executive order banning the use of torture.

clostHowever, the Senate Intelligence Committee wants to investigate. Lawmakers say they expect to conclude their inquiry sometime between August 2009 and March 2010.

Feb. 27, 2009

On the condition of anonymity, Senate officials tell reporters that the intelligence committee plans to probe the CIA’s detainee program. The Associated Press reports that the review will take six months to a year.

March 5, 2009

The panel votes 14-1 to proceed with the investigation. Committee chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and vice chair Kit Bond, R-Mo., formally announce the investigation. The press release says the review should take one year.

clostThen Obama signals he might reverse course and prosecute CIA employees involved in torture. The Senate investigation starts going off the rails.

April 16, 2009

Attorney General Eric Holder releases four of the Bush administration’s legal opinions sanctioning “enhanced interrogation.” Obama says he will not prosecute the CIA employees who acted on the Justice Department’s orders and “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”

April 20, 2009

Feinstein asks Obama to “withhold judgment” on CIA prosecutions until the committee review is finished. “This study is now underway, and I estimate its completion within the next six to eight months,” she writes to the president. “A study of the first two detainees has already been completed and will shortly be before the committee.”

The same day, then-CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry tells “Lou Dobbs Tonight” the report should take six to eight months to complete, but “obviously a lot of people [are] looking for it to happen a little bit quicker since this has been going on for a long time.”

April 21, 2009

Obama suggests he might be open to prosecutions.

“With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that is going to be more of a decision for the Attorney General within the parameters of various laws and I don’t want to prejudge that,” Obama says. “I think that there are a host of very complicated issues involved there.”


The CIA creates a secure facility where congressional aides will be allowed to view the documents related to the investigation. Feinstein later says the CIA provided a “stand-alone computer system” that was “segregated from CIA networks.”

Aides start sorting through six million pages of documents. The process is initially slow because the CIA hires contractors to read each document before giving it to the committee, to ensure the Senate aides don’t get access to sensitive documents unrelated to the detainee program. “This proved to be a slow and very expensive process,” Feinstein later says.

Aug. 24, 2009

Holder opens a “preliminary review” into potential prosecutions.

The next week, Feinstein tells “Face the Nation” she wishes the Justice Department would wait for the committee to complete its report.

“We’re well along in that study,” Feinstein says. “And I’m trying to push it along even more quickly.”

Sept. 26, 2009

Republicans on the committee withdraw from the panel’s review. They say the Justice Department’s concurrent investigation will make CIA employees afraid to answer the committee’s questions.

“Had Mr. Holder honored the pledge made by the President to look forward, not backwards, we would still be active participants in the committee’s review,” Bond says in a statement.

Feinstein says the committee’s investigation will continue without the Republicans’ support.

clostSenate aides notice some fishy things happening at the CIA. The committee blows past its projected deadline.

February 2010

Around this time, about 870 documents disappear from the computers in the CIA facility where congressional aides are conducting the investigation, Feinstein later alleges.

May 2010

Another 60 documents allegedly go missing. As Feinstein tells it, CIA personnel first deny that the documents are missing, then blame the IT contractors, then blame the White House. The White House says it did not tell the CIA to remove the documents.

May 17, 2010

The CIA apologizes for removing the documents, Feinstein later says.

At some point in 2010

According to Feinstein, around this time, aides discover the “Panetta Review” – an internal report written for then-director Leon Panetta that acknowledges “significant CIA wrongdoing.”

She says “some time after” aides find the Panetta Review, those documents disappear from the computers too.

clostThe committee keeps working. The Justice Department closes its inquiry without pursuing prosecutions. In 2012, the committee starts hinting at the report’s findings. New ETA: Soon. Real soon.

June 30, 2011

After a preliminary review, the Justice Department’s special prosecutor clears CIA employees of wrongdoing in 99 cases of alleged detainee mistreatment. He recommends that the Justice Department investigate just two cases of detainee deaths.

April 27, 2012

Reuters reports that the committee has found “no evidence” that CIA torture led to any significant intelligence breakthroughs. At this point, the report is still being finalized.

April 30, 2012

Feinstein and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., issue a press release saying the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” did not help the government find Osama bin Laden. They say the committee will complete its review “soon.”

Aug. 30, 2012

Attorney General Eric Holder announces he is not prosecuting any CIA employees for detainee deaths.

Sept. 6, 2012

The New York Times reports that the committee’s review is “nearing completion.”

clostIn December 2012, the committee votes to start the declassification process. Now lawmakers just need the CIA to provide its comments on the report, and then the committee can vote again about which parts should be released.

Dec. 13, 2012

The committee votes 9-6 to approve the report for the declassification process. Feinstein says the report is more than 6,000 pages long.

Committee co-chair Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., votes against approving the report. He says the report contains “significant errors, omissions, assumptions and ambiguities – as well as a lot of cherry-picking.”

But the report isn’t declassified right away — the first step is to send the report to the White House, the CIA and other federal agencies for their comment. “After that is complete in mid-February, the committee will vote again on how much of the report should be

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