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CIA’s techniques not acceptable

America can overreact in times of emergency.

President Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War. President Franklin Roosevelt interned Japanese Americans following Pearl Harbor.

Now, as former CIA general counsel Jeffrey H. Smith points out, historians will likely similarly conclude that the CIA overstepped its authority with its interrogation techniques following 9/11.

Our colleagues in the McClatchy Washington Bureau were leaked an important scoop on Thursday: The Senate Intelligence Committee’s 20 conclusions in a 6,600-page report about the CIA’s secret program. The public should know how appalling they are, and insist that the U.S. never engage in such illegal conduct again.

The report finds that the CIA used “brutal” interrogation techniques that went beyond what the agency has revealed and beyond what had been approved by the Department of Justice or CIA headquarters. It impeded effective oversight from the White House, Congress and its own Inspector General. It understated the number of prisoners subjected to its techniques and it held 26 detainees who could not be legally held. And for what? The Senate committee said the techniques were not even effective in obtaining intelligence. In fact, at times they hindered national security missions of other agencies.

The report is the result of a four-year, $40 million investigation by the Senate panel into the CIA’s program, which was launched after the 9/11 attacks and ran until 2006. It portrays an agency intent on avoiding any kind of oversight. And it undercuts Justice’s defense of the CIA’s actions because that defense, it turns out, was based on wrong information provided by the CIA.

The techniques, McClatchy reported, included waterboarding, sleep deprivation for up to 11 days, confinement in a cramped box and slamming detainees into walls.

The report is still secret, but the committee voted 11-3 this month to send the 480-page executive summary to the executive branch before releasing it publicly. President Obama needs to lead an effort to provide full disclosure of what happened. He can start by quickly releasing the Senate panel’s executive summary, without the CIA being the one to lead an effort to redact it.

Beyond that, anyone who violated U.S. or international law should go to prison.

The whole affair has destroyed relations between the CIA and its congressional overseers. That’s worrisome and needs to be healed quickly. The CIA must have effective oversight from Congress’s intelligence committees.

Learning from history doesn’t always mean Americans are not doomed to repeat it. But it sure gives us a better chance.

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