The Senate Intelligence Committee will try to settle the public debate over the CIA's harsh interrogation program by investigating whether those methods actually worked, Senate officials said Thursday.
The investigation is an attempt to inject fact into an argument that is often shaped by anecdotes, news reports and the television show "24." Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose details of the committee's discussions.
President Barack Obama halted the CIA's interrogation program in January. The spy agency is now prohibited from employing methods not approved for use by the U.S. military while the program undergoes a White House review to determine whether additional interrogation methods may be necessary.
The Senate committee review seeks to document what actually happened during CIA interrogations and whether valuable information was gained that would not have been obtained otherwise. A report is expected to be released in six months to a year.
The Senate probe is not meant as a first step toward prosecuting CIA officers who used harsh interrogations, the officials said. Obama administration officials have said they will not seek charges against those who were following guidelines set by the attorney general.
The Intelligence Committee is already investigating the CIA's destruction in 2007 of videotapes of the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah in 2007 to encompass the origins and effectiveness of the so-called "enhanced interrogation program" authorized by President George W. Bush. Scores of secret documents have already been assembled by the committee.
The CIA's enhanced interrogation methods are secret. But former CIA Director Michael Hayden told reporters in January that the tactics_ at one point they included waterboarding, which simulates drowning — were effective in eliciting information from the more hardened terror suspects who are taken prisoner.
The CIA held fewer than 100 prisoners at secret detention sites and used enhanced interrogation techniques on about a third of them, Hayden said. He said just three underwent waterboarding, with 2003 the last time it was used.
"I am convinced that the program got the maximum amount of information, particularly out of that first generation of detainees. The Abu Zubaydahs, the Khalid Sheik Muhammeds," Hayden said, referring to top al-Qaida operatives who were detained and questioned with harsh techniques. "I just can't conceive of any other way, given their character, given their commitment to what it is they do."
Current CIA Director Leon Panetta, however, is less convinced.
"My personal view at this stage is that the Army Field Manual gives us all of the tools we need," Panetta said Thursday at his first on-the-record meeting with reporters.
Committee member Sen. Ron Wyden, D- Ore., a Senate confidant of Obama's, said in January that declassifying many of the top-secret documents collected for the videotape investigation would reveal whether severe methods yielded useful intelligence, and what the legal arguments were for allowing them.
Critics of coercive interrogation programs say they do not work because those subjected to them will say whatever they think the interrogator wants to hear to make the interrogation stop. Conversely, they say coercive methods can increase resistance because they confirm the prisoner's preconceived notions about their jailers, and increase a sense of righteous martyrdom.
They contend the most effective methods are those that build both dependence and rapport between the subject and the interrogator, making the subject want to provide accurate information.
Advocates of harsh interrogations say some prisoners are trained to resist standard interrogation techniques and only more coercive methods will break their will and convince them that resistance is futile. They also say sometimes there is not enough time to build a rapport to get needed information, the so-called "ticking bomb" scenario.