Everything You Need to Know Before Watching 'The Report' on Amazon

Isabel Crabtree
Photo credit: Amazon / Getty

From Esquire

In one of the first marks on our apocalyptic Bingo Card of the 21st Century, after 9/11 the CIA began secret use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques to torture detainees held under suspicion of connection to Al Qaeda. Violent details of these techniques were mostly unknown to the majority of the American public and members of U.S. government until word got out that the CIA was destroying tapes of the interrogations, which raised some eyebrows. Enough so, at least, for the Senate to approve two related investigations regarding the interrogations of some of the 119 men detained. The Report, now available to stream on Amazon, outlines the details of the Senate Intelligence Committee investigations. Starring Adam Driver as Daniel J. Jones, the Senate staffer who led the investigations, Scott Z. Burn’s new political drama delves into the details gleaned by Jones and his team from over 6 million pages of CIA correspondence and documents, and what it means for the U.S. today.

In the film, increasingly haunted by what he learns, a sleep-deprived Adam Driver leans over a computer, slams coffee after coffee, yells at senators, draws frantic diagrams on a whiteboard, and considers leaking documents as he transfers them from safe to briefcase and back again. Adding to the growing sense of dread Driver’s character relays to viewers, familiar names haunt the dialogue of the film and Jones’ report. First comes Denis McDonough, then Dianne Feinstein, Sheldon Whitehouse, George W. Bush, Barack Obama—and it’s easy to realize The Report isn’t a historical artifact so much as a frank look in the mirror at very real government officials and the very real events that made up the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program and now-outlawed use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques. While the actual full-length report is still classified, here’s everything the film outlined.

Who is Daniel J. Jones?

Jones was a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence staffer assigned by Dianne Feinstein, played by Annette Benning in The Report, to lead the investigation into the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, primarily focusing on the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques post-9/11. Jones spent two years investigating the destruction of videotapes depicting interrogations and then an additional five years compiling a seven thousand page report on the torture tactics used by the CIA on detainees suspected of links to Al-Qaeda. Only a five hundred page, heavily censored summary has been declassified. He left the Senate in 2015, founded a non-profit, and now works as an investigation consultant.

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Why was the interrogation report project started?

In November 2005, four years after President Bush authorized use of torture during interrogations linked in 9/11, multiple tapes showing these interrogations were destroyed by the CIA. Michael Hayden, then director of the CIA, told his employees the tapes were destroyed to protect the identities of undercover agents and also claimed the tapes had no intelligence value. Suspicions arose around the motivation to destroy the tapes, and the Senate voted 14-1 to investigate. After that investigation, the Senate voted again in favor of a further investigation into the Detention and Interrogation Program, using over 6 million pages of documents and correspondence provided by the CIA. While filming The Report only took 26 days, watching the slow, steady plod of Daniel J. Jones and his few coworkers investigate the CIA’s torture program is, at first, like watching a dripping faucet fill an olympic pool. The commission of the report was only one in a series of events that took place over more than a decade.

What is EIT?

The main focus of the film is Jones’ five years spent compiling the Senate report on CIA use of EIT, or Enhanced Interrogation Techniques. This was a system of twelve procedures used by the CIA at least between 2002 and 2003. EIT’s twelve steps were: the attention grasp, walling, facial hold, facial slap, cramped confinement, wall standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, use of diapers, use of insects, and mock burials. The goal of gaining psychological control of detainees was valued over ethics, and eventually led to the death of Gul Rahman by hypothermia and the reported waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times. All claims that EIT led to gainful information have been debunked by the Senate Intelligence Committee and an internal CIA investigation. However, as late as April 2012, government officials falsely claimed EIT directly led to the capture of Osama Bin Laden.

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Who were “the contractors”?

The twelve-pronged EIT program was designed by two psychologists contracted by the CIA, and in the film, they used a PowerPoint presentation to get the job. John “Bruce” Jessen and James Mitchell previously worked at the Air Force regarding capture evasion and interrogation resistance, they had no first-hand interrogation experience and their previous studies were not related to Al Qaeda, 9/11, or language studies. Jessen and Mitchell conducted evaluations on their own EIT program, suggesting a serious conflict of interest. Eventually, both the Senate investigation and the CIA internal report conceded that rapport-building is the only effective interrogation technique, after paying Jessen and Mitchell more than 80 million taxpayer’s dollars to do the opposite.

Did the CIA really hack Senate computers?

One of the most memorable details from The Report is Jones’ insistence on access to a printer, and how many safes were in his office. He later told a lawyer that this was because documents kept mysteriously disappearing from the CIA server. In March 2014, then-CIA Director John Brennan denied the claims, calling them “beyond the scope of reason.” However, a few months later the CIA Inspector General’s report backed up claims that the CIA repeatedly hacked Senate computers in an effort to stop the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report.

Where does it leave the U.S. today?

The use of EIT not only didn’t gather any unique intelligence, but actually hindered the U.S.’ goal to prosecute architects of the 9/11 attacks. EIT impeded legal course of action and undermined the U.S.’ international standing. In The Report, an objection to EIT is raised on the grounds that it violates the Geneva Convention, and if used, American prisoners of war will never be able to reasonably claim a right to humane treatment after their country’s own violations. While it’s unknown whether or not a CIA agent ever raised that concern, as media outlets reported on the destruction of interrogation tapes, the American public as well as Senate members demanded information. Consequently, President Obama admitted the U.S.’ use of torture. However, he also said he understood why it happened. No CIA agent has been prosecuted for war crimes. Gina Haspel, who was chief of a black site in Thailand that waterboarded detainees, is now Director of the CIA. The question The Report really raises is how a government run by biased and political people holds itself accountable. Unfortunately, the answer as of now is that it doesn’t.

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