Spy Museum Plans to Change Torture Exhibit After Outcry from Lawmakers

By:  Sean Neumann
People Magazine

The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., says it is planning to revisit and overhaul an exhibit on torture after lawmakers argued the display was “sanitizing” depictions of torture and suggesting it was “effective.”

BuzzFeed first reported that the museum would aim to make changes to its exhibit by March.

“The new exhibit will focus more broadly on the history of interrogation, to include both coercive methods (physical and psychological) and non-coercive methods (such as rapport building),” the museum’s president, Tamara Christian, wrote in a letter to three senators, obtained by BuzzFeed. “We also intend to add content on scientific and technical innovations to detect deceit (to include a polygraph artifact), as well as legal definitions of torture.”

The senators — Dianne Feinstein, Martin Heinrich and Ron Wyden — wrote to the museum in December laying out their concerns about the message of the “interrogation exhibit.” They requested an update on when changes would be made.

“We were deeply dismayed to learn about how the museum’s exhibit misrepresents the CIA’s torture program, sanitizing depictions of how techniques were applied and suggesting that torture is effective in stopping terrorist attacks,” the senators wrote.

The three senators, who are all members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, added that they had previously reviewed more six million documents and wrote lengthy report showing that torture “was not effective, that it led to fabricated information, and that its uses undermined our security and betrayed our values.”

The museum exhibit features a video of a former CIA official who was involved in waterboarding terror suspects in the wake of 9/11, where the ex-official said, “This was a very successful program. It protected the homeland and saved American lives,” according to an NPR story last year.

“It has long been the consensus among experts that torture is ineffective,” the senators’ letter continues. “Yet the Committee’s confirmation of this fact, told through a history of the CIA program and based on the CIA’s own internal records, goes unmentioned in the exhibit.”

Christian, the museum’s president, responded in her own letter that the revised exhibit would include a mention of the senators’ findings that torture was not an effective way of gathering information.

Museum Executive Director Chris Costa said on Yahoo News’ Skullduggery podcast on Monday that the exhibit has been “unfairly” referred to as a torture exhibit, when it covers interrogation as a whole.

“We focused a little bit more than maybe we should have on the coercive methods,” Costa said. “We want to talk about non-coercive interrogation. We talk about torture because torture is a part of the interrogation history, throughout intelligence history. What we want to do is make sure one more time that we get everything right.”