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Democratic lawmakers pushed Spy Museum to alter CIA torture exhibit

The International Spy Museum entrance.
Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for AMC

Democratic senators have condemned the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. for "sanitizing" its CIA torture exhibit, letters obtained by BuzzFeed News show.

Details: A display on the agency's torture program at the museum features a reproduction of a waterboard and illustrations that portray the so-called "enhanced interrogation" techniques the CIA used, according to BuzzFeed.

  • The exhibit features videos of those who managed the torture program defending it, but fails to mention the Senate Intelligence Committee's 600-plus-page report that scrutinized the program.

The state of play: Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Mark Warner, who serve on the committee, wrote to the museum's directors in May about their concerns that "the museum exhibit does not accurately demonstrate the full extent of the brutality of waterboarding and other measures..."

  • The directors responded, saying they considered the 2014 report while constructing the exhibit, and it "invites our visitors to confront ... thought-provoking questions related to intelligence and espionage."
  • In a meeting between Intelligence Committee staffers and the museum's leadership, "[the committee] noted a number of concerns, including factual errors, and both textual and pictorial depictions of the CIA’s use of torture that sanitize and misrepresent the abuse that detainees faced,” said Rachel Cohen, a spokesperson for Warner and other Democratic committee members.
  • Thereafter the museum's head curator explained that the team was trying to revise the exhibit.

Since then, BuzzFeed reports, a poll has been removed that previously asked visitors if they would "have the US government torture suspected terrorists if they may know details about future attacks?"

  • More changes are expected, according to a letter sent from Democratic lawmakers to a museum executive.

Go deeper: Documents reveal more details about CIA torture program