A scathing report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday found that the Central Intelligence Agency routinely misled the White House and Congress about the information it obtained from the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects, and that its methods were more brutal than the C.I.A. acknowledged either to Bush administration officials or to the public…
Detainees were deprived of sleep for as long as a week, and were sometimes told that they would be killed while in American custody. With the approval of the C.I.A.’s medical staff, some C.I.A. prisoners were subjected to medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration” — a technique that the C.I.A.’s chief of interrogations described as a way to exert “total control over the detainee.” C.I.A. medical staff members described the waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, as a “series of near drownings.”…
The Senate report found that the detention and interrogation of Mr. Zubaydah and dozens of other prisoners were ineffective in giving the government “unique” intelligence information that the C.I.A. or other intelligence agencies could not get from other means…
Many Republicans have said that the report is an attempt to smear both the C.I.A. and the Bush White House, and that the report cherry-picked information to support a claim that the C.I.A.’s detention program yielded no valuable information. Former C.I.A. officials have already begun a vigorous public campaign to dispute the report’s findings.
In Nov. 2002, a detainee who had been held partially nude and chained to the floor died, apparently from hypothermia. This case appears similar to the that of Gul Rahman, who died of similarly explained causes at a Afghan site known as the ‘Salt Pit,’ also in Nov. 2002. The site was also called ‘The Dark Prison’ by former captives.
The aide said that the Cobalt site was was dark, like a dungeon, and that experts who visited the site said they’d never seen an American prison where people were kept in such conditions. The facility was so dark in some places that guard had to wear head lamps, while other rooms were flooded with bright lights and white noise to disorient detainees.
At the Cobalt facility, the CIA also forced some detainees who had broken feet or legs to stand in stress-inducing positions, despite having earlier pledged that they wouldn’t subject those wounded individuals to treatment that might exacerbate their injuries.
Over and over, the CIA justified ratcheting up the techniques not because it had intelligence or evidence that the detainees did know more than they were sharing, but instead to increase the CIA’s own confidence that the detainees had shared everything they knew. In other words, the thinking was: “We’ll enhance his interrogations until it’s not possible that he could withhold actionable information from us.”
“Our assumption is the objective of this operation is to achieve a high degree of confidence that [Abu] Zubaydah is not holding back actionable information concerning threats to the United States,” was how Zubaydah’s top interrogator put it in a cable to headquarters. Even though the CIA was telling the executive branch that the prisoner was holding back information, and that the CIA needed to rough him up to get it out of him, the operational order for the torture itself said otherwise.
The report found that at least 26 detainees “were wrongfully held,” including an “intellectually challenged” man who was used as “leverage” to obtain information from a family member, two former intelligence sources and two individuals identified as threats by a detainee subjected to torture. Agency records were often incomplete and, in some cases, lacked sufficient information to justify keeping detainees in custody.
[L]et’s face it: Mr. Obama is not inclined to pursue prosecutions — no matter how great the outrage, at home or abroad, over the disclosures — because of the political fallout. He should therefore take ownership of this decision. He should acknowledge that the country’s most senior officials authorized conduct that violated fundamental laws, and compromised our standing in the world as well as our security. If the choice is between a tacit pardon and a formal one, a formal one is better. An explicit pardon would lay down a marker, signaling to those considering torture in the future that they could be prosecuted.
Mr. Obama could pardon George J. Tenet for authorizing torture at the C.I.A.’s black sites overseas, Donald H. Rumsfeld for authorizing the use of torture at the Guantánamo Bay prison, David S. Addington, John C. Yoo and Jay S. Bybee for crafting the legal cover for torture, and George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for overseeing it all…
The spectacle of the president’s granting pardons to torturers still makes my stomach turn. But doing so may be the only way to ensure that the American government never tortures again. Pardons would make clear that crimes were committed; that the individuals who authorized and committed torture were indeed criminals; and that future architects and perpetrators of torture should beware. Prosecutions would be preferable, but pardons may be the only viable and lasting way to close the Pandora’s box of torture once and for all.
Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday called the bombshell report on CIA interrogation tactics a “badge of honor” and said its public release would strengthen the United States…
“Every country, every country, has engaged in activities somewhere along the line that it has not been proud of,” he added.
“Think about it, name me another country that’s prepared to stand and say, ‘This was a mistake, we should not have done what we‘ve done and we will not do it again,’” Biden said to applause from the 400 people in attendance for the day-long event that featured a number of panels on promoting women in politics, business and other professions…
“That will strengthen us worldwide,” he said. “It will not weaken us…it will make it more difficult for the mistake to ever to be able to be made again.”
Good luck trying to convince many Americans of that, though. Polls have shown a public generally supportive of the use of torture to gain information from terrorist suspects, at least in some circumstances, and even when you flat out call it “torture.”
In 2009, the Pew Research Center found that 49 percent of the public said that “the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information” can “often” or “sometimes” be justified. This belief was held by 64 percent of Republicans, 54 percent of Independents and 36 percent of Democrats.
Including the number who say that torture can rarely be justified, 71 percent of Americans accept torture under some circumstances.
“They deserve a lot of praise,” Mr. Cheney said [of CIA interrogators]. “As far as I’m concerned, they ought to be decorated, not criticized.”…
The program, he added, was “the right thing to do, and if I had to do it over again, I would do it.”…
Mr. Cheney went further than Mr. Bush by arguing that the program itself was worth it. And he suggested that the Democrats on the Senate committee were trying to rewrite history to absolve themselves of their own involvement as legislative overseers.
“It occurs to me it was sort of a cover for those on the Democratic side who were briefed on the program, but then were subsequently embarrassed to admit that and so are going back to construct a rationale to say, ‘They didn’t tell us the truth,’” Mr. Cheney said.
The interrogation program was authorized by the highest levels of the U.S. government, judged legal by the Justice Department and proved effective by any reasonable standard. The leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees and of both parties in Congress were briefed on the program more than 40 times between 2002 and 2009. But Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tried to deny that she was told in 2002 that detainees had been waterboarded. That is simply not true. I was among those who briefed her.
There’s great hypocrisy in politicians’ criticism of the CIA’s interrogation program. In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, lawmakers urged us to do everything possible to prevent another attack on our soil. Members of Congress and the administration were nearly unanimous in their desire that the CIA do all that it could to debilitate and destroy al-Qaeda. The CIA got the necessary approvals to do so and kept Congress briefed throughout. But as our successes grew, some lawmakers’ recollections shrank in regard to the support they once offered. Here are a couple of reminders.
On May 26, 2002, Feinstein was quoted in the New York Times saying that the attacks of 9/11 were a real awakening and that it would no longer be “business as usual.” The attacks, she said, let us know “that the threat is profound” and “that we have to do some things that historically we have not wanted to do to protect ourselves.”…
If Feinstein, Rockefeller and other politicians were saying such things in print and on national TV, imagine what they were saying to us in private. We did what we were asked to do, we did what we were assured was legal, and we know our actions were effective. Our reward, a decade later, is to hear some of these same politicians expressing outrage for what was done and, even worse, mischaracterizing the actions taken and understating the successes achieved.
How did the committee report get these things so wrong? Astonishingly, the staff avoided interviewing any of us who had been involved in establishing or running the program, the first time a supposedly comprehensive Senate Select Committee on Intelligence study has been carried out in this way.
The excuse given by majority senators is that CIA officers were under investigation by the Justice Department and therefore could not be made available. This is nonsense. The investigations referred to were completed in 2011 and 2012 and applied only to certain officers. They never applied to six former CIA directors and deputy directors, all of whom could have added firsthand truth to the study. Yet a press account indicates that the committee staff did see fit to interview at least one attorney for a terrorist at Guantanamo Bay.
We can only conclude that the committee members or staff did not want to risk having to deal with data that did not fit their construct. Which is another reason why the study is so flawed. What went on in preparing the report is clear: The staff picked up the signal at the outset that this study was to have a certain outcome, especially with respect to the question of whether the interrogation program produced intelligence that helped stop terrorists. The staff members then “cherry picked” their way through six million pages of documents, ignoring some data and highlighting others, to construct their argument against the program’s effectiveness.
In the intelligence profession, that is called politicization.
As a student, I learned that I could resist, and occasionally manipulate, a talented interrogator during my numerous “soft-sell” interrogations—the rapport-building, we-know-all, pride-and-ego up/down, do-the-right-thing approaches. I had my story relatively straight, and I simply stuck to it, regardless of how ridiculous or implausible the interrogator made it sound. He wasn’t doing anything to me—there was no consequence to my lies, no matter how transparent.
I then learned the difference between “soft-sell” and “hard-sell” by way of a large interrogator who applied enhanced techniques promptly upon the uttering of my first lie. I learned that it was infinitely more difficult for me to remember my lies and keep my story straight under pressure. I learned that it became difficult to repeat a lie if I received immediate and uncomfortable consequences for each iteration. It made me have to make snap decisions under intense pressure in real time—and fumble and stumble through rapid-fire follow-up questions designed to poke massive holes in my story.
I learned that I needed to practically live my lie if I were to be questioned under duress, as the unrehearsed details are the wild-cards that bite you in the ass. I learned that I would rather sit across from the most talented interrogator on earth doing a soft-sell than any interrogator on earth doing a hard-sell—the information I had would be safer because the only consequences to my lies come in the form of words. I could handle words. Anyone could.
Ask any SERE Level C graduate which method was more effective on him or her—their answer should tell you something about the effectiveness of enhanced techniques, whether you agree with them or not. In my case, I learned that enhanced techniques made me want to tell the truth to make it stop—not to compound my situation with more lies.
Cross-referenced with other sources, the following CIA assertions, I am confident, are true.
Enhanced-interrogation techniques led to the capture of Hambali, the “South Asian bin Laden,” who planned to use South Asian operatives in a 9/11-style attack on the U.S. West Coast.
EITs led to the capture of the second shoe bomber.
EITs led to the identification of Dhiren Barot and his seven-man terror cell in the U.K.: an operationally capable group that intended to detonate explosives at multiple targets in the U.K. Incidentally, the CIA explains that the claim of the committee report that the CIA already had sufficient information to identify Barot prior to EIT applications is the result of the committee’s mixing up two suspects with the same name…
Crucially, the CIA notes that EIT interrogations of two terrorists (one of whom was a courier for al-Zarqawi — remember him?) led the CIA to realize that bin Laden’s personal courier was recently operational and had gone into hiding. It also provided a corroborating counterpoint to efforts by KSM to throw his interrogators off the courier’s track.
Mr. Bush and his advisers have been largely quiet about the Senate report until now, and former intelligence officials worried whether the Bush team would defend them. Some former administration officials privately encouraged the president and his top advisers to use the report to disclaim responsibility for the interrogation program on the grounds that they were not kept fully informed.
But Mr. Bush and his inner circle rejected that suggestion. “Even if some officials privately believe they were not given all the facts, they feel it would be immoral and disloyal to throw the C.I.A. to the wolves at this point,” said one former official, who like others did not want to be identified speaking about the report before its release.
Revealing more details about the program will hurt American relations with key allies and could discourage them from sharing intelligence with the United States or cooperating with us on risky intelligence or military operations in the future.
Fear that the report also could lead to violence against Americans or to terrorist attacks led Secretary of State John Kerry to request that its release be delayed. American military personnel overseas and U.S. embassies and consulates have been warned to be on guard for “potential violence” because of the release of the report. House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R., Mich.) warned on Sunday that the report would be used as a propaganda tool by terrorist groups to incite anti-American unrest and would lead to “violence and deaths.”…
By issuing such a blatantly partisan report on events that took place ten years ago or more, the enhanced-interrogation report will seriously damage the credibility of congressional oversight of intelligence and the credibility of Senate Democrats — especially Feinstein — on national security. The myth that the Senate Intelligence Committee’s oversight of intelligence is non-political has been decisively disproved. It will be a long time before Senate Democrats and the Senate intelligence committee will regain the trust of U.S. intelligence officers and the American people on intelligence matters, owing to the politicized Democratic report on the enhanced-interrogation program.