The Senate Intelligence Committee will release an executive summary of a long-awaited CIA report on the government’s use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT) on Tuesday, showing that the agency relied on sexual threats, water-boarding, sleep deprivation and other gruesome methods to interrogate terror suspects in the wake of the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks.
The document will also show that CIA officials misled the Bush administration about the effectiveness of the methods.
Members of the intelligence community, former Bush administration officials who authorized the techniques in Aug. of 2002, and many Republicans in Congress have urged the Senate against publicizing the findings, arguing that they pose a threat to American security around the world.
Former Bush officials, led by Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush, also continue to defend the enhanced interrogation techniques — which President Barack Obama has described as “torture” and banned in 2009 — characterizing the methods as “absolutely, totally justified.”
“What I keep hearing out there is they portray this as a rogue operation, and the agency was way out of bounds and then they lied about it,” Cheney said in a telephone interview with the New York Times on Monday. “I think that’s all a bunch of hooey. The program was authorized. The agency did not want to proceed without authorization, and it was also reviewed legally by the Justice Department before they undertook the program.”
But critics of the Bush administration have long questioned the effectiveness of torture in providing interrogators with truthful and actionable intelligence. The CIA’s findings are just the latest in a long line of reports from the Department of Justice, Senate Armed Services Committee, and the C.I.A.’s Inspector General to completely discredit the Bush administration’s long-standing claims that torture prevented attacks against America and helped capture high value terrorist targets.
The document is expected to show that water-boarding the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks — Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — did not “produce the intelligence that allowed us to get Osama bin Laden” as Cheney had claimed, nor did torture techniques help stop future attacks on American soil from the likes of Jose Padilla, who sought to detonate a radioactive dirty bomb in 2002.
In reality, both pieces of information were obtained by interrogators before the EIT program officially began, using traditional techniques.
Detainees who were tortured, in turn, provided interrogators with the information they wanted to hear, including fictitious connections between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, which the Bush administration later used to bolster its case for invading Iraq. Those connections proved to be false.
“It is also important to note that some detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques attempted to provide false or misleading information,” former CIA Director Leon Panetta wrote in a letter to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in 2011, disputing Bush administration claims that torture helped capture bin Laden. “In the end, no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier’s full true name or specific whereabouts. This information was discovered through other intelligence means.”
Indeed, military and intelligence officials questioned the administration’s torture protocol — which, a Justice Department inquiry concluded was hastily drafted after a prisoner had already been subject to water-boarding — in the very early days of the program. Military lawyers “protested that the brutal interrogation methods may have violated anti-torture laws,” while career interrogators argued that the practices would not produce valuable intelligence.
The Bush interrogation program was based on the U.S. military program known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE), which is used to train American troops who are tortured by an enemy and was designed around “torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War…that had wrung false confessions from Americans.”
Deputy Commander of the Defense Department’s Criminal Investigative Task Force at Guantanamo Bay raised concerns that SERE techniques were “developed to better prepare U.S. military personnel to resist interrogations and not as a means of obtaining reliable information.” The Air Force cited “serious concerns regarding the legality of many of the proposed techniques.” The Army, Navy, and Marine Corps raised similar issues, citing “maltreatment” that would “arguably violate federal law.”
In 2009, a bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee report concluded that Bush administration’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques “conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. custody” and directly led to the abuses of detainees at Abu Ghraib in 2003. Those practices ultimately served as a powerful recruitment tool for terrorist groups.
Now, Bush administration officials maintain that shedding light on the CIA’s practices could “ignite the kind of violence that killed four Americans at a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.” But as Mark Fallon, a career interrogator, notes in Politico, that’s not an argument “against the kind of transparency and Congressional oversight inherent to a well-functioning democracy; it’s an argument against torture. Indeed, by employing such an argument, people are implicitly acknowledging that torture saps the country’s credibility and threatens its national security.”