Attorney General Eric Holder has appointed a special prosecutor to look into criminal charges against CIA employees who allegedly exceeded legal guidelines in interrogating terrorist detainees. Holder said the appointment was based in part on a May 2004 report of the CIA’s Inspector General, which was made public for the first time today, in redacted form.
The Associated Press describes the Inspector General’s report breathlessly:
The Obama administration launched a criminal investigation Monday into harsh questioning of detainees during President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism, revealing CIA interrogators’ threats to kill one suspect’s children and to force another to watch his mother sexually assaulted. …
Seeking information about possible further attacks, interrogators threatened one detainee with a gun and a power drill and tried to frighten another with a mock execution of another prisoner. …
Obama has said interrogators would not face charges if they followed legal guidelines, but the report by the CIA’s inspector general said they went too far–even beyond what was authorized under Justice Department legal memos that have since been withdrawn and discredited.
I don’t believe that is an accurate description of the DOJ memos in question.
The report also suggested some questioners knew they were crossing a line.
“Ten years from now we’re going to be sorry we’re doing this (but) it has to be done,” one unidentified CIA officer was quoted as saying, predicting the questioners would someday have to appear in court to answer for such tactics.
Having read the CIA report in its entirety, I am struck once again by how humane our treatment of captured terrorists was intended to be, and generally was. The handful of incidents highlighted by press accounts of the report came to light precisely because they were reported as deviations from the treatment of detainees that had been authorized by DOJ lawyers.
As a threshold matter, it is important to note that the allegations that have been reported in the press are just that–allegations, sometimes based on hearsay. The CIA’s Inspector General singled out two incidents for special investigation, both of which involved the same debriefer–not a trained interrogator. As for the other allegations, the Inspector General’s report says:
For all of the instances, the allegations were disputed or too ambiguous to reach any authoritative determination regarding the facts. Thus, although these allegations are illustrative of the nature of the concerns held by individuals associated with the CTC Program and the need for clear guidance, they did not warrant separate investigations or administrative action.
The two incidents deemed most serious were the threatening of Abd Al-Nashiri with a loaded handgun and with a power drill. As noted above, these threats were made (but not carried out) by a debriefer who was not trained or authorized to use enhanced interrogation techniques (the CIA distinguishes between debriefers and interrogators.) This same debriefer also threatened Al-Nashiri by saying that “We could get your mother in here.” It is worth noting that he said he wanted Al-Nashiri to infer, based on the debriefer’s accent and the threat that he made, that he (the debriefer) was from a Middle Eastern security service that has the reputation of using such tactics. The implication was that Al-Nashiri was well aware that the Americans would do no such thing.
The same debriefer was also involved in a “ruse” where he and others tried to convince a detainee that they had shot another detainee, whose “body” the detainee was led past. This one individual accounts for a significant proportion of the improper interrogation techniques documented in the IG’s report.
Some of the misdeeds documented in the report border on the humorous, like the claim that interrogators “smoked cigars and blew smoke in Al-Nashiri’s face during an interrogation.” The horror!
One aspect of the IG’s report that has been absent from most press accounts is its account of the effectiveness of these early interrogations by the CIA:
The detention of terrorists has prevented them from engaging in further terrorist activity, and their interrogation has provided intelligence that has enabled the identification and apprehension of other terrorists, warned of terrorist plots planned for the United States and around the world, and supported articles frequently used in the finished intelligence publications for senior policymakers and war fighters. In this regard, there is no doubt that the Program has been effective. …
Detainee information has assisted in the identification of terrorists. For example, information from Abu Zubaydah helped lead to the identification of Jose Padilla and Binyam Muhammed–operatives who had plans to detonate a uranium-topped dirty bomb in either Washington, D.C. or New York City. Riduan “Hambali” Isomuddin provided information that led to the arrest of previously unknown members of an Al Qa’ida cell in Karachi. They were designated as pilots for an aircraft attack against the United States. Many other detainees, including lower-level detainees such as Zubayr and Majid Khan, have provided leads to other terrorists, but probably the most prolific has been Khalid Shaykh Muhammad. He provided information that helped lead to the arrest of terrorists including Sayfullah Paracha and his son Uzair Paracha, businessmen whom Khalid Shaykh Muhammad planned to use to smuggle explosives into the United States; Saleh Almari, a sleeper operative in New York; and Majid Khan, an operative who could enter the United States easily and was tasked to research attacks [redacted]. Khalid Shaykh Muhammad’s information also led to the investigation and prosecution of Iyman Faris, the truck driver arrested in early 2003 in Ohio. [redacted]
Detainees, both planners and operatives, have also made the Agency aware of several plots planned for the United States and around the world. The plots identify plans to [redacted] attack the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan; hijack aircraft to fly into Heathrow Airport [redacted] loosen track spikes in an attempt to derail a train in the United States; [redacted]; blow up several U.S. gas stations to create panic and havoc; hijack and fly an airplane into the tallest building in California in a west coast version of the World Trade Center attack; cut the lines of suspension bridges in New York in an effort to make them collapse; [redacted].
This Review did not uncover any evidence that these plots were imminent. Agency senior managers believe that lives have been saved as a result of the capture and interrogation of terrorists who were planning attacks, in particular Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, Abu Zubaydah, Hambali, and Al-Nashiri.
The report says that evaluating the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation techniques, in particular waterboarding, is more “subjective,” but there doesn’t seem to be much doubt based on the facts that the Inspector General lays out:
The waterboard has been used on three detainees….
Prior to the use of EITs, Abu Zubaydah provided information for [redacted] intelligence reports. Interrogators applied the waterboard to Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times during August 2002. [The report explains that each application of water is counted separately, and most of the 83 applications lasted less than ten seconds.] During the period between the end of the use of the waterboard and 30 April 2003, he provided information for approximately [redacted] intelligence reports. It is not possible to say definitively that the waterboard is the reason for Abu Zubaydah’s increased production, or if another factor, such as the length of detention, was the catalyst. Since the use of the waterboard, however, Abu Zubaydah has appeared to be cooperative.
With respect to A-Nashiri, [redacted] reported two waterboard sessions in November 2002, after which the psychologist/interrogators determined that Al-Nashiri was compliant….Because of the litany of techniques used by different interrogators over a relatively short period of time, it is difficult to identify exactly why Al-Nashiri became more willing to provide information. However, following the use of EITs, he provided information about his most current operational planning and [redacted] as opposed to the historical information he provided before the use of EITs.
On the other hand, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, an accomplished resistor, provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate, or incomplete.
The Associated Press misrepresents the IG’s report when the AP claims that it “suggested some questioners knew they were crossing a line.” In fact, the report documents a tragic awareness by some at the CIA of the failings of our democracy:
During the course of this Review, a number of Agency officers expressed unsolicited concern about the possibility of recrimination or legal action resulting from their participation in the CTC Program. A number of officers expressed concern that a human rights group might pursue them for activities [redacted]. Additionally, they feared that the Agency would not stand behind them if this occurred.
One officer expressed concern that one day, Agency officers will wind up on some “wanted list” to appear before the World Court for war crimes stemming from their activities [redacted]. Another said, “Ten years from now we’re going to be sorry we’re doing this…[but] it has to be done.” He expressed concern that the CTC Program will be exposed in the news media and cited particular concern about the possibility of being named in a leak.
Those fears proved all too prescient.
Like other reports that have been made public, the CIA IG’s “Special Review” shows that the Bush administration was determined not to torture detainees or to treat them with undue harshness. It reflects that guidelines were promulgated to ensure reasonably humane treatment, despite the urgent imperative of getting life-saving information from al Qaeda terrorists. And it shows that those guidelines were followed, but for a handful of abuses that occurred mostly in the early days after September 11.
The report also notes that six years ago, the incidents it describes were referred to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution, and DOJ determined that there was nothing there that merited prosecution. For Barack Obama and Eric Holder to reverse that decision six years later, in hopes of political gain, is deeply contemptible.
UPDATE: I understand that poor, deranged Andrew Sullivan has written a bizarre screed about this post, apparently without having read it. The poor guy couldn’t even get my name right. I feel sorry for Andrew. He did some good work quite a few years ago, but in recent years has come apart at the seams. Normally I wouldn’t bother to read anything he writes, and I may not get to it, but if I have time later on I’ll take a look at his post.