After years of delay, the CIA declassified a raft of documents Monday, with lots of detail about the Bush Administration’s harsh treatment of detainees following the September 11 attacks. The biggest document, with the most new detail, is a 2004 report by the CIA Inspector General (CIA IG) that is highly critical of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program. Here are five new things you need to know about the disclosures:
1. The CIA IG concluded that the public had been misled about the interrogation program. While the report stops short of accusing any public official of lying, it makes clear that the public statements that the U.S. Government made about its conduct differed from what was actually happening, creating a liability for the CIA if the information ever got out. “The EITs [Enhanced Interrogation Techniques] used by the Agency under the CTC [Counterterrorist Center] Program are inconsistent with the public policy positions that the United States has taken regarding human rights,” the report reads. In particular, the IG notes that President Bush in June of 2003 issued a statement in observance of the “United Nations International Day In Support Of Victims of Torture.” The report quotes Bush’s statement at length, including this assertion: “The United States is committed to the worldwide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example.” Later in the report, the IG writes: “Although the current detention and interrogation Program has been subject to DoJ [Department of Justice] legal review and Administration political approval, it diverges sharply from previous Agency policy and practice, rules that govern interrogations by U.S. military and law enforcement officers, statements of U.S. policy by the Department of State, and public statements by very senior U.S. officials, including the President.”
2. The CIA IG found that the CIA used waterboarding in a way that had not been approved by the Justice Department, calling into question the legality of the technique. In one passage, the IG notes that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel had approved the waterboarding of detainees based on the assumption that the waterboarding would be similar to the practice used in a U.S. military training program. The IG quotes medical experts at the CIA asserting that the “the [U.S. military] waterboard experience is so different from the subsequent Agency use as to make it almost irrelevant.” An interrogator/psychologist who had helped to administer the program admitted the difference, saying the CIA use of waterboarding was “for real.” The differences included duration, frequency, the amount of water used, and the way air passages were obstructed.
3. The CIA IG repeatedly brought what it viewed as abuses or violations of law to the attention of Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Justice Department, without any positive result. After a review of the program determined that one detainee had been waterboarded “in a manner inconsistent with” the description of the technique in military training and in the Justice Department legal guidance, the matter was brought directly to Ashcroft by the CIA general counsel. According to the report, Ashcroft disagreed with the CIA IG assessment. Ashcroft responded by telling the CIA that he saw no problem with waterboarding one detainee 119 times, deciding that the “CIA is well within the scope of the DoJ opinion and the authority given to CIA by that opinion.” This is not the only difference of opinion between the Justice Department and the CIA IG. At another point, the IG reports to prosecutors that one CIA employee had threatened a detainee with a powerdrill and a handgun, both unauthorized techniques for which he did not seek approval. The Justice Department announced its decision not to prosecute this CIA employee on September 11, 2003, exactly two years after the attacks on New York and Washington D.C.
4. The CIA IG concluded that while high-value detainees did produce valuable intelligence, the measurement of the effectiveness of harsh interrogation techniques “is a more subjective process and not without some concern.” The CIA lists four reasons for this muddled view. First, “the Agency cannot determine with any certainty the totality of the intelligence the detainee actually possesses.” Second, “each detainee has different fears of and tolereace for” harsh techniques. Third, “the application of the same” harsh technique “by different interrogators may have different results.” The fourth reason that the effectiveness of harsh techniques could not be known objectively remains classified, and was redacted from the released document.
5. The initial harsh interrogation program, begun in 2002, was poorly managed, some interrogators were poorly trained and informed, and they used techniques that were substantially harsher than what had been approved by the White House and the Justice Department. “[T]he Agency—especially in the early months of the Program—failed to provide adequate staffing, guidance, and support to those involved with the detention and interrogation of detainees,” the report states. There were a number of episodes when people working for the CIA behaved outside of approved techniques. Perhaps the most serious case involved an Afghan citizen, who had been implicated in rocket attacks on U.S. military bases. Once captured, in June of 2003, the suspect was held at a military base. “During the four days the individual was detained, an Agency independent contractor, who was a paramilitary officer, is alleged to have severely beaten the detainee with a large metal flashlight and kicked him during interrogation sessions.” The detainee died in custody. The contractor, who had not been trained or authorized to conduct interrogations, received a relatively light punishment. He did not have his contract renewed by the CIA.