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Former CIA official rejects interrogation report findings as misleading – Part 3

December 9, 2014 at 6:37 PM EDT
Robert Grenier, former director of the CIA Counterterrorism Center, joins Judy Woodruff to offer a rebuttal to the charges made in a Senate Intelligence report on the harsh physical and mental techniques the CIA used on scores of terror detainees after 9/11.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, those who have led the CIA, as you have just been hearing, have a different perspective on this report.

And for that view, I’m joined now by Robert Grenier. He was the director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center from 2004 to 2006. He’s also the author of the forthcoming book “88 Days to Kandahar.”

Robert Grenier, you just listened to what Senator Feinstein said. I asked her essentially what you and others in the CIA, former CIA officials are saying, that this report is just way — way far exaggerating what actually happened.

ROBERT GRENIER, Former Director, CIA Counterterrorism Center: Yes.

I think that the report gets a lot of things factually wrong. I think that it incorrectly analyzes a number of things. That’s not to say that everything in it is false, by any means, but many of the true assertions that are made in that report are presented in a very misleading light and lead to false conclusions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the picture that comes through loud and clear is of extreme methods that were taken time and again, as we said, for dozens, scores of detainees who were being held, in some cases leading to their death.

ROBERT GRENIER: Well, you know, this is a really important case in point.

One of the things that is pointed out, in fact, in the press summary that was handed out when the report was first released, it cites the case of a detainee in Afghanistan. It was actually an Afghan national, an individual who died as a result of exposure. He was being guarded by Afghan militiamen at the time.

That’s not to excuse the CIA. This was a failure of oversight by the CIA person who was on the scene.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you’re saying that happened?

ROBERT GRENIER: So, that absolutely happened.

But the issue here, one of the main issues, one of the main points that needs to be made here is that this happened outside of the CIA program. That doesn’t mean that CIA isn’t culpable in any way, but actually this incident, as unfortunate and tragic as it was, was an argument of in favor of having a proper and disciplined program that was properly led and that involved trained interrogators.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But are — so are you saying the CIA was not responsible for all these instances that are laid out in this huge report?

ROBERT GRENIER: Well, I’m — you would — you would have to cite specifics.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But the bulk of the report lays out, again, dozens, scores of instances where detainees were mistreated to the point of — to extreme — to an extreme degree.

ROBERT GRENIER: Well, listen, this — this program included the use of so-called EITs.


ROBERT GRENIER: Enhanced interrogation techniques, harsh interrogation techniques.

And we’re not going to sugarcoat that. This was not a picnic. Now, that said, a majority of the detainees that were in the program never had any of these techniques employed on them. They were shackled. They had hoods put over their heads. They were loaded on board airplanes. They were flown for many hours. They ended up in a CIA so-called black site,and they decided that they were going to cooperate.

Now, there were other cases, many of them, actually, a minority, but still a significant number, who were subjected to these techniques because they were not compliant. There were things in their head that we had to have, and these were the techniques that we used to extract them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you use the term enhanced interrogation techniques. The report is calling it torture in many instances.

But what about Senator Feinstein’s point that — that she said that there are a number of experts and others who they have talked to who know, who have proven that you get more information out of someone by other methods, by methods other than these kinds of extreme methods that were used, which, in many cases, she said were illegal.

ROBERT GRENIER: Well, first of all, the CIA, in order to make a judgment as to whether these things were legal, had to turn to the Department of Justice and the Office of Legal Counsel.

So, I can assure you that we didn’t do anything unless we had full assurances that everything that we were doing was fully legal. People can disagree with those — with those judgments by the Office of Legal Counsel, but we had assurances from the highest possible levels in the government that what we were doing was legal. So let’s just — let’s table that.

But on this whole issue of, well, could we have gotten the same information using more gentle methods, look, every interrogation is unique. Many of the individuals who came into CIA custody, in fact, gave up what they knew, and we were able to verify they were giving up what they knew truthfully, without the use of these techniques.

And we’re talking about an instance where it’s a skilled interrogator, somebody who knows what he is doing. And to say that we could get the same results in a short amount of time from a hardened terrorist — these are people who in some cases were mass murderers. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has the blood of over 3,000 Americans on his hands.

Now, you will have difficulty convincing me or anybody else who knows about interrogations that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was going to give up what he knew and the very valuable information that in fact he did give up at the end of the day if you are simply nice to him, if you give him a nice room and three square meals a day and treat him with a lot of respect.

I can tell you that is not going to work in his case. Perhaps in some, given enough time, it will. The other thing that is very important to stress here is that, contrary to what’s stated in this report, we had a very firm doctrine within this program. And that was that we would only use the least coercive methods necessary in order to gain compliance.

In some cases, we got compliance right away. In the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, we had to use a lot of techniques on him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So — but the description is mind-boggling in some cases. It’s water boarding. It’s forced feeding. It’s other methods that are…

ROBERT GRENIER: Forced feeding was not one of the methods that we used for interrogation. I know that is cited in the report. I would like to see the evidence for that.

Perhaps there were individuals who went on hunger strikes or something. I just don’t know. I would have to look at that. So far as water-boarding is concerned, yes, there were three individuals total who were ever water-boarded. That was only in the early days of the program. I think that it was required in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, for instance. But there were only three individuals. And that practice, among the other practices that we employed, was terminated in early 2003.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about one of the others point from Senator Feinstein and her colleagues? And that is that the CIA misled the White House, misled the Congress, led them to believe this these techniques were not being used and that information was being gotten from detainees that it turns out was not?

ROBERT GRENIER: Was not actually gotten from the detainees or that was not attributable to…

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s right, that it — that…

ROBERT GRENIER: To enhanced techniques.

Those are the two, I think, most salient parts of the report. First of all, what they’re saying is that the CIA lied. The CIA lied to the White House, lied to the president, lied to the National Security Council, they lied to the Congress.

Frankly, that’s just farcical. It’s simply not true. And President Bush — she cites the fact that President Bush — President Bush knew everything about this program that he wanted to know. And I can assure you that he, and more particularly other members of the administration who were charged with dealing with this on a day-to-day basis, they knew everything that was going on, that they were very fully briefed.

And, in fact, we fulsomely briefed those members of the committees and other leaders, both the House and the Senate, who we were permitted by the administration to brief.

So, quite frankly, I was the director of the Counterterrorism Center for — from late 2004 to early 2006. And I can tell you, I had difficulty, frankly, getting on the calendars of senators who I wanted to brief. So their ardor for the truth, I think, is a little greater now than it was at the time in some cases.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it is a big report with a lot in there to pore over. That is only beginning tonight.

Robert Grenier, former director of CIA counterterrorism, we thank you for joining us.

ROBERT GRENIER: You’re very welcome.