Secrets, Politics and Torture

View film


Michael Kirk

Jim Gilmore

Mike Wiser


Jim Gilmore


Michael Kirk & Mike Wiser


Michael Kirk

NEWSCASTER: Zero Dark Thirty, one of the most buzzed-about movies—

NEWSCASTER: Critics are raving about a new movie, _Zero Dark Thirty_—

NEWSCASTER: —makes its California premiere—

NEWSCASTER: Tonight, the stars of Zero Dark Thirty are out for the LA premiere.

NEWSCASTER: It’s getting a lot of Oscar buzz—

NARRATOR: It was bound to be a blockbuster, Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow’s story of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

KATHRYN BIGELOW, Director: Well, I think it’s one of those great mysteries of our time. I think it’s one of the great stories of our time. And you know, these stories come along maybe once or twice a millennium, so it’s a pretty compelling story.

NARRATOR: Behind the scenes, the details of the story were secretly provided to the filmmakers by the Central Intelligence Agency.

JANE MAYER, The New Yorker: The CIA’s business is seduction, basically. And to seduce Hollywood producers— I mean, they’re easy marks compared to some of the people that the CIA has to go after.

NARRATOR: According to internal CIA documents, the movie’s producers were given exclusive access to the CIA version of history.

CIA DOCUMENT: “It makes sense to get behind the winning horse. Mark and Kathryn’s movie is going to be the first and the biggest. It’s got the most money behind it, and two Oscar winners on board.”

GREG MILLER, The Washington Post: A lot of other people who covered the beat, like I did, in that search for bin Laden— you know, we didn’t get close to that kind of cooperation from the agency on telling the inside story.

NARRATOR: Inside the theater, a raw portrayal of the brutal interrogations the CIA said were crucial to the success of the raid.

[“Zero Dark Thirty” (2012)]

JASON CLARKE, Actor: This is a dog collar.

REDA KATEB, Actor: No!

DANA PRIEST, The Washington Post: The message was, you need to torture people in order to get the information that will lead you to your main target.

[“Zero Dark Thirty” (2012)]

JASON CLARKE, Actor: When you lie to me, I hurt you. [screams] Where was the last time you saw bin Laden? Where was the last time you saw bin Laden, huh?

RICHARD CLARKE, National Security Council, 1992-2003: The movie left the American people with the impression that torture worked, and that without it, we would never have been able to trace the trail back to Abbottabad and to find bin Laden.

[“Zero Dark Thirty” (2012)]

JESSICA CHASTAIN, Actor: Give me the information I need!

Sen. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D-CA), Chmn., Intelligence Cmte., 2009-15: I walked out of Zero Dark Thirty, candidly. We were having a showing, and I got into it about 15, 20 minutes and left. I couldn’t handle it. Because it’s so false.

NARRATOR: California senator Dianne Feinstein was the powerful chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. For years, Feinstein and other Democrats have told a different version of the story, one at odds with the CIA.

Sen. MARK UDALL (D-CO), Intelligence Cmte., 2011-15: It’s a form of propaganda. It’s so that the general public believes this is what happened, when, in fact, the facts don’t prove that to be the case.

NARRATOR: The senators had access to something no one else did. In a secret CIA location, Senate staffers had been authorized to examine a trove of highly classified documents.

GREG MILLER, The Washington Post: Dianne Feinstein set the committee on this path to do this massive investigation. I mean, that was her objective, to evaluate that question, were these methods that important? Did this— did torture work?

NARRATOR: For years, Senate investigators had been digging into one of the CIA’s most secret programs to find the answer.

MARK UDALL: They’d given up six years of their lives, in many respects, to comb through all that material, six million documents, millions and millions of footnotes.

NARRATOR: The six million pages of internal CIA documents tell the history of what happened.

MARK MAZZETTI, The New York Times: They’re about the program. They’re about all of the prisoners that had been in CIA custody. They are about the cables back and forth between headquarters and the field. They are internal memos about what was gleaned from the interrogation sessions. It’s basically the CIA’s own internal raw history of its program.

NEWSCASTER: Caught up between the Senate and the CIA—

NARRATOR: Once the report was written, a bitter political fight broke out over making it public.

NEWSCASTER: The battle over making public a Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation methods—

NARRATOR: By December of 2014, Feinstein prevailed. The report was at the printers.

NEWSCASTER: The report is from Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee—

NEWSCASTER: The report detailing harsh interrogation tactics—

NARRATOR: Now both histories can be examined.

NEWSCASTER: —while in CIA custody—

NARRATOR: The Senate document—

NEWSCASTER: —how the coerced interrogation worked—

NARRATOR: —versus the CIA’s insiders—

NEWSCASTER: The headline is CIA interrogations work.

NARRATOR: —what the CIA did—

RICHARD CHENEY, Fmr. Vice President of the United States: It was a good program. It was a legal program. It was not torture.

NARRATOR: —and whether it was necessary.

Sen. MARK UDALL: The CIA has lied to its overseers, destroyed and tried to hold back evidence.

NARRATOR: Secrets, Politics and Torture.

NEWSCASTER: The report on the CIA’s interrogation techniques is out—

NARRATOR: Almost 500 pages long with thousands of footnotes—

NEWSCASTER: It cost them $50 million to put it together, and it will include—

NARRATOR: —the report is sharply critical of what the CIA did.

GREG MILLER: This is the executive summary. This is the declassified version, and it’s pretty thick. And I got this in a recent meeting with the people who put this together, and you know, I sort of jokingly asked, “Well, where’s the rest? Can’t I take the full thing?” And they said, “To do that, you would need a wheelbarrow.”

NARRATOR: At the CIA, they take great exception to the report. One man’s name appears more than 200 times, top CIA lawyer John Rizzo.

JOHN RIZZO, CIA Attorney, 1976-2009: This thing was put together, reached conclusions, made accusations without ever— any of its— any of its drafters having the courtesy to talk to any of us, to give us our chance. And it’s a— it’s a— a hit job on most of us.

NARRATOR: John Rizzo’s story and the story of that Senate report both begin on the same day.

911 CALLER: Help! Help!

DISPATCHER: Fire Department 408. Where is the fire?

DISPATCHER: This is another call in regards to World Trade Center.

JOHN RIZZO: I was sitting in my office on that Tuesday morning, on the top floor of CIA headquarters.

911 CALLER: I’m going to die, aren’t I!

DISPATCHER: No, no, no, no, no—

CALLER: I’m going to die!

DISPATCHER: Ma’am, ma’am, say your prayers.

DISPATCHER: Police operator. Where’s your emergency?

JOHN RIZZO: Trying to focus on this most terrible of days, I scribbled down words— “capture, detain and interrogate.”

CALLER: We’re not ready to die! Oh, God! God—

NARRATOR: “Capture, detain, interrogate”— Rizzo says the CIA hadn’t done it for decades.

JOHN McLAUGHLIN, Deputy Director, CIA, 2000-04: Well, I think the only word I would add to John Rizzo’s “capture, detain and interrogate” would be the word “learn.” We had a lot to learn at this point.

NARRATOR: John McLaughlin was the deputy director of the CIA and John Rizzo’s boss.

JOHN McLAUGHLIN: The sense of dread against the many unknowns was enormous. And we felt we had a singular responsibility in the U.S. government to stand between the United States and these terrorists.

NEWSCASTER: The massive investigation into last week’s attacks—

NARRATOR: In less than a week, the notes on Rizzo’s pad would be transformed into one of the most sweeping covert authorizations in American history.

SENATE REPORT: “The president signed a covert action granting the CIA unprecedented counterterrorism authorities.”

JANE MAYER, Author, The Dark Side: It basically empowers the CIA to take an almost unlimited role in the war on terror, a step up from where it’s been in the past, in terms of dark operations and carrying them out.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: We go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.

Vice Pres. DICK CHENEY: We have to work toward the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows.

COFER BLACK, Former CIA Official: All you need to know is there was a before 9/11 and there was an after 9/11.

NEWSCASTER: Where did it all begin, and why—

NARRATOR: At the CIA, at 5:00 o’clock most afternoons, officers from the Counterterrorism Center came to the seventh floor to brief the top brass.

NEWSCASTER: —try to understand how 10 hijackers hijacked—

NARRATOR: They were worried about a second attack.

JOHN RIZZO: It was tense. It was tense. The special activities paramilitary folks, all of the analysts would sit and brief senior leadership, and it was an increasing, increasing drumbeat of danger and foreboding.

NARRATOR: And in the months after 9/11, Rizzo kept hearing the name of one particular suspect the CIA was targeting. The Senate report tells the story.

SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “Abu Zubaydah was assessed to possess detailed knowledge of al Qaeda terrorist attack plans.”

JOHN RIZZO: His name kept popping up at the meetings. Abu Zubaydah was a committed, remorseless, psychopathic personality. He was widely thought to be — universally thought to be — a key, key figure in the al Qaeda hierarchy.

NARRATOR: In March of 2002, they found Abu Zubaydah hiding near the Indian border in Faisalabad, Pakistan. They learned he was at this house. As they surrounded it, a firefight broke out.

MARK ROSSINI, FBI Special Agent, 1991-2008: Then he almost died in the capture. He was shot in the gut. And you know, part of me is saying, “Well, I wish he had died,” of course. But part of me is saying, “Well, thank God he’s alive. We can talk to him, get something out of him.”

NARRATOR: Abu Zubaydah would never be seen in public again. He was secretly taken to a black site in Thailand.

JOHN McLAUGHLIN: CIA had no prisons. No one else, including the military, wanted these high-level prisoners. We had to put them somewhere, and we had to do it quickly. And that’s how black sites came about.

NARRATOR: They kept him hidden on the edges of Bangkok, desperately hoping they could get him to talk about the next attack.

JOHN RIZZO: We had never, certainly in my career, held people against their will. This was actually a new thing for CIA to do.

NARRATOR: They knew the FBI did have interrogators, so they reluctantly turned to one of them, Ali Soufan.

ALI SOUFAN, FBI Special Agent, 1997-2005: It’s about building a rapport with an individual. It’s about building that chemistry. It’s about building a trust, a little bit, because if he’s going to tell you something, he needs to have some sense of trust about you.

RICHARD CLARKE, National Security Council, 1992-2003: Ali Soufan is a Muslim and knows the Quran, and he’s an FBI special agent. And he’s able to go into a room and speak Arabic and identify with the hot buttons that the person he’s interrogating has.

NARRATOR: Soufan worked to build Abu Zubaydah’s trust.

JOSEPH MARGUILES, Attorney for Abu Zubaydah: And practically the first words out of Abu Zubaydah’s mouth were, “I’m here to cooperate.”

NARRATOR: Soufan showed him the FBI’s wanted photos on a PDA. Then a stunning breakthrough. Zubaydah pointed to this man.

SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “Abu Zubaydah revealed to the FBI officers that an individual named Mukhtar was the al Qaeda mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.”

NARRATOR: Mukhtar was the fugitive terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

ALI SOUFAN: We did not know that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was a member of al Qaeda. That was a huge development.

NARRATOR: But in Washington, Rizzo says he was told FBI agent Soufan should have been getting even more. He was going too easy on Abu Zubaydah.

JOHN RIZZO, CIA Attorney, 1976-2009: Our people were convinced that the kinds of FBI examination techniques, their traditional techniques, were not going to work with a— with a— with a pathological, remorseless, canny operative like Zubaydah, so that we had to try something else, something more aggressive.

NARRATOR: It was clear to Rizzo they needed to find someone special to handle these interrogations.

JANE MAYER, Author, The Dark Side: Someone in the building has heard there’s this psychologist who knows something about torture, and he’s been doing some kind of contract work for the agency. And they said, “Try calling him.”

SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “A psychologist, Grayson Swigert, be used by CTC to overcome Abu Zubaydah’s resistance to interrogation.”

NARRATOR: In the senate report, “Grayson Swigert” was the official pseudonym for this man, James Mitchell. Mitchell and his partner, Bruce Jessen, were former Air Force psychologists.

JOHN RIZZO: My guys were convinced that these were experts and that they had a very good feel and sense for these kinds of techniques and what they could accomplish against an intransigent personality like Abu Zubaydah.

JANE MAYER: They’d been running a program called SERE for the Air Force, which stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. It’s a program to train American soldiers on how they might be able to survive if they’re ever captured and tortured.

NARRATOR: The SERE program Mitchell and Jessen wanted to reverse engineer had begun at the end of the Korean War.

NEWSREEL: Volunteers are subjected to the same brainwashing techniques employed by the Chinese Reds—

PHILIP ZELIKOW, White House Intel. Advisor, 2001-03: Mitchell and Jessen had created interrogation methods inspired by things the North Koreans and Chinese had done in the 1950s, absurd brainwashing efforts that we had always regarded as emblems of tyranny.

NEWSREEL: The arsenal of psychological weapons— confinement in the hole for hours. The interrogation phase— here the prisoner is subjected sometimes for hours to machine gun questioning.

JANE MAYER: It was such a dubious venture from the start, but they didn’t think twice. They were desperate. And they wanted someone who had the answers, and James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen said they had them.

NARRATOR: Abu Zubaydah had been in Thailand for two weeks when James Mitchell arrived. It was time to get tough.

ALI SOUFAN: His life will start becoming bad, you know— nudity and music, loud music, sleep deprivation.

NARRATOR: In Abu Zubaydah’s cell, FBI agent Soufan watched as the CIA theory was put into practice.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, Newsweek, 1994-2010: Soufan saw the— you know, temperature manipulations, the slapping, the hitting. And then he sees this confinement box which they’re going to throw Abu Zubaydah into. And he gets furious. He said, “You can’t do this kind of thing.”

ALI SOUFAN: And I was really frustrated because I think that, you know, this— this is not going to lead us anywhere. I mean, this guy admitted that he never interrogated a person in his life. He doesn’t know anything about Islamic extremists. And here he is trying to call the shots.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: And at one point, Soufan gets so upset, he calls back on a secure phone to FBI headquarters and says, “I’m going to arrest these guys.” He means the CIA folks who are doing this, not the al Qaeda guy they’re interrogating.

NARRATOR: FBI headquarters didn’t want any part of it. They removed Soufan. Mitchell and the CIA were on their own.

Now they wanted to push Abu Zubaydah even harder. They drew up a wish list and sent it to Washington. It made its way to Rizzo on the seventh floor.

JOHN RIZZO: I immediately recognized that this had big-time trouble for CIA written all over it. I didn’t know when, I didn’t know how.

NARRATOR: They called them “enhanced interrogation techniques,” or EITs. Rizzo later wrote that the name was deceptively bland.

SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “Swigert — Mitchell — provided a list for possible use by the CIA— one, the attention grasp, two, walling, three, facial hold, four, facial slap—

GREG MILLER, The Washington Post: It includes sleep deprivation, it includes waterboarding, being strapped to a board and doused with water to make you feel like you’re drowning, and a host of other excruciating methods.

NARRATOR: After the 5:00 o’clock meeting, Director George Tenet was shown the list.

JOHN RIZZO: George Tenet’s first reaction was to turn to me, as was his wont, and say, “Is any of this stuff legal?” So that was his focus. I do not recall him expressing revulsion or enthusiasm about doing this. As I say, his first reaction was to turn to me and say, “Can we do this legally?”

NARRATOR: Rizzo faced a daunting challenge.

DAVID COLE, Law Professor, Georgetown Univ.: There’s an international treaty that prohibits torture and any other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The law clearly says you cannot subject people to waterboarding, 10 days straight of sleep deprivation, slamming them into walls and the like.

NARRATOR: But inside the CIA bureaucracy, it was Rizzo’s job to get them authorized.

JOHN RIZZO: I fully realized that either way, some day, somehow, we would be screwed.

INTERVIEWER: And the morality of it?

JOHN RIZZO: Honestly— honestly, my main focus was to attempt to ascertain, to clarify with certainty whether or not any or all of these techniques crossed that legal line into torture. That was my— that was my primary focus at that point. The morality of it, sure, I had views about that. But I did not view that as my primary role.

JOHN McLAUGHLIN, Deputy Director, CIA, 2000-04: The CIA faced a real dilemma here. On the one hand, we knew this program would be contentious. On the other hand, we asked ourselves, “Wouldn’t it be equally immoral if we failed to get this information and thousands of Americans died, there was another 9/11? How immoral would that be?” That’s the dilemma we were up against. And we felt a moral commitment to protect the United States.

NEWSCASTER: A stark reminder of the new terror climate in America—

NEWSCASTER: —plots against U.S., shopping centers, banks, the Statue of Liberty—

NARRATOR: Rizzo headed to Washington to sell the program. He began with the Department of Justice, repeating what had become the CIA’s talking points— that the enhanced interrogation techniques were essential—

NEWSCASTER: The FBI issued a new terror warning today—

NARRATOR: —that Abu Zubaydah was a senior al Qaeda leader—

NEWSCASTER: —al Qaeda is attempting to get dirty nukes to set off here—

NARRATOR: —and that they were certain he was withholding information.

NEWSCASTER: Today, the government issues a warning to banks in 12 states—

NARRATOR: Lawyers at the Justice Department decided that the techniques would not inflict severe mental and physical pain, and therefore were legal.

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT MEMO: “Although the subject may experience the fear or panic associated with the feeling of drowning, the waterboard does not inflict physical pain.”

NARRATOR: The EITs were approved. The final stop, sign-off from the White House.

JOHN RIZZO: I did not want CIA to go this alone. I wanted to get, and George Tenet wanted to get, a definitive yes or no from a policy perspective, from a moral perspective, from the White House.

NARRATOR: That meant national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney had to know the details and agree.

MARK MAZZETTI, The New York Times: There doesn’t seem to be any dissent during this period within the White House that the CIA should not go down this road.

PHILIP ZELIKOW, Counselor to Secy. Rice, 2005-07: President Bush basically asked two questions, very simple questions. The first question he asks is, is this effective? And the second question he has is, is this proposal legal? The director of the CIA tells him that these techniques will be effective, and he makes that point strongly. And the attorney general of the United States told the president that the proposed techniques would be legal.

NARRATOR: On August 2nd, 2002, the White House officially authorized the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program. Rizzo had the political and legal cover he needed.

Back in Thailand, two days later, James Mitchell prepared to confront Abu Zubaydah.

SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “At approximately 11:50 AM on August 4, 2002, security personnel entered the cell, shackled and hooded Abu Zubaydah.”

NARRATOR: They followed the list— pulled off his hood, removed his towel, he was naked, grabbed his face, hit him repeatedly, rolled a towel around his neck.

ABU ZUBAYDAH RED CROSS STATEMENT: “They then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room.”

NARRATOR: According to the Senate report and Abu Zubaydah’s statement to the Red Cross, it took only six hours before they reached the bottom of the list.

SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “At approximately 6:20 PM, Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded for the first time. Over a two-and-a-half-hour period, Abu Zubaydah coughed, vomited and had involuntary spasms of the torso and extremities.”

JOE MARGUILES, Attorney for Abu Zubaydah: He describes it to the Red Cross, and he can’t breathe and he’s beginning to drown, and the feeling of drowning is terrifying.

ABU ZUBAYDAH RED CROSS STATEMENT: “I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless. I thought I was going to die. I lost control of my urine.”

SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “During a waterboard session, Abu Zubaydah became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”

GREG MILLER, The Washington Post: They certainly get Abu Zubaydah to a point of terrifying desperation— psychological breakdowns, just losing it, losing it mentally.

NARRATOR: Every day, CIA employees in the room kept records of what happened. By day four—

CIA DOCUMENT: “Today’s first session had a profound effect on all staff members present. It seems the collective opinion that we should not go much further.”

MARK MAZZETTI: This sort of sense of futility that, “This isn’t working. We’re trying this stuff, and he’s not giving up more information.”

CIA DOCUMENT: “Several on the team profoundly affected, some to the point of tears and choking up.”

NARRATOR: They had been asking about only one thing, the details of the next attack on America. Within days, the interrogators came to a surprising conclusion.

SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “The interrogation team stated that it was highly unlikely that Abu Zubaydah possessed the information they were seeking.”

GREG MILLER: Even the agency people who are involved in the interrogation of Zubaydah become just convinced that there’s nothing else to wring out of him, that he has nothing left, that he has cooperated.

NARRATOR: But at headquarters, the operations team insisted it be continued.

JANE MAYER: The word would come back, “Try it again. Do it again. Push harder. Do worse things.”

JOE MARGUILES: And so the interrogations got even more intense, more aggressive, and continued for another 11 days.

NARRATOR: In all, Abu Zubaydah would spend 266 hours in a coffin-sized box, 29 hours in a smaller box— 21 inches by 30 inches by 30 inches.

GREG MILLER: The Senate report finds no evidence that Zubaydah gave up any critical intelligence after being subjected to these brutal measures that he hadn’t already provided beforehand, when he was being questioned by the FBI.

NARRATOR: Then the final, shocking revelation.

JOE MARGUILES: The CIA believed, and told the world, that he was a close lieutenant of Osama bin Laden, familiar with every al Qaeda plot. The Senate torture report makes clear that absolutely none of that is true.

SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “Abu Zubaydah was not a senior member of al Qaeda.”

NARRATOR: But at the 5:00 o’clock meeting, a conventional wisdom had taken hold. Those complaints from the black site weren’t talked about.

JOHN RIZZO, CIA Attorney, 1976-2009: 5:00 o’clock meeting after 5:00 o’clock meeting, I never once heard anyone at that table express the view or anyone come to me who was involved in that program and express a view that the program was ineffective, it wasn’t working. I would have remembered that. And I never heard it.

NARRATOR: Rizzo was told the program was a great success, and Mitchell and Jessen sent a cable saying it should be applied to other detainees.

SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “The cable recommended that the aggressive phase at Detention Site Green should be used as a template for future interrogation of high-value captives.”

DANA PRIEST, The Washington Post: What happens within the CIA is they apply this to many detainees, so-called high-value targets, who they also place in the secret prisons.

NARRATOR: Abu Zubaydah was just the first. In 2002 alone, the CIA would capture and imprison dozens more detainees. They opened new black sites in Lithuania, Romania, Afghanistan, Poland.

The Senate report details abuses, cases when interrogators went beyond even what was authorized— a detainee threatened with a cordless drill, others plunged into ice water, forced rectal feeding, one prisoner left standing chained to a wall for 17 days.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: A lot of the problems we had came from two things. First, inexperience, and second, the fact that we were doing things we had never been asked to do before. And I might add a third one. We were at war. Bad things happen in wars.

SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “A senior CIA debriefer heard stories of detainees being hung for days on end, not being fed, mock assassinations, and at least one case of a detainee being repeatedly choked.”

MARK MAZZETTI: One of the most egregious cases during this period is the case of Gul Rahman, who was left in a cell for days in these conditions of extreme cold.

SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “CIA officer 1 ordered that Gul Rahman be shackled to the wall of his cell in a position that required the detainee to rest on the bare concrete floor. The next day, the guards found Gul Rahman’s dead body. Rahman likely died from hypothermia.”

NARRATOR: CIA officer number one’s identity is still considered a secret by the CIA.

JANE MAYER: The result inside the CIA is instead of disciplining him in some way, they give him an award, $2,500 for meritorious behavior.

NEWSCASTER: Victory tonight in the war on terror—

NEWSCASTER: Today’s reported capture of an al Qaeda member may give authorities—

NARRATOR: Then the biggest capture of them all—

NEWSCASTER: And a huge arrest in Pakistan—

NARRATOR: —Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, KSM.

JOHN RIZZO: If this program had been designed for anyone, it was for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

NEWSCASTER: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is considered the—

NARRATOR: They took him to the black site in Poland.

SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “The chief of interrogations sent an email to CIA headquarters with the subject line, “Let’s roll with the new guy.”

NARRATOR: Waiting for him, the psychologist James Mitchell. He had turned the work for the CIA into a lucrative business. Over time, the CIA would pay his company $81 million.

JANE MAYER: There’s no such thing as just trying lower-level techniques. They go right into total brutality with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

NARRATOR: The waterboarding would begin.

JANE MAYER: They eventually end up waterboarding him 183 times.

SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “Interrogators subjected KSM to intense questioning and walling, and additional waterboarding. An hour later, KSM stated that he was ready to talk.”

JOHN RIZZO: I’m listening to this as it’s happening, and they were gaining very useful information from it. He became downright loquacious.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, Newsweek, 1994-2010: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed tells them a story how he had supposedly dispatched an operative to the state of Montana to recruit African-Americans for a terrorist plot.

SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “He told investigators that he had sent Abu Issa al Britani to Montana to recruit African-American Muslim converts.”

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: The FBI scrambles, launches a massive investigation in Montana, trying to find these supposed black al Qaeda operatives.

NARRATOR: But the FBI found nothing. KSM was lying. When the interrogators went back to him, he admitted it.

SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “He had fabricated the story, explaining that he was “under ‘enhanced measures’ when he made these claims and simply told interrogators what he thought they wanted to hear.”

MARK MAZZETTI: So Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was talking, but the question was, what was he actually giving up?

SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “KSM was withholding information or lying about terrorist plots and operatives targeting the United States.”

JOHN McLAUGHLIN: Well, you know, dealing with hard-core murderers is not patty cake. They’re going to tell you lies sometimes. KSM lied sometimes. But more often than not, he gave us information that turned out to be true. And we learned to distinguish between the lies and the truth.

NARRATOR: The Senate report tells a different story.

SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “There are multiple CIA records describing the ineffectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques in gaining KSM’s cooperation.”

Sen. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), Chmn., Intelligence Cmte., 2009-15: I think what’s important to know is that waterboarding KSM 183 times did not work. And essentially, by the CIA’s own standard of why they did this, they did not receive otherwise unavailable actionable intelligence.

NARRATOR: For two years, the CIA’S EIT program was a well kept secret in Washington. Then in the spring of 2004—

NEWSCASTER: The pictures were taken in Abu Ghraib—

NARRATOR: —the first signs of trouble.

NEWSCASTER: The photographs were shot at the Abu Ghraib prison—

NEWSCASTER: —snapshots that embarrassed the Pentagon—

GREG MILLER: Even though Abu Ghraib, in and of itself, it’s not a CIA black site, it’s not a CIA-run facility—

NEWSCASTER: The disturbing pictures of Iraqi prisoners being mistreated—

GREG MILLER: —the images are so gruesome that it just calls attention to this issue and induces this panic across the U.S. Government of what the U.S. has become.

NEWSCASTER: Showing Iraqi prisoners forced to pose—

JOHN RIZZO: That, in my view, was really where the tide fatefully and irreversibly turned against the CIA program. It was washed up into that, into this new controversy about how the U.S. government treats prisoners.

NEWSCASTER: Abuses that took place not in one night, but over several months—

Sen. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ): This isn’t about who they are. This is about who we are. These are the values that distinguish us from our enemies.

NARRATOR: Former Vietnam POW and torture victim Senator John McCain was outraged by what he had seen.

PETER BAKER, The New York Times: To him, this is not an esoteric issue. It’s not an abstract issue. It’s very real.

JOHN RIZZO: He was in the process of enacting legislation to basically outlaw the enhanced interrogation program. So sure, that was— that was deeply concerning to me.

NARRATOR: It would be up to the new CIA director, Porter Goss, to tell McCain the CIA’S version of the story, that the program was effective and carefully controlled.

JOHN RIZZO: After Porter ran through all the techniques, Senator McCain, who said very little during the briefing, simply said, “I think it’s all torture,” got up and left. To have someone of the stature and experience of Senator McCain to say, “I still think it’s all torture,” that was— I must say, I found that alarming. Alarming.

NARRATOR: But up on the seventh floor of the CIA, John Rizzo knew of an even bigger problem.

JOHN RIZZO: There were videotapes dating back to the summer of 2002.

NARRATOR: Hidden in Thailand, videotapes of the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah.

JANE MAYER, The New Yorker: I was told if those videotapes had ever been seen, the reaction around the world would not have been survivable. So the CIA is in a panic. They’ve got these red-hot videotapes on their hands.

NARRATOR: This man, Jose Rodriguez, the CIA’s top operations officer, knew how dangerous the tapes were and wanted to destroy them.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Jose Rodriguez wanted to nip it in the bud. He floats this idea of destroying the tapes so they would never come out, and makes everybody nervous. “Whoa. Wait a second. Could that be construed as a criminal cover-up if you do?”

NARRATOR: Since he’d learned of the tapes, Rizzo had told Rodriguez not to destroy them. Then, disturbing news.

JOHN RIZZO: One of my lawyers in the Counterterrorism Center sent me a cable from the facility to headquarters, a very short cable that essentially says, “Pursuant to headquarters directions, the videotapes have been destroyed.” And needless to say, after 25 years at CIA, I didn’t think too much could flabbergast me, but reading that cable did.

NARRATOR: Jose Rodriguez had ordered the destruction of the tapes. On the seventh floor, they made a decision. They would tell almost no one what he had done.

NEWSCASTER: Major defeat for President Bush on the war on terror—

NARRATOR: But the CIA’s problems weren’t over.

NEWSCASTER: —violate the Geneva Convention—

NEWSCASTER: U.S. Supreme Court rules today the military—

NARRATOR: A Supreme Court decision that would jeopardize CIA officers themselves.

JANE MAYER: In June 2006, there’s a thunderbolt, basically, from the U.S. Supreme Court.

NEWSCASTER: The president was told the high court dealt a blow to his use of presidential power.

JANE MAYER: The court rules that, actually, the detainees held by the U.S., including the CIA detainees, have to be covered by the Geneva Convention.

NARRATOR: And the court said something that got John Rizzo’s attention.

PHILIP ZELIKOW, Counselor to Secy. Rice, 2005-07: The Supreme Court says flatly that it’s a violation, a war crime under federal law, punishable by up to life in prison. At that point, there’s instantly significant exposure to criminal liability of anyone who is pursuing these practices.

NARRATOR: Rizzo believed he and other CIA officers who participated in the program could go to prison for life.

JOHN RIZZO: The political landscape had evolved to that extent, and that the agency, notwithstanding all the measures we took, all the measures I took to try to insulate itself politically and legally from any opprobrium— that that was— that that was crumbling.

NARRATOR: As the political and legal climate turned dramatically against the CIA, at the White House, there was a strong move to end the program for good.

JANE MAYER: There’s a raging fight going on inside the administration, where you’ve got a number of people who want to bring this program to an end.

NARRATOR: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who once supported the program, now led the charge to shut it down.

PHILIP ZELIKOW: Secretary Rice had long had her doubts about the program and was now really quite uneasy about it.

NARRATOR: With congressional and public pressure mounting, the president had to make a decision.

JANE MAYER: Finally, there’s a dramatic meeting that takes place inside the Roosevelt Room, where everybody’s sitting around the table, except for two members of the cabinet who are on television screens.

JOHN RIZZO: Secretary Rumsfeld and the vice president— they appeared, each one of them, one on one large screen at one end of the table, the other on a large screen on the other end of the table.

NARRATOR: As he polled his advisers, there was near unanimous agreement with Rice’s position.

JOHN RIZZO: There was no one who objected until the voice on the screen coming from vice president, a loud, “No. I vote no.” And for a brief instant, everyone in the room, including the president stared up at the— at his image on the screen.

PETER BAKER: Finally, Rice responds, and she pulls really what’s her trump card with the president. She says, “Mr. President, don’t let this be your legacy. You don’t want to be known”— in effect, what she’s saying is, as the president of torture.

NARRATOR: It looked like Rice had won the argument. They scheduled a major address by the president.

NEWSCASTER: It was a dramatic event, the president speaking to an audience of invited guests in the East Room.

NEWSCASTER: The president’s speech today was heavily promoted by the White House. In the audience, the vice president, members—

NARRATOR: As his government gathered, Rice believed Bush would reject Cheney’s advice.

JANE MAYER: Many people who wanted to see this program end think it’s going to be a speech that finally admits that they need to turn the corner.

NARRATOR: But the speech would be a denial that the CIA had done anything wrong.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: I want to be absolutely clear with our people and the world, the United States does not torture. It’s against our laws and it’s against our values. I have not authorized it, and I will not authorize it.

NARRATOR: And the president made an argument for why the program was necessary.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: Questioning the detainees in this program has given us information that has saved innocent lives by helping us stop new attacks.

GREG MILLER: It’s not a speech in which he’s saying, “This is something we did after 9/11 we now regret, we never should have done it.” It’s a speech that’s saying “We got really valuable stuff as a result.”

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: And soon he began to provide information on key al Qaeda operatives—

NARRATOR: Without Rice’s knowledge, the president’s speech writers had been briefed by the CIA about what they said was the program’s effectiveness.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: —including information that helped us find and capture more of those responsible for the attacks on September the 11th—

PETER BAKER: It turned out to be a much more of a robust defense of what they had done with the assertion, in fact, that these interrogation techniques had actually worked.

NARRATOR: And the president demanded that Congress legalize the program.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: The need for this legislation is urgent. We need to ensure that those questioning terrorists can continue to do everything within the limits of the law to get information that can save American lives.

NARRATOR: Without revealing the graphic details of the program, the administration would convince the Republican Congress to allow it to continue.

And there was something else.

JANE MAYER: One small and little-noticed aspect of this piece of legislation was it includes immunity for anybody at the CIA that might have worked in this program. And not just at the CIA, it turns out. It’s going to give immunity to anybody who had anything to do with this program, right on up to the vice president.

NEWSCASTER: Bush has signed into law one of the most controversial acts of his time in the White House—

NEWSCASTER: —the bill becomes law with the president’s signature—

NARRATOR: It seemed like the controversy was finally over. But then, one year later, in 2007—

MARK MAZZETTI: We found out that the agency had this documentary footage of the early interrogations and they had actually destroyed that evidence.

NEWSCASTER: First we learned today that the CIA videotaped the interrogation—

NEWSCASTER: One of the tapes is believed to have shown CIA agents waterboarding—

NEWSCASTER: The tapes were destroyed two years ago on the orders of a top CIA official.

NARRATOR: John Rizzo’s secret was out.

NEWSCASTER: —ways to get the CIA to talk—

JOHN RIZZO: I immediately saw this as one of the ultimate nightmare scenarios for CIA.

NARRATOR: Rizzo worried that any hint of a cover-up would incense Congress.

JOHN RIZZO: Nothing makes Congress madder than that chain of events.

NARRATOR: But he believed congressional leaders had been told by Director Porter Goss two years earlier. To confirm it, he called Goss.

JOHN RIZZO: I said, “Now, Porter, you remember that we had divided up responsibility. I was going to tell the White House and you said you would inform the heads of the Intelligence Committees on the Hill.” I’ll never forget this. There was a pause on the other end of the line, and Porter said, responded, “Well, actually— actually, I don’t think I ever really told the heads of the Intelligence Committee.” The words he used was, “There just didn’t seem to be the right time to do it.”

JANE MAYER: The Senate Intelligence Committee is in a furor over it.

Sen. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: I think there’s a realization, “Whoa. Why were tapes destroyed?” There is only one reason why they were destroyed, because certain people wanted them— that information never to be available.

JANE MAYER: At that moment, they begin to realize that they have to do an independent investigation of their own.

NEWSCASTER: Democrats are laying the groundwork for further inquiry into why the CIA—

NEWSCASTER: —investigating why Congress was not told—

NARRATOR: They would set up that secret basement office in Virginia, and researchers would begin plowing through the six million pages of CIA cables, e-mails and documents.

Sen. MARK UDALL (D-CO), Intelligence Cmte. 2011-15: It had the potential to lead us to the truth, and then in the end, recommendations would be generated to ensure that this wouldn’t happen in the future.

NEWSCASTER: —to determine whether CIA interrogators broke the law—

NARRATOR: At the CIA, Leon Panetta was the new director, appointed by President Obama in 2009. They shut down the program, and now Panetta ordered his own parallel investigation.

JOHN RIZZO: It was not an unprecedented thing for a CIA director to do. The idea is, before you— or as you are turning over documents to this investigating committee, you want to know, for the sake of your institution, what it is you’re turning over.

NEWSCASTER: —has the nation seen these two powerful institutions go at it—

NARRATOR: Both investigations would continue in secret. Then in 2011, the killing of Osama bin Laden would reopen the public debate.

[“Zero Dark Thirty” (2012)]

ACTOR: Where was the last time you saw bin Laden?

NARRATOR: And on movie screens, the CIA’s version of the story, that EITs led to bin Laden.

[“Zero Dark Thirty” (2012)]

ACTOR: —we’ve got a possible jackpot—

ACTOR: Roger that.

ACTOR: This is Red Zero Two, Geronimo. For God and country...Geronimo

NARRATOR: Now the effectiveness of the EIT program was firmly fixed in the minds of millions of Americans.

ACTOR: Any station, this is Red Zero Two. We need a body bag.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, Author, Hubris: Movies like Zero Dark Thirty have a huge impact. More people see them and more people get their impressions about what happened from a movie like that than they do from countless news stories or TV spots.

NARRATOR: But inside their offices, Senate investigators were working on their own version of the story. As they dug through the CIA’s documents, they made a stunning find. They came across the top secret Panetta review.

Sen. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: As I understand it, the Panetta review one day just came through amidst a tranche of materials. And when the team saw it, they obviously saw it as being relevant.

NARRATOR: The Senate investigators believed they’d found a smoking gun, an internal CIA report that directly contradicted the agency’s official positions.

MARK MAZZETTI, The New York Times: Once they got it, they weren’t going to give it back because in their minds, that was really the sort of Holy Grail for them.

NARRATOR: Senate staffers had something special and wanted to make sure it was safe.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: I think everybody realized how sensitive and potentially explosive this report was, and they wanted to make sure it didn’t disappear like those CIA interrogation tapes.

NARRATOR: So one night, the Senate staff printed key portions of the Panetta review, secretly crossed the Potomac River and placed it in a safe on Capitol Hill.

MARK MAZZETTI: It’s a pretty extreme act, taking a classified document out of a classified facility, and you’re bringing it to the Senate and putting it in a safe.

NARRATOR: It was locked in this room. Only members of the Intelligence Committee could read it. But only Democrats did, including Mark Udall.

Sen. MARK UDALL (D-CO), Intelligence Cmte. 2011-15: The Panetta review is a comprehensive and thorough set of documents. It should be declassified. It confirms what the committee staff and the committee study determined.

NARRATOR: The senators say the Panetta review’s conclusions would be echoed in the final Senate report— the program was brutal, mismanaged, and it didn’t work.

SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “Enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence.”

Sen. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: We looked at 20 examples of where the administration was saying these techniques were effective, and we found that wasn’t true at all.

SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “CIA representations were inaccurate and unsupported by CIA records.”

NEWSCASTER: Torture report out—

NARRATOR: At the CIA, they dismissed the Panetta review as nothing more than an internal draft. And they harshly criticized the Senate report, insisting the EITs saved lives.

JOHN McLAUGHLIN, Deputy Director, CIA, 2000-04: My sense, in looking at the report, is that they started with their conclusions, and looked through six million pages of documents, an unprecedented number, looking for fragments of chats and e-mails, taking them out of context, and stacking them up to prove the points they wanted to make all along.

NARRATOR: Obama’s new CIA director, John Brennan, refused to release the Panetta review and worked to keep most of the 6,000-page Senate report classified.

MARK MAZZETTI: There’s no question that there is a lot more information in those 6,000 pages that have yet to see the light of day.

Sen. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: What was released was just a summary, some 450 pages. The real report has not been declassified, and the real report is chapter and verse of what happened.

NARRATOR: For now, there’s little Feinstein can do to get the full report declassified.

NEWSCASTER: This just in. The Republicans have, in fact, gained control of the U.S. Senate for the first time—

NARRATOR: In the fall of 2014, the Congress changed hands.

NEWSCASTER: The Democrats got thrown out. This was the slap—

NARRATOR: Republicans were now in charge.

NEWSCASTER: —giving the GOP its first Senate majority—

NARRATOR: Colorado senator Mark Udall was defeated.

NEWSCASTER: —the incoming chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee—

NARRATOR: Dianne Feinstein was replaced as the chairman of the Intelligence Committee by Republican Richard Burr.

NEWSCASTER: Senator Richard Burr. He’s the Republican chairman—

NARRATOR: Burr has recalled all copies of the 6,000-page classified report.

NEWSCASTER: I think there’s going to be a whole new day of oversight—

NARRATOR: He refused to read the Panetta review—

NEWSCASTER: He voted against it, and so—

NARRATOR: —and promises to return it to the CIA.

NEWSCASTER: The new Republican chair has asked the Obama administration to return all copies of the Senate’s landmark report on CIA torture.

PETER BAKER, The New York Times: The fight right now is for history. There’s no more investigations that are going to happen. There’s no more legal consequences that we know of at this point. And there’s no policy debate. Why did it happen? Was it the right thing? Was it the wrong thing? And how should we look at it in generations to come?

Support Provided By