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Report: CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques ‘brutal’ and ‘ineffective’

The Central Intelligence Agency’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” was “not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees,” a Senate report claims.

The report on the CIA’s use of interrogation, released by the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday, went into detail about several of the methods used.

Ten interrogation techniques were verbally approved by Attorney General John Ashcroft on July 24, 2002: “the attention grasp, walling, the facial hold, the facial slap (insult slap), cramped confinement, wall standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation, use of diapers, and use of insects” with the verbal approval of waterboarding given two days later. The report even describes other, unconventional methods of interrogations, such as the holding of an “intellectually challenged” man who was taped crying to be used as leverage to “get a family member to provide information.”

The report described many of the interrogations that used these techniques as “brutal” and said there was no evidence of the agency first attempting alternative, “non-threatening” approaches before resorting to them:

Beginning with the CIA’s first detainee, Abu Zubaydah, and continuing with numerous others, the CIA applied its enhanced interrogation techniques with significant repetition for days or weeks at a time. Interrogation techniques such as slaps and “wallings” (slamming detainees against a wall) were used in combination, frequently concurrent with sleep deprivation and nudity. Records do not support CIA representations that the CIA initially used an “an open, non- threatening approach,” or that interrogations began with the “least coercive technique possible” and escalated to more coercive techniques only as necessary. (Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report Executive Summary — Page 3)

The use of sleep deprivation was described to involve the forcing of detainees to remain awake for upwards of 180 hours, all while standing or in stressful positions; sometimes shackled. At least five detainees were said to have experienced “disturbing hallucinations,” such as in the case of Arsala Khan in 2003, detailed on page 109 of the report. Khan, after 56 hours of standing sleep deprivation, could barely enunciate and was “visibly shaken by his hallucinations depicting dogs mauling and killing his sons and family.”

Waterboarding, the effect of which is described as inducing the sensation of drowning, was noted to have resulted instead in a “series of near drownings” when used on Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, referred to here as “KSM”:

According to CIA records, Abu Zubaydah’s waterboarding sessions “resulted in immediate fluid intake and involuntary leg, chest and arm spasms” and “hysterical pleas.” A medical officer who oversaw the interrogation of KSM stated that the waterboard technique had evolved beyond the “sensation of drowning” to what he described as a “series of near drownings.” Physical reactions to waterboarding did not necessarily end when the application of water was discontinued, as both Abu Zubaydah and KSM vomited after being subjected to the waterboard. Further, as previously described, during at least one waterboard session, Abu Zubaydah “became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.” (page 423)

The report also called into question the agency’s collection of “unique” information from detainees using these interrogation methods. The CIA, the report also alleges, purposely omitted the amount of relevant information gained from other methods outside those interrogations, giving the “false impression the CIA was acquiring unique information from the use of the techniques.”

An example given, purportedly drawing from CIA records, says that seven of 39 detainees that were known to have been subjected to the enhanced interrogation techniques from the agency but “produced no intelligence while in CIA custody.” The report stated that several detainees “provided significant accurate intelligence prior to, or without having been subjected to these techniques.”

For examples, the report returns to the cases of Zubaydah and KSM. For Zubaydah, information allegedly gained from the enhanced techniques, including the identification of KSM as the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, are instead attributed by the report to interrogations conducted before the use of the enhanced interrogation:

According to CIA records, Abu Zubaydah provided information on “al-Qa’ida activities, plans, capabilities, and relationships,” in addition to information on “its leadership structure, including personalities, decision-making processes, training, and tactics.” This type of information was provided by Abu Zubaydah prior to, during, and after the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques. At no point during or after the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques did Abu Zubaydah provide information on al-Qa’ida cells in the United States or operational plans for terrorist attacks against the United States. Further, a quantitative review of Abu Zubaydah’s intelligence reporting indicates that more intelligence reports were disseminated from Abu Zubaydah’s first two months of interrogation, before the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques and when FBI special agents were directly participating, than were derived during the next two-month phase of interrogations, which included the non-stop use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques 24 hours a day for 17 days. (page 208)

The report draws from an April 12, 2007, CIA testimony by Michael Hayden — then-director of the CIA — to point out supposed inaccuracies in CIA claims of enhanced interrogation effectiveness by comparing statements from Hayden to CIA interrogation records. Where Hayden stated that waterboarding was successful in retrieving information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, records state that CIA personnel even believed that the use of waterboarding on KSM was “ineffective” claiming that one of his interrogators suggested that non-confrontational approaches had been much more successful.

CIA personnel — including members of KSM’s interrogation team — believed that the waterboard interrogation technique was ineffective on KSM. The on-site medical officer told the inspector general that, after three or four days, it became apparent that the waterboard was ineffective, and that KSM “hated it but knew he could manage.” KSM interrogator [redacted] told the inspector general that KSM had “beat the system,” and assessed two months after the discontinuation of the waterboard that KSM responded to “creature comforts and sense of importance” and not to “confrontational” approaches. (page 313)

In addition to the supposed ineffectiveness of waterboarding on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the report also alleges that KSM gave inaccurate statements to interrogators because of the enhanced interrogation:

The CIA repeatedly represented that KSM had “recanted little of the information” he had provided, and that KSM’s information was “generally accurate” and “consistent.” This assertion is not supported by CIA records. Throughout the period during which KSM was subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, KSM provided inaccurate information, much of which he would later acknowledge was fabricated and recant. (page 213)

Accuracy was also called into question concerning the interrogations of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, an associate of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:

“Much of [bin al-Shibh’s] statements on the 11 September attacks have been speculative, and many of the details could be found in media accounts of the attacks that appeared before he was detained. In the few instances where his reporting was unique and plausible, we cannot verify or refute the information… he has been sketchy on some aspects of the 9/11 plot, perhaps in order to downplay his role in the plot. His information on individuals is non specific; he has given us nothing on the Saudi hijackers or others who played a role… The overall quality of his reporting has steadily declined since 2003.” (page 80)

Several have disputed the Senate Intelligence Committee’s claims that the techniques were ineffective. In a statement released Tuesday, CIA Director John Brennan said that, though the CIA found some common ground with the report’s findings, the agency did not agree on several points. “Our review indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom EITs were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives,” the statement said. “The intelligence gained from the program was critical to our understanding of al Qaida and continues to inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day.”

Former CIA directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden and former CIA Deputy Directors John McLaughlin, Albert Calland and Stephen Kappes — writing in The Wall Street Journal — said that the program led to the capture of senior al Qaida operatives, disrupted several terrorist plots and added to the overall knowledge of how al Qaida operates.

The article claims that without the use of the enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would never have been captured. Without using the interrogation program on KSM, they also claim, further al Qaida associates would not have been apprehended:

A powerful example of the interrogation program’s importance is the information obtained from Abu Zubaydah, a senior al Qaeda operative, and from Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, known as KSM, the 9/11 mastermind. We are convinced that both would not have talked absent the interrogation program.

Information provided by Zubaydah through the interrogation program led to the capture in 2002 of KSM associate and post-9/11 plotter Ramzi Bin al-Shibh. Information from both Zubaydah and al-Shibh led us to KSM. KSM then led us to Riduan Isamuddin, aka Hambali, East Asia’s chief al Qaeda ally and the perpetrator of the 2002 Bali bombing in Indonesia—in which more than 200 people perished.

The removal of these senior al Qaeda operatives saved thousands of lives because it ended their plotting. KSM, alone, was working on multiple plots when he was captured.

Here’s an example of how the interrogation program actually worked to disrupt terrorist plotting. Without revealing to KSM that Hambali had been captured, we asked him who might take over in the event that Hambali was no longer around. KSM pointed to Hambali’s brother Rusman Gunawan. We then found Gunawan, and information from him resulted in the takedown of a 17-member Southeast Asian cell that Gunawan had recruited for a “second wave,” 9/11-style attack on the U.S. West Coast, in all likelihood using aircraft again to attack buildings. Had that attack occurred, the nightmare of 9/11 would have been repeated.

Read the full Senate report below:

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