WASHINGTON — When CIA interrogators were torturing accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed at a secret prison in Poland in March 2003, a top CIA analyst asked them to show him a photograph of an alleged terrorist named Majid Khan.
The interrogators slapped Mohammed, denied him sleep, rehydrated him through his rectum, threatened to kill his children and waterboarded him 183 times. And he offered up details on Khan.
The analyst later told the CIA’s inspector general that Mohammed’s information helped lead to Khan’s arrest, CIA records show. The watchdog included that as a success story in a 2004 report that became public and for many years stood as the most detailed accounting of the program.
But the analyst, then deputy chief of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit, knew Khan already had been captured in Pakistan at the time Mohammed was asked about him, according to the 520-page Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA interrogations that was released this past week.
In other words, what she told the inspector general wasn’t true.
The Senate report has exposed years of such CIA misrepresentations that seem designed to boost the case for the effectiveness of brutal interrogations. The CIA acknowledges the misrepresentation about Khan’s arrest, while disputing most and playing down others.
But the Senate investigation relied on the CIA’s own records to document a pattern of an agency consistently understating the brutality of the techniques used on detainees and overstating the value of the information they produced.
“You’ve decided to do something and now you’ve got to justify it, and you may even believe your justifications,” said Cynthia Storer, a former CIA analyst whose work has been credited with helping locate bin Laden, and who opposed the torture.
“The CIA lied,” Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, one of the agency’s toughest critics, said in the Senate a few days ago.
In its written response to the report, the CIA said it was “dismayed” that it had “failed to meet its own standards for precision of language, and we acknowledge that this was unacceptable.” But, the agency said, “Even in those cases, we found that the actual impact of the information acquired from interrogations was significant and still supported.”
CIA officials insist that the treatment of Mohammed and other detainees yielded valuable intelligence, something the Senate report disputes. The CIA stands by 18 of the 20 cases in which the Senate says the agency failed to obtain uniquely valuable intelligence from detainees through harsh interrogation.
The Senate report has exposed lies well beyond its pages.
Former top CIA manager Jose Rodriguez wrote in his 2011 memoir, “Hard Measures,” that during waterboarding, “our officers used far less water for far shorter periods of time than they were allowed.”
He suggested that the public’s view had been swayed by “a cartoon version” in which detainees are “practically being doused by a fire hose.”
CIA records cited in the report show that Rodriguez, who destroyed videotapes of some of the sessions, was not telling the truth.
The waterboarding was far more intense and gruesome than the Justice Department had authorized, according to the records, which the CIA has not disputed.
Waterboarding caused al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah to become “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth,” while the procedure used on Mohammad evolved into a “series of near drownings,” with interrogators cupping a pool of water over his nose and mouth. The first waterboarding session of Mohamed lasted 10 minutes longer than the Justice Department allowed, the Senate report says.
Rodriguez, who ran the CIA interrogation program, did not respond to requests for comment.
CIA officials said they could not speak for Rodriguez, but they say the analyst’s assertion about Khan’s arrest was a one-time mistake.
Senate investigators say the error was repeated many times to the inspector general and was used to bolster the case for Justice Department approval of brutal techniques. The misinformation was also sent to a CIA panel reviewing the interrogation program.
The same analyst, who now holds a senior job in the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, exaggerated other aspects of intelligence gained under torture to the inspector general, the report says. She played a pivotal role in the wrongful CIA kidnapping of German citizen Khaled el-Masri, who says he was tortured at the CIA’s Salt Pit in Afghanistan.
Another CIA misrepresentation, the Senate report says, was the assertion to the White House, the Justice Department, Congress, and later the public that Zubaydah, the first detainee to be waterboarded, told the CIA he believed the U.S. was weak and lacked resilience, and that he stopped cooperating under traditional interrogation techniques.
In August 2006, a CIA al-Qaida expert wrote: “We have no records that `he declared that America was weak, and lacking in resilience’ …” Another al-Qaida expert wrote, “I can find no reference to AZ being deifant (sic) and declaring America weak… in fact everything I have read indicated he used a non deifiant (sic) resistance strategy.”
Two others speculated how the exaggeration took hold. They refer to the senior analyst who gave the misinformation to the inspector general.
“Yes, believe so,” an officer wrote. “And agree, we shall pass over in silence.”
Years of such misinformation bubbled to the surface during the first briefing about interrogations to the full Senate Intelligence Committee, in 2007, by then-CIA Director Michael Hayden. He made so many factual misstatements about the program, the techniques, the number of detainees and the intelligence, that the Senate study devotes a 37-page appendix to fact-checking his testimony.
“I was describing the mature program that I was suggesting should go forward,” Hayden said in an email this past week. “I think a lot of the incidents they pointed out came from really early in the interrogation process.”