Senate report: Harsh CIA tactics didn't work

2014-12-09 20:12
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Washington - In a damning indictment of CIA practices, Senate investigators on Tuesday accused the spy agency of inflicting pain and suffering on al-Qaeda prisoners far beyond America's legal boundaries and then deceiving the nation with narratives of life-saving interrogations unsubstantiated by its own records.

The Senate Intelligence Committee released a mountain of evidence from CIA files suggesting the treatment of detainees in secret prisons a decade ago was worse than the government described to Congress or the public. It was the first official public accounting after years of debate about the CIA's brutal handling of prisoners.

At the White House, President Barack Obama declared the practices, used on detainees after the 11 September 2001, attacks, to be "contrary to our values." He pledged, "I will continue to use my authority as president to make sure we never resort to those methods again."

The report doesn't call the tactics torture. But committee chair Dianne Feinstein, commanding the Senate floor for an extended address, declared that "under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured."

Besides the now-well-known practice of waterboarding, tactics included weeks of sleep deprivation, slapping and slamming of detainees against walls, confining them to small boxes, keeping them isolated for prolonged periods and threatening them with death.

Three detainees faced waterboarding, the simulated drowning technique. Some were left broken by the treatment, pleading and whimpering, one described as assuming a "compliant" position on the waterboarding table at the snap of an interrogator's fingers.

For all the effectiveness in breaking detainees' spirits, the "enhanced interrogation techniques" didn't produce results where it really mattered, the report asserts in its most controversial conclusion. It cites CIA cables, e-mails and interview transcripts to contradict the central justification for torture - that American lives were saved and terror plots stopped through the information that detainees gave only when subjected to very harsh methods.

The 500-page document released on Tuesday included the executive summary and conclusions of a still-secret, 6 700-page full report, the results of a five-year, $40m investigation. Obama ordered the interrogation practices halted when he took office nearly six years ago, though the harshest tactics had been discontinued years before.

The report provides a catalogue of what it deems misstatements by senior CIA officials to the president, the justice department, Congress and the American public. It describes mismanagement so deficient that the agency lost track of how many detainees it held. Senate investigators documented 119 — a higher figure than the 98 described in memos made public in 2009. At least 39 faced harsh interrogations, the report said. The CIA has cited the number 30.

Feinstein said the CIA's programme amounted to "indefinite secret detention and the use of brutal interrogation techniques in violation of US law, treaty obligations and our values.

"The report's summary, released after months of tough negotiations about what should be censored, was issued amid concerns it could spark violence against Americans abroad. US embassies tightened security and military bases around the world were put on alert this week in anticipation of anti-American reactions, and Secretary of State John Kerry made a late plea to Feinstein to consider delaying the release, to no avail.

Earlier this year, Feinstein accused the CIA of infiltrating Senate computer systems in a dispute over documents as relations between the investigators and the spy agency deteriorated. The report was written by the California Democrat's staff members, including Daniel Jones, a former FBI agent.

Former CIA officials forcefully disputed the report's findings. So did Senate Republicans, whose written dissent accused Democrats of inaccuracies, sloppy analysis and cherry-picking evidence to reach a predetermined conclusion. CIA officials prepared their own response acknowledging serious mistakes in the interrogation programme, but contending it produced vital intelligence that still guides the agency's counter-terrorism efforts.

"We know that the programme led to the capture of al-Qaeda leaders and took them off the battlefield, that it prevented mass casualty attacks and that it saved thousands of American lives," said George Tenet, CIA director when the 9/11 attacks occurred.

Tenet told The Associated Press the report missed the context in which the harsh interrogations were conducted, with the nation reeling from 9/11 and CIA officials convinced more attacks were coming. The entire US government was under pressure to prevent a second wave and lacked intelligence to deal with the possibility.

"It was a ticking time bomb every day," Tenet said.

The Senate investigation found no evidence the interrogations stopped imminent plots. And Feinstein rejected the idea that the CIA's actions were excusable.

"Such pressure, fear and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organisations in the name of national security," she wrote.

Though Bush approved the programme in 2002, he wasn't briefed by the CIA about the details until 2006, and he then expressed discomfort with the "image of a detainee, chained to the ceiling, clothed in a diaper and forced to go to the bathroom on himself." Bush said in his 2010 memoirs that he discussed the programme with Tenet, but the CIA director told the agency's inspector general that never happened.

More brutal than previously known

The CIA's interrogation programme stemmed from a 2002 secret order from President George W Bush in response to the 11 September attacks. It authorised the CIA to detain terrorists. The report said the order didn't mention interrogation.

After al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah was arrested in Pakistan in March of that year, the agency received permission from the justice department and White House to use several coercive techniques on him, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and close confinement - a menu of tactics drawn up by two psychologists helping the CIA as contractors. The US government ultimately paid their companies $80m. The report doesn't name them, but they are Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell.

The CIA added unauthorised methods into the interrogation mix.

At least five men in CIA detention received "rectal rehydration", a form of feeding through the rectum. The report found no medical necessity for the treatment.

Others received "ice baths" and death threats. At least three in captivity were told their families would suffer, with CIA officers threatening to harm their children, sexually abuse the mother of one man and cut the throat of another man's mother.

Zubaydah was held in a secret facility in Thailand, called detention Site Green in the report. FBI agents, who obtained crucial intelligence from Zubaydah through traditional interrogation, stopped participating when the CIA took over and raised the pressure.

At one point early in his detention and with CIA officials believing he had information on an imminent plot, Zubaydah was left in isolation for 47 days without questioning, the report says. After that, he was subjected to the other techniques, and he later suffered mental problems.

He wasn't alone. In September 2002, at a facility referred to as COBALT - understood as the CIA's "Salt Pit" facility in Afghanistan - detainees were kept in isolation and complete darkness. Their cells had only buckets for human waste. Loud noise or music was common.

Redha al-Najar, a former Osama bin Laden bodyguard was the first prisoner there. He was hooded and subjected to round-the-clock music or interrogations to prevent him from sleeping — though there was no indication he was resisting interrogators.

A month later, CIA questioners found al-Najjar a "broken man" and on the verge of a "complete breakdown". But the treatment got worse, with officials lowering his food ration, keeping him shackled in the cold and giving him a diaper instead of toilet access, the report says.

Some detainees at the Afghan facility were marched around naked or dragged out of their cells and forcibly stripped by officers, before being secured with Mylar tape, hooded, and dragged along a corridor while being slapped and punched.

Gul Rahman, a suspected extremist, got his first taste of enhanced interrogation in late 2002 with two days of sleep deprivation, total darkness, isolation and "rough treatment".

Rahman was then shackled to a wall in his cell, forced to rest on a bare concrete floor in only a sweatshirt. The next day he was dead. A CIA review and autopsy found he died of hypothermia.

Justice department investigations into that and another death of a CIA detainee resulted in no charges.

CIA officials justified employing the harshest technique, waterboarding, by saying it was commonly done to US troops training to become members of elite special operations units.

But the way the CIA carried out waterboarding on Zubaydah and two other detainees, the report emphasises, was far different from anything the US military does in training and more brutal than the careful procedures laid out in justice department memos authorising the tactic.

During one session, Zubaydah became "completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open full mouth", according to internal CIA records.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11 who confessed to later beheading journalist Daniel Pearl, was subjected to waterboarding 183 times, the report says. He was "ingesting and [aspirating] a LOT of water," one CIA officer said in a cable, adding, "In the new technique we are basically doing a series of near drownings."

In March 2003, CIA officers noted waterboarding wasn't making Mohammed more compliant. But they continued waterboarding him for 10 more days, the report notes. In one case, he was waterboarded for failing to confirm references in electronic intercepts to al-Qaeda's efforts to obtain "nuclear suitcases," the report says. The CIA later learned the nuclear suitcase threat was "an orchestrated scam."

In another case, Mohammed was waterboarded because of a CIA analyst's mistake. The analyst misheard intelligence alleging al-Qaeda was recruiting black Muslims in the US After two days of waterboarding, Mohammed fabricated a story about seeking out black Muslims in Montana, the report says.

John McLaughlin, the deputy CIA director at the time, said in an interview that Mohammed "became a consultant to us" and was a major source of information about al-Qaeda.

According to the report, however, "a significant amount of the intelligence reporting from [Mohammed] that the CIA identified as important threat reporting was later identified as fabricated."

More waterboarding may have occurred, but Senate investigators weren't sure. They uncovered a photo of a well-worn waterboard with buckets of water around it at a detention site where the CIA says it didn't employ the technique. The agency never explained the photo.

Didn't produce unique intelligence, despite CIA claims

After reviewing 6 million agency documents, investigators could find no example of unique and life-saving intelligence gleaned from the coercive techniques that in some cases left detainees hallucinating and suicidal. The sweeping conclusion is another that the CIA and Republicans dispute.

The report zeroes in on 20 high-profile cases the CIA cites as counter terror successes derived from its enhanced interrogations. In each, the Senate report argues the crucial information came from elsewhere or from a detainee before he was subjected to the harsh techniques.

On the biggest triumph of all, the 2011 killing of bin Laden, the investigators claim to debunk the argument that such practices proved decisive.

The debate centres on how the US discovered the trusted courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, whom officials would later track to bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. The CIA has pointed to its questioning of Mohammed and other high-value detainees.

But Senate investigators found otherwise. They said the CIA had extensive reporting on al-Kuwaiti before such interrogations. The most accurate information from interrogation was provided by a detainee before being subjected to any enhanced techniques. Meanwhile, those subjected to the harsh interrogations withheld information or lied about al-Kuwaiti, the report found.

The CIA targets that point in its response. It says one detainee, Ammar al-Baluchi, after undergoing enhanced interrogation, was the first to reveal a carefully guarded al-Qaeda secret —that Abu Ahmad served as a courier for messages to and from bin Laden. The Senate report says al-Baluchi recanted, and was unreliable.

Many disputes follow this pattern, with Senate investigators and CIA officials battling over the same body of evidence but each pointing to different data points to make their cases.

The report claims the CIA learned of US citizen Jose Padilla from a foreign government in 2002, eight days before Zubaydah gave the FBI information on the Padilla's "dirty bomb" plot without names. The CIA insists the case of Padilla, who was arrested in Chicago in 2002 on suspicion of plotting an attack with a radiological bomb, was a good example of intelligence derived from its detainee programme.

The CIA acknowledges it was wrong to claim waterboarding and other such tactics helped foil a plot to attack the US consulate and other American interests in Karachi, Pakistan, which the Senate report attributed to the confiscation of explosives and a pair of arrests by Pakistani authorities in 2003.

But the two sides disagree over a purported "second wave" of US attacks plotted by Mohammed.

The CIA cites its interrogations, which led to the capture of students it believes were preparing to hit West Coast skyscrapers. Senate investigators say the students weren't involved in such plotting and that detainees provided answers the interrogators wanted to hear under great duress.

Senate investigators say British authorities pieced together the capture of a UK citizen intending to attack targets there a year later, while the CIA insists the first name of his alias came from Mohammed.

The CIA argues tough interrogations of Mohammed also led to Iyman Faris, an Ohio truck driver who pleaded guilty to terrorism charges. The Senate report says Faris was on the FBI's radar before the 9/11 attacks and resurfaced after Pakistan arrested another terror suspect, leading a mutual acquaintance to call Faris to inform him of the arrest.

Eavesdroppers from the National Security Agency were listening.

Officers question programme, management flaws surface

By January 2003, at least one senior CIA officer had had enough.

After receiving a proposed interrogation plan for a prisoner named Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who would later be waterboarded, the chief interrogator for the detainee programme e-mailed CIA colleagues saying he told his bosses he would "no longer be associated in any way with the interrogation programme."

"This is a train wreak (sic) waiting to happen and I intend to get the hell off the train before it happens," said the interrogator, citing the long-term impact of enhanced techniques on the suspect's health. The interrogator is unnamed in the report,

Brutal interrogations of al-Nashiri continued. Other officers raised questions about the efficacy of the methods, but their concerns were similarly not addressed.

Seven of 39 detainees subjected to enhanced techniques produced no intelligence while in CIA custody, the report found. Some detainees faced the techniques as soon as they entered CIA custody, in contrast to long standing agency claims that detainees first had a chance to answer questions.

One in five detainees didn't meet the standards for detention laid out in Bush's directive, the report says. At least 17 were subjected to harsh techniques without authorisation from CIA headquarters.

After Bush acknowledged the CIA interrogation programme in 2006, then-director Michael Hayden briefed congressional intelligence committees. The Senate report devotes a 37-page appendix to documenting and rebutting what it says are his misstatements at a single closed-door hearing about how the programme was run and what intelligence it produced.

Senate investigators say the Tuesday's release, replete with government redactions, is but a slice of the still classified report. A line in the summary may represent dozens or hundreds of pages in the larger study, which may not be declassified for 25 years.

Until then, the full story of the CIA interrogation programme may still be untold.

Read more on:    cia  |  al-qaeda  |  us

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