Former CIA director contends that the Senate report is a biased document that was intended to shock, but the fact remains that the CIA’s interrogation program saved lives
By Michael Hayden, CIA director 2006-09
The CIA held about a hundred detainees from 2002 to 2008; about a third of them underwent interrogation techniques that have been variously described as enhanced, tough or torture. The toughest was water boarding, used on three detainees, the last in early 2003. At the other end of the spectrum was grabbing a detainee’s chin or collar. In between were things like being limited to a liquid diet of about 1400 calories a day.
If you think any of these objectively constitute torture, I respect your position. It is a principled one. Torture is always wrong.
The Senate Democrat report, however, avoids arguments about narrow legal definitions. Its case is more expansive: not just that this program was wrong but that it was ineffective and instituted by a rogue Agency that consistently lied about it
On the first point, it needs to be said that the harshest technique (water boarding) was inflicted on thousands of American airmen in their training. On multiple occasions all of the techniques were determined lawful by the Department of Justice and judged appropriate for the circumstances after 9-11.
The few instances of detainee treatment beyond what was authorized were self identified by the Agency and appropriately dealt with. Most abuses happened early in the program where, admittedly, the Agency was ill-prepared to be the Nation’s jailer or interrogator of terrorists.
The Senate Democrat report is exceedingly graphic in its description of several interrogations; it is designed to shock and it does. So too would an equally detailed description of drone strikes, which are currently supported by these same lawmakers and, by the way, deemed lawful by the Department of Justice. That makes such strikes America’s program, not unlike the way detentions and interrogations were America’s program a decade ago.
With regard to effectiveness, everything observed by those responsible for it at the time confirms that this program was successful. The authors of this report did not give themselves a chance to credit that, though, since no one involved in the program was interviewed for a report that was in preparation for five years, longer than CIA held any detainee. Let me repeat that: no one was interviewed.
If Democrat staffers had talked to any of us (probably hundreds), they would have had to deal with our absolute assurance that this program led to the capture of senior al-Qa’ida operatives (including helping to find Osama bin Laden); added enormously to what we knew about al-Qa’ida as an organization; and led to the disruption of terrorist plots, saving American and Allied lives.
The last included British lives, as well. Dhiren Barot (aka Issa al Britani) had planned mayhem on both sides of the Atlantic, including a scheme to detonate a bomb on the London tube under the Thames. He was arrested by British police in 2004 and is now serving a thirty year sentence for conspiracy to commit murder. We first learned of him, truthfully and in some detail, from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after KSM had undergone enhanced interrogation in 2003.
In the American system Congress must be informed of all significant intelligence activities (this certainly qualified), but to lessen the chance of leaks the President may limit notification to the “gang of eight”, the senior leadership of the intelligence committees and Congress.
CIA briefed Congress approximately 30 times under these restrictions. The briefings were detailed and graphic and drew reactions that ranged from approval to no objection. The briefers held nothing back. Nor did Senators, who asked, among other things, whether CIA had the authorities it needed to aggressively defeat al-Qa’ida.
The Senate Democrat document reads like a shrill prosecutorial screed rather than a dispassionate historical study. What happened here seems clear. The staff started with a conclusion and then “cherry picked” their way through 6 million pages of documents, ignoring some data and highlighting others, to make their case.
In the intelligence profession, that is called politicization.
There are several other surveys available. The CIA’s own IG produced an unsparing critique of missteps in 2004; a redacted version has been publicly available since 2009.
Career professionals in the Department of Justice twice investigated the program and twice declined to prosecute anyone except for one contractor who is in prison for his unauthorized and abusive actions. The last investigation ended in 2012 and exhaustively “examined any possible CIA involvement with the interrogation and detention of 101 detainees who were alleged to have been in United States custody”.
Currently, the Republican minority on the Senate intelligence committee and the CIA itself have issued strong, fact based rebuttals to the Democrat report.
So, this caution. Do not rush to judgment based on the Manichean partisanship of the Senate Democrat document. Life is more complicated than that.
The men and women who operated in the unprecedented circumstances after 9-11, who did what they did out of duty rather than enthusiasm, deserve at least that.