The Torture Report: She Said, He Said

December 9, 2014–So it’s out. Finally! Despite every imaginable kind of pressure to keep the lid on this atrocity, the emergence of the Senate intelligence committee’s investigative report could not be prevented. Now the chips will fall where they may. There are a host of items on this platter, enough substance to keep a battalion of analysts busy for weeks–plus more added by the CIA “response paper” of June 2013, which the agency released to counter the Senate report. There’s no possibility of conveying more than first impressions, but overall I will say the combination of the two documents is odd. The CIA’s response paper largely accepts  the criticisms of the Senate investigation, then disputes the intelligence committee’s chapter and verse, leaving Senator Dianne Feinstein–it’s her paper after all–on one side of a “she said, he said” dispute. Here are some examples to illustrate:

Michael V. Hayden: If you visited this space yesterday you’ll have read that General Hayden, a former CIA director among other things, is not my favorite exemplar of truthfulness. One thing the Senate report makes much of is CIA’s misleading of Congress. In an appendix the torture report provides more than two dozen examples of CIA deceptions, and traces from the agency’s own documents and records just why Langley’s claims were phony. Every one of the CIA’s deceptive comments involves General Hayden, most of them from the omnibus briefing the CIA finally furnished to Congress when the program was being shelved. My favorite–Hayden had told Congress there were 97 CIA detainees (the intelligence committee has established there were 116, though a few were yet to be captured). In January 2009 a CIA officer established there were at least thirteen “new finds,” making the latest number 112. Hayden ordered the officer to keep the number reported at 98, picking “whatever date I needed to make that happen.” The CIA response paper disagrees with the conclusion that the agency impeded congressional oversight–but it admits that “a few aspects” of Hayden’s testimony were in error and that it could have done a better job of preparing the director for his appearance before Congress. Whatever else happens, you’ve been warned. Do not believe Michael Hayden!

Jose Rodriguez: This former manager of the torture program has been running around hollering from every rooftop that the torture was legal. Let’s put aside the whole debate over the Justice Department memoranda, though, and take this one from strictly inside the CIA. Teams at the first black prison begin torturing their subject, and they report to headquarters that they can’t keep it up, they have moral qualms, there are legal issues. Rodriguez shoots back a cable on August 12, 2002, instructing the base chief and field officers to “refrain” from using “speculative language as to the legality of given activities.” Mr. Hayden–backed by CIA lawyer John Rizzo, by the way– represented to Congress that any CIA officer observing a torture session had not only the ability to object to a “given activity,” but a positive duty to stop it at any point. Needless to say, the Senate report gives examples like this one, where field officers objected and were told in so many words to shut up.

Responsiveness to Oversight: The CIA Inspector General made his own inquiry into the torture program, which I have referenced in this space before. The reaction of CIA’s top operations officer–Jose Rodriguez’s predecessor in that post–when the IG raised questions of legality, organization, and effectiveness of the torture–was to object that the IG report should have concluded that torture is effective.

Bin Laden’s Messenger: In a classic instance of “she said, he said,” the Senate investigators and the CIA disagree on the role of torture in bringing down Osama bin Laden. You’re sure to hear more about this since it goes to the debate ignited by the movie Zero Dark Thirty. You’ll recall that, at that time, there were a flurry of statements pro and con about whether torture had been necessary in uncovering the true role of the individual who served as Bin Laden’s go between, tracking whom led to the terrorist hideout. Members of the Senate intelligence committee issued statements that, unlike what was implied by the movie, torture had not been necessary. The CIA itself put out a statement in that vein, though there were opposing comments too. Here the Senate investigators lay out in enormous detail that CIA had data identifying the messenger from prisoners who were never tortured, or spoke before they were tortured, and focusing on the NSA intercepts and foreign liaison data nailing down the ID. In this case the CIA response paper insists that some information came from a prisoner after torture that was critical to the ID. As I say, I bet there will be more about this–and it is a place where the actual Senate report, not this thinned-out executive summary, could be crucial to a proper understanding of the matter. Stay tuned.

 

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