The Torture Report

Enhanced Interrogation Techniques

The just-declassified Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s detention and enhanced interrogation program found that torture “was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees,” with numerous CIA officials repeatedly warning that it failed to produce accurate intelligence. “The CIA inaccurately claimed that specific, otherwise unavailable information was acquired from a CIA detainee ‘as a result’ of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, when in fact the information was either: (1) corroborative of information that was already available to the CIA or other elements of the U.S. Intelligence Community from sources other than the CIA detainee, and was therefore not ‘otherwise unavailable’; or (2) acquired from the CIA detainee prior to the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.” The CIA therefore mislead the White House, the National Security Council, the Department of Justice, the CIA Office of Inspector General, the Congress, and the public about what it was doing and whether it was at all useful. “The conditions of confinement for CIA detainees were harsher” and the “interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others.” For instance, “at least five CIA detainees were subjected to ‘rectal rehydration’ or rectal feeding…One interrogator told another detainee that he would never go to court, because ‘we can never let the world know what I have done to you.’” [Emphasis mine.]

Further, the agency “repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice, impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program”; “actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight of the program,” with the Director falsely claiming in a meeting with foreign ambassadors that “every Committee member was ‘fully briefed,’ and that ‘this is not the CIA’s program. This is not the President’s program. This is America’s program.’”

Not only did the CIA lie to the Senate Intelligence Committee, it “impeded effective White House oversight” as well. Incredibly, “no CIA officer, up to and including CIA Directors George Tenet and Porter Goss, briefed the president on the specific CIA enhanced interrogation techniques before April 2006.” An internal agency email noted that “…the WH [White House] is extremely concerned Powell would blow his stack if he were briefed on what’s been going on.” In fact, the CIA “did not brief the OIG [the CIA’s Office of Inspector General tasked with oversight of the agency] until after the death of a detainee.” The CIA withheld information from other branches of the government including the FBI, the State Department, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence so that “the limitations on sharing information undermined government-wide counterterrorism analysis.”

Beyond counterterrorism, the CIA undermined the effectiveness of US foreign policy by either not informing US ambassadors of detention sites in the countries in which they served, or by preventing them “from seeking guidance on the policy implications” of the black sites. Most unnerving are the CIA’s efforts to manipulate public opinion. “The CIA coordinated the release of classified information to the media, including inaccurate information concerning the effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.” One official explained, “when the [Washington Post]/[New York Times] quotes ‘senior intelligence official,’ it’s us…authorized and directed by opa [CIA’s office of Public Affairs].”

In what seems like a story straight out of the Bourne trilogy, “two contract psychologists devised the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques and played a central role in the operation, assessments, and management” of the program. Neither of these guys “had any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of al-Qa’ida.” They “developed theories of interrogation based on ‘learned helplessness.’” They “personally conducted interrogations of some the CIA’s most significant detainees.” “In 2005, the psychologists formed a company specifically for the purpose of conducting their work with the CIA. Shorty thereafter, the CIA outsourced virtually all aspects of the program.” In 2006, the value of the contract was “in excess of $180 million; the contractors received $81 million prior to the contract’s termination in 2009.” By 2008, “contractors made up 85% of the workforce for the detention and interrogation operations.”

Furthermore, the agency’s detainees “were subjected to coercive interrogation techniques that had not been approved by the Department of Justice or had been authorized by CIA headquarters.” The agency did not maintain adequate records of its detentions and interrogations making a full accounting of its abuses “impossible.” It “never conducted a credible, comprehensive analysis of the effectiveness of its enhanced interrogation techniques” and did not hold personnel responsible even for “serious and significant violations” of its own legally-challenged policies. The agency ignored and overruled the objections expressed by “numerous CIA officers.” Some “CIA officers were instructed by supervisors not to put their concerns or observations in written communications.” The Committee found that the program “created tensions with U.S. partners and allies, leading to formal demarches to the United States, and damaging and complicating bilateral intelligence relationships.” More generally, “the program caused immeasurable damage to the United States’ public standing, as well as to the United States’ longstanding global leadership on human rights in general and the prevention of torture in particular.”


I want to make three points regarding the Senate’s findings. For years now, we have been well aware of the CIA’s rendition, detention, and torture of terrorism suspects. The report claims that “the CIA did not hold any detainees after April 2009.” It is likely true that detainees in US custody are no longer being tortured and that the CIA no longer directly operates black sites. But that does not mean that the United States does not participate and acquiesce in torture. Since Obama came into office the modus operendi has shifted to reditioning suspects to partner nations like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Morocco and Yemen, that torture with impunity, and then deliver whatever information is obtained back to US intelligence. That is, the United States has reverted to the standard practice that prevailed before the Bush administration.

The really stunning revelation is that the agency not only mislead the public and Congress, but also the White House and the National Security Council. The agency acquired an unprecedented degree of autonomy from the administration. Elected officials were more than willing to acquiesce. When asked by Bush about the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, the White House Counsel, Alberto Gonzales told him: “Mr. President, I think for your own protection, you don’t need to know the details of what’s going on here.” Bush agreed. This brings to mind Glennon’s adaptation of Bagehot’s theory of double government, wherein he notes: “U.S. national security policy is defined by the network of executive officials who manage the departments and agencies responsible for protecting U.S. national security and who, responding to structural incentives embedded in the U.S. political system, operate largely removed from public view and from constitutional constraints. The public believes that the constitutionally-established institutions control national security policy, but that view is mistaken. Judicial review is negligible; congressional oversight is dysfunctional; and presidential control is nominal.”

According to Glennon, the explanation for the extraordinary continuity in national security policy between the Bush and Obama administrations is that policies are made not in the “dignified” or “Madisonian” institutions of the US State—Congress and the Presidency—but in the national security deep state—what Bagehot would’ve termed the “efficient institutions.” America has “moved beyond a mere imperial presidency to a bifurcated system—a structure of double government—in which even the President now exercises little substantive control over the overall direction of U.S. national security policy. Whereas Britain’s dual institutions evolved towards a concealed republic, America’s have evolved in the opposite direction, towards greater centralization, less accountability, and emergent autocracy.”

Indeed, the state that is structurally most similar to modern-day United States is not Great Britain but Prussia. “The Sparta of the North” was a garrison state ruled by a civil-military bureaucracy; one that retained its essential character when it expanded to become Imperial Germany in 1871. The Kaiser was the nominal head of a legal authoritarian state over which he exercised at best intermittent control. When German officials were manipulating European capitals into a general war in the July Crisis of 1914, as Copeland has impeccably demonstrated, they were also manipulating the Kaiser himself to sign the order to mobilize that would plunge Europe into war. To put it mildly: this does not bode well for the United States.

The most alarming aspect of the revelations is the manipulation of public opinion by the Central Intelligence Agency. The agency systematically went about managing the public view of its activities. There may be no possibility of criminal prosecutions for those who authorized and committed torture in the name of national security. But it is imperative that the public be protected from the extraordinary power of the US deep state. The least that Congress can do is to abolish the agency’s Office of Public Affairs, and forbid it from manipulating US media. For instance, by making it a prosecutable criminal offense for agency officials to provide inaccurate information to the public.

More generally, if there was ever a time to thoroughly reform the apparatus of US national security, it is now. This is the most significant effort to reign back the national security state since the Church committee. It seems clear that the reason that the Senate Committee went ahead with making the summary report public is their exasperation with the CIA, which has continued to evade oversight. In other words, this is an effort to sign up the public for a fight to restore Congressional oversight of a recalcitrant agency which has come to believe that it is above the law. Feinstein deserves all the support she can get.  

2 thoughts on “The Torture Report

  1. Bang on with the “double govt” analysis. And more power to Feinstein. But here’s a more disquieting thought: Can the CIA be checked by Madisonian democracy or is this act integral to the good cop/bad cop routine of the “double govt.”? The CIA plays the “bad cop”, while Madisonian govt. plays the good cop. This is far more systemic. American society and not just the double govt. are also implicated. After all, It was post 9/11 rage in the US that led to OK’ing of CIA Torture by the highest levels of govt.

    Its hard to think Feinstein and her allies have any serious chance of reining in the security state when Feinstein and her allies have been integral to authorizing NSA surveillance, and thereby increasing the reach of the NSS; when Obama’s whitehouse has been trying to squash the report for a while; when both the CIA, GCHQ,and other foreign intelligence services have redacated so much of the report already.

    Here’s what Glen greenwald commented yesterday :

    “If I had to identify one key point from Tuesday, the thing that bothered me most about the narrative: Yes, the CIA goes off on its own and does things that political officials don’t know about; and yes, they mislead and lie to the committees that oversee them; and they do all these horrible things, the details of which are sometimes unknown to the political branches — but that’s how Washington wants it.
    They’ve always wanted it that way. That’s what the CIA does. The CIA does the dirty work of the political branches of Washington and when they get caught, publicly, the ritual is that official Washington pretends that it was just these rogue CIA officers doing this without anyone’s knowledge or approval. It’s exactly what happened in the Iran-Contra scandal, which was ordered at the highest levels of the White House by President Reagan … but when they got caught, they said: Oh, it was Oliver North and these rogue CIA officers who were doing this without our knowledge!
    That’s just the ritual Washington engages in; the CIA is kind of like their wild pit bull that they purposely let off leash. They don’t want to see the mauling but they know that it’s happening, and pretend they don’t know. And when it gets reported, they pretend that they’re horrified.”

    Thirdly, even if the use of torture has qualitatively reduced post Obama. We should remember what has taken the place of secret detentions and torture: assassinations. Thousands of people have been killed in the pursuit of the drone assassination policy, the vast majority of them innocent of wrongdoing or even the suspicion of wrongdoing. They just happened to be there in the neighborhood with the guy we think may be the guy we want. Someday there’ll be a report on this too, the use of drone assassinations as a substitute for detention, and hearing of all the needless pain we brought into the world, we’ll on that day again say “never again.”

    1. You and Greenwald are right of course. Washington certainly has a tendency to make that pretence whenever shit hits the ceiling. But you have to remember that there was no public outcry, no media attention on CIA abuses this time around. Why, then, did the Senate Committee make the summary public? It was not the case this time that they needed a scapegoat. They clearly when public because of their frustration with their continued inability to reign in the CIA at all. The immediate impetus was clearly the looming loss of control of the committee by the dems (they voted along party lines). Feinstein et al. thought that it was now or never. Glennon points out that it is not in the interest of the “dignified” institutions to expose their lack of power; they resort to it only under stress. And then too, just enough to placate the public outcry.

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