Torture, deny, repeat: ‘Enhanced interrogation’ never works, the CIA never learns

December 12, 2014

A Guantanamo detainee's feet are shackled to the floor as he attends a "Life Skills" class at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base

When the United States was attacked on 9/11, every member of the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine services had a rule book on the conduct of interrogations. It was clear and concise.

It outlawed the following methods: “Torture, cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment, or prolonged detention without charges or trial.” It was based on five decades of experience.

President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the leaders of the CIA threw out the rule book as they set out on their global crusade against terrorism. This was unwise. 

-PHOTO TAKEN 24FEB04- CIA Director George Tenet [has resigned for personal reasons, President George..

Anyone who was in New York or Washington after 9/11 remembers the fear — every day, every night, every time the phone rang — that there would be another attack. I sat down with George Tenet, the director of Central Intelligence, not long after 9/11. The exhaustion, the fear — and the terror — that I saw in his eyes is an image I will never forget.

Fear trumped wisdom for the next seven years.

CIA Director John Brennan said on Thursday that some intelligence officers used “abhorrent” methods on the people they detained after the attacks. He said it was “unknowable” whether the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques — EITs, in CIA jargon, torture in plain English — yielded useful intelligence.

“We have not concluded that it was the use of EITs,” Brennan said, “… that allowed us to obtain useful information from detainees.”

This much we know: The CIA threw out the rule book instructing its officers that torture does not work as a method of gathering intelligence. And out with the rule book went the agency’s institutional knowledge and hard-won wisdom.

During the Korean War, the CIA created clandestine prisons — the biggest was in the Panama Canal Zone — where suspected Russian double agents were injected with drugs and brutally interrogated. The agency gave four suspected North Korean double agents the same treatment in occupied Japan.

“Like Guantanamo,” a charter member of the CIA, Tom Polgar, told me in a 2005 interview. “It was anything goes.”

The CIA searched for many years for a magic potion — a truth serum that would draw confessions from incarcerated subjects, especially suspected enemy spies — using LSD, heroin, amphetamines and other “special techniques in CIA interrogations,” to quote from a 1952 CIA report.

dulles

The legendary CIA Director Allen Dulles approved an expanded program code-named ULTRA, in which, to cite one among many examples, seven prisoners at a federal penitentiary in Kentucky were dosed with LSD daily for 11 weeks. When the agency slipped the drug to an unsuspecting army civilian employee named Frank Olson, he jumped out of the window of a New York hotel.

All the subjects of these tests were human guinea pigs in the Cold War. They were expendable. The CIA destroyed most of the records of these tests. But a 1956 progress report described the continuing “planning of overseas interrogations” and new “special interrogation” techniques under research and development.

In 1964, the CIA secretly incarcerated Yuri Nosenko, a KGB defector, suspecting he knew something about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. With the approval of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, the CIA threw Nosenko into a secret prison at the CIA’s training grounds in Virginia. As if in a Soviet gulag, under a single bare light burning 24 hours a day, Nosenko suffered psychological assault, physical hardship and solitary confinement for nearly four years.

CIA Director Richard Helms finally determined that the agency had kept an innocent man “in durance vile … against the laws of the United States.” 

During the Vietnam War, thousands of enemy combatants were interrogated, often fatally, in search of intelligence under the CIA’s Phoenix program. But that search proved largely futile. Helms said the CIA “could not determine what was going on” inside the enemy’s camp. At the root of this failure was “our national ignorance of Vietnamese history, society and language,” Helms lamented. That was, in part, why the enemy won the war.

Leg shackles are seen on the floor at Camp 6 detention center, at the U.S. Naval Base, in Guantanamo Bay

When Nosenko died in 2008, Clair George, a former chief of the CIA’s clandestine service, told the Washington Post that his incarceration had been “a terrible mistake.” But after all, George said: “You can’t be in the spy business without making mistakes.” 

What, then, did we learn from our mistakes with “enhanced interrogation techniques” — or, if you prefer, torture?

The CIA had firmly rejected cruel and unusual punishment, Richard Stolz, chief of the clandestine service under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, said in 1988 — “not only because it is wrong, but because it has historically proven to be ineffective.” The CIA’s 1990s codes of conduct stated: “Inhumane physical or psychological techniques are counterproductive because they do not produce intelligence and will probably result in false answers.”

I added the emphases for reasons that may be obvious. Former leaders of the CIA – and Cheney — insist that torture works.

That is false. The Senate report released Wednesday makes this painfully clear. It uses the CIA’s own records to make an irrefutable case. The report contains no great revelations about violations of the Geneva Convention in the CIA’s secret prisons, the “black sites.”

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan looks down before he answers a reporter's question during a rare news conference at CIA Headquarters in Virginia

But it shows that the claim that torture worked is a delusion, and the insistence that it produced unique intelligence is a lie.

“The use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of obtaining accurate information or gaining detainee cooperation,” the Senate report says. “Multiple CIA detainees fabricated information, resulting in faulty intelligence … on critical intelligence issues, including the terrorist threats which the CIA identified as its highest priorities.”

This information comes from the CIA’s own records. And false intelligence is worse than no intelligence.

The report looks at 20 of the most prominent examples of “purported counterterrorism successes that the CIA has attributed to the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques.” In some of those cases, “there was no relationship between the cited counterterrorism success and any information provided by detainees.” In the rest of the 20 cases, “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.”

These are lies that CIA officers told to themselves, to one another and then repeated to their colleagues in the government of the United States.

We must leave the questions of deception for another day, but they begin with self-deception — a grave danger in the business of secret intelligence.

helms -- best!

Better to conclude with two pieces of wisdom. One is something Helms told me a long time ago. He started out in the CIA in the very beginning, back in 1947, and served as director for seven years — until President Richard M. Nixon cut his throat, figuratively speaking, in 1972. Helms was talking about political assassination. Let’s forget about the laws of man and God and war, he said. It’s a practical question: If you try to kill their leaders, why shouldn’t they try to kill yours?

A professionally distinguished and highly intelligent former FBI counterterrorism agent, Ali H. Soufan, said much the same today on page one of The New York Times. His words broke my heart, hardened by six postings in Afghanistan. Soufan knows whereof  he speaks: He witnessed, and warned against, the use of torture by the CIA in the darkest days of the black sites.

“We played into the enemy’s hands,” he said. “Now we have American hostages in orange jumpsuits because we put people in orange jumpsuits.”

 

PHOTO (TOP): In this photo, reviewed by a Defense Department official, a Guantanamo detainee’s feet are shackled to the floor as he attends a “Life Skills” class inside the Camp 6 high-security detention facility at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, April 27, 2010. REUTERS/Michelle Shephard/Pool

PHOTO (INSERT 1): CIA Director George Tenet testifies before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 24, 2004. REUTERS/Larry Downing

PHOTO (INSERT 2): CIA Director Allen Dulles. REUTERS/Courtesy of CIA Library

PHOTO (INSERT 3): In this photo, reviewed by the Defense Department, leg shackles are seen on the floor at Camp 6 detention center, at the U.S. Naval Base, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, January 21, 2009. REUTERS/Brennan Linsley/Pool

PHOTO (INSERT 4): CIA Director John Brennan looks down before he answers a reporter’s question during a rare news conference at CIA Headquarters in Virginia December 11, 2014.REUTERS/Larry Downing

PHOTO (INSERT 5): CIA Director Richard Helms in the Johnson White House. March 27, 1968. White House Photo Office/Yoichi Okamoto

18 comments

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The ones who tortured the prisoners and the ones who allowed it were sadistic thugs wrapping themselves in false patriotism.

As an American citizen, I am outraged that the CIA committed such reprehensible actions. The reputation of America has been blackened into the future for at the very best, minimal intelligence.

Let the GOP atone for their complicity then (and current failure to condemn the torture with the exception of McCain) and pass a law clearly making such actions illegal and the perpetrators (all the way up the chain of command) legally responsible.

Posted by distancematters | Report as abusive

There is a device called the “Brain Dictionary”. It actually exists. It is in development but already works. What it does is read the thoughts someone is having. Ask the subject a question and the result appears on the screen. There is a little work needed to interrupt but it works. CIA USE THIS DEVICE. Breaking someones legs and making them stand on the broken bones is evil. Feeding someone rectally is evil and sick. You should be ashamed.

Posted by EoinNow | Report as abusive

learning human history is an important attribute. The first term of Bush Jr was insulting to anyone who had even a general memory of history, when he bad mouthed France for not allowing a flyover. I sent him a letter stating he should be aware that without France as an ally in the war of 1812 we would still be under british rule. I changed to Democrat after that as the lies that came out of his administration could no longer be tolerated. This whole torture thing is again based on how they lied to the American people and how they used fear to sell that anti bill of rights packaged called patriot act, that is a shameful part of Americas history :(

Posted by R.D. | Report as abusive

It really is not about accomplishing anything. Torturers torture because they enjoy it. It is a way to feel powerful. Other ways to feel powerful include having a justice system that punishes people based group, like the color of their skin. You see, wealth can be had and beyond a certain point it buys you nothing other than more things you never use. So, the point of wealth is not the things you can get, but the things you can do to other people. These guys are sadists, that’s all.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

One word: Nuremburg.
We are doomed to repeat the history we have forgotten.
The cosy relationship of the Bush family with the Saudi aristocracy allowed numerous Saudis to leave the USA on 9-11 when all other air traffic was grounded. They likely had most of the answers. None of them were tortured. Rich and corrupt dictators never are.
The pathetic lap-dog antics of the “free press” is complicit in the propaganda fog that the 1% generate and it continues to this day.

Posted by Why_Me | Report as abusive

The heinous monsters who were responsible need to be brought to justice. Daylight needs to be shone on their evil and they need to answer for their depravity.

Posted by Why_Me | Report as abusive

who cares they got there just deserves if we didnt do it to them im sure as hell they would do it to us and worse theres no human rights in a muslim terrorist group if the cia need a help id volunteer

Posted by wllms630 | Report as abusive

Patriotic Americans should be concerned that we no longer live in a country that functions under the rule of law, and thus we live in anarchy. Individual accountability under the law no longer applies to all citizens. Certain classes of citizens are exempt. You know who those privileged citizens are if you pay attention.

Posted by Bowo | Report as abusive

Al Quida/ISIS just cut your head off. We wanna offer then room & board and 3 squares a day. What a joke. No wonder we’re going down

Posted by NeoRacer | Report as abusive

Just a few thoughts.

USA is way down list in education K1-12/college. We fail to teach government and history in depth. AKA we do not learn history, we are bound to repeat it. Now day the evil ones prefer to hide history, so we will never learn it, hence repeat it. Would it be criminal to hide such “history” from citizen?

Not one story or speaker or “source” seems to note if we do this, we give the world license to do same, they can find same sorry excuses for horrors.

Those that “authorize, legalize, direct such horrors are as Twain said, “those in the shadows’, and safely back inside USA, AKA No risk to them.

The excuse of “we had no time and had to do such things, then begs to ask, what is the “time”m a day, week, 6 months, year etc, Who sets the “time standard, who measures/authorizes it?

Lastly just how much moral, ethical and legal ground actually separates the excuses and justifications from all, top to “interrogators” from the SS and others defense at Nuremberg Trails of “I was just following orders”? So we must ask of our legal systems, would the excuses we hear now days of the horrors, seemingly not acceptable in Nuremberg, be acceptable now.

Lastly, it is said when one so fixates, so hates and fears the enemy for what they have done, the end up acting like them, did we?

Posted by fwrfwr | Report as abusive

Cruelty and brutality are CONFUSED WITH STRENGTH – and in war “stronger is better” – so the CIA and military must always fight against the instinct to decend into the basement of moral depravity.

Posted by DonD1977 | Report as abusive

Perhaps the long-running discussion about whether “EIT’s” work or not is a bit of a red herring. Maybe their use, or the threat of their use, was simply as another weapon of war, which we used, in error, to intimidate our enemies and carry out revenge against them.

Posted by Yowser | Report as abusive

The contractors for the U.S. government who have permitted a breach of “secret” projects engage in the use of chemicals to discredit individuals who have been made aware of aspects of their contracts that are considered “secret.” The private contractor’s own security engage in lacing household food with chemicals and making video’s of the results in an attempt to accomplich this. There is no oversight for these actions to protect the income to a company for projects that become worthless when publicly know. This is not a speculative statement. The U.S. government contracts with foreign companies, who we consider partners in many security matters – and the actions of these companies are ignored.

Posted by ThomasShaf | Report as abusive

U.S. Drone Strikes

I believe the main concern about these robots is they are not able to exercise discretion. In a combat zone where civilian casualties are likely, an disproportionate use of lethal force could act as a form of private prosecution outside of the legal process. Any deployment of heavy weaponry must be proportionate to a defined security threat established under international law. There is limited capability for civilians to protest for surrender or for protest to be recognised, an important aspect of the Geneva Convention. Can we seriously sanction heavy weapons in civilian areas, when there may be restricted human judgement that could affect control? Increasingly, UAV’s and robots are considered as third parties above considerations of territorial integrity, making combat zones harder to define. In view of the moral justification to deploy unmanned systems or robotics overseas – to save civilian lives overseas, it is unacceptable to disproportionately risk civilians lives with increased number, duration and range of attacks outside of international law.

There are serious ethical, moral and legal questions about the growing use of armed drones which need to be properly debated. However, it is impossible to have such a debate while information is being kept secret. At the very least, it seems that public discussion is being controlled.

Many people are extremely troubled by the growing use of robotics and unmanned aerial vehicles to launch attacks at great distances. Traditionally, one of the key restraints on warfare has been the risk to your own forces and, if this restraint is taken away, unmanned systems may simply make war more likely. The way that unmanned drones/robotics have enabled a huge increase in targeted killing is also causing deep disquiet amongst legal experts and scholars.

However, perhaps the greatest concern relates to what is seen as one of the key capabilities of robots and drones – their ability to loiter over an area for hours or even days. Evidence is beginning to emerge that the persistent presence of drone sitting over remote villages and towns, simply looking for ‘targets of opportunity’, leads to an increase in civilian casualties.

Does the supposed accuracy of robotic sensors and cameras mean that commanders are more willing to undertake ‘riskier’ strikes (in terms of possible civilian casualties) than they would previously have undertaken? The potential is rather than reducing war, unmanned systems and robotics have a propensity to escalate war by prolonging it in to a permanent state of unconditional war.

Human dignity deserves better than to be abandoned to the discretion of a computer thousands of miles away, without recourse to the sensibilities of a situation of ordinary people aiming for ordinary human rights.

Shaheeb Inayat Sher
Manningham Human Rights

Posted by ShaheebISher | Report as abusive

The question of whether or not torture works is irrelevant. It is wrong. There are some absolutes in life, and that is one of them.

But let’s step back and ask another question: What is the real reason the Senate torture report was issued and is being prominently covered by the corporate media?

The official debate over the use of torture is purposely limited by the assumption that 9/11 was carried out by foreign terrorists led by Osama bin Laden. The debate is restricted to, “Was it justified under the circumstances, or was it not justified under the circumstances?”

However, the reality is that those circumstances are a colossal lie. We must confront the truth: 9/11 was a false-flag attack carried out by our own government. What we’re now seeing in the corporate media is a scripted, contrived debate whose real purpose is to reinforce the official narrative of 9/11.

Posted by JohnnyKay1 | Report as abusive

The question of whether or not torture works is irrelevant. It is wrong. There are some absolutes in life, and that is one of them.

But let’s step back a moment and ask another question: What is the real reason the Senate torture report was issued and is being prominently covered by the corporate media?

The official debate over the use of torture is purposely limited by the assumption that 9/11 was carried out by foreign terrorists led by Osama bin Laden. The debate is restricted to, “Was it justified under the circumstances, or was it not justified under the circumstances?”

However, the reality is that those circumstances are a colossal lie. We must confront the truth: 9/11 was a false-flag attack carried out by our own government. What we’re now seeing in the corporate media is a scripted, contrived debate whose real purpose is to reinforce the official narrative of 9/11.

Posted by JohnnyKay1 | Report as abusive

the one thing these torture programmes did was that it made americans lot of enemies with resolve to kill and a big force which according to me will one day eliminate US ,because of its double standards visa vi palestenians and isreals and muslims all over middle east,i dont know why US got involved in hornets nest. i forsee demise of western empire and emergence of eastern empires

Posted by parvaez | Report as abusive

the one thing these torture programmes did was that it made americans lot of enemies with resolve to kill and a big force which according to me will one day eliminate US ,because of its double standards visa vi palestenians and isreals and muslims all over middle east,i dont know why US got involved in hornets nest. i forsee demise of western empire and emergence of eastern empires.

Posted by parvaez | Report as abusive