The secreting of evidence to conceal the torturing to death of several terrorists at the hands of CIA operatives in Beirut following the terrorist bombing of the the headquarters of Battalion Landing Team 1, 8th Marines, killing 241 Americans and 238 Marines on October 23, 1983, was an incident that not only continued to haunt the Agency through the decades, but which the Agency had assured Congress at the time it had learned its lesson when it comes to the use of violent interrogation to illicit actionable intelligence.
Perhaps had those learned lessons been remembered, then possibly the CIA’s post-9/11 “enhanced interrogations” of renditioned Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders and combatants not gotten so violently out of control in some instances, resulting in the long raging debate over whether some CIA interrogators simply “lost it” in their zeal to extract actionable intelligence, as one former intelligence operative familiar with the interrogations told Homeland Security Today on background.
In the wake of 9/11, there were legitimate fears that a second strike was in the works, leading the Bush administration to decide to take extra-ordinary measures to interrogate captured Al Qaeda members believed tied to the 9/11 attack. Why? Because depending on the nature of another attack, tens — if not hundreds of thousands — of Americans might be killed. After all, Usama Bin Laden had decreed that the use of nuclear bombs against America was justified. No one knew what Al Qaeda next had up its sleeve. The fear and concern within the Intelligence Community (IC) was palpable.
Consequently, in the midst of that uncertain unthinkable environment, the Bush administration and CIA believed indignities against a few jihadists outweighed the lives of perhaps many more Americans. So, accordingly, there were abuses of the authorized aggressive interrogation methods employed on detained Al Qaeda and Taliban members – some of which reputedly replicated the interrogation abuses that nearly caused an international incident in 1983 which the CIA had vowed, and assured congressional intelligence committees, would never happen again.
George Tenet was staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) at the time the committee learned of the botched interrogations in Lebanon in 1983, according to sources familiar with matter. Tenet also is said to have been responsible for assisting the committee oversee the CIA’s assurance from then on out that its officers would be trained in non-lethal interrogation techniques. Years later, Tenet was Director of Central Intelligence when the post-9/11 enhanced interrogations began — all of which raises the question of how the Agency lost its institutional memory of the 1983 debacle — and that the post-9/11 enhanced interrogation methods might easily result in a repeat of what happened 30 years earlier.
The inadvertent torturing to death of several terrorists by CIA officers in Beirut constituted a resounding intelligence disaster that even Bob Woodward briefly alluded to in his book, Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987. The terrorists were killed before they could provide any useful intelligence, especially on Hizbollah terror mastermind Imad Fayez Mughniyah, who’d eluded the CIA until February 12, 2008 when he was assassinated in Damascus, Syria by a powerful bomb reputedly executed by a joint CIA/Mossad operation.
One of the terrorists killed in Beirut is said to have been Elias Nimr, a Christian Lebanese intelligence chief purportedly working for Syrian intelligence on behalf of Iran to pay Iranian agents in the region. Since Iran created and directed Hizbollah and Mughniyah, in this position Nimr likely had some usable intelligence on Mughniyah.
According to a former IC official and secret materials made available to this reporter, the 1983 Beirut incident was a fiasco of the highest order — a mistake that, post-9/11, appears to have largely been forgotten or erased from the CIA’s institutional memory in so far as it related to the CIA’s post-9/11 secret renditions and violent interrogations of terrorists.
In the beginning
The prohibition on violent interrogations had been put in place after two rookie CIA paramilitary officers tortured to death two Palestinian terrorists who were arrested by Lebanese police on suspicion of having been involved in the April 18, 1983 bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut, according to a secret CIA account of what happend. It was the worst terrorist attack against the United States, and the first jihadi suicide bombing. More than 50 people were killed, including 17 American citizens, eight of whom were important CIA employees, like chief Middle East analyst Robert C. Ames, Chief of Station Kenneth Haas — two of the CIA’s best and brightest Middle Eastern terrorism experts at the time — and Jim Lewis, a Green Beret in Vietnam where the CIA recruited him.
The killings of the two terrorists turned into an intelligence debacle that very nearly sparked a major international crisis, according to an account of what happened provided by a senior CIA Middle East officer at the time familiar with the incident. In addition, the abduction and videoed torture and beheading of Bill Buckley, who replaced Haas as CIA Chief of Station, is believed to have been in retaliation for the Agency’s killings of Iran’s two terror operatives.
On March 16, 1984, [Iran] kidnapped Bill Buckley … effectively closing down American intelligence operations in a city that used to be our main listening post for the Middle East. In other words, in four short years, Iran had run the United States out of two countries — Iran and Lebanon," wrote former CIA Middle East operative Robert Baer in his book, Sleeping With the Devil.
IC counterterrorism officers strongly believed the Beirut embassy attack was masterminded by Mughniyah, a dangerous terrorist about whom crucial intelligence at the time was believed to have been lost when the arrested terrorists were killed during their CIA interrogations, the officials claimed. Up until 9/11, Mughniyah, a Hezbollah founder and chief of its international terrorist activities, had killed more Americans than any other terrorist. In fact, he was considered the most dangerous terrorist in the world. He was a terrorist’s terrorist with close ties to Iranian religious and other ruling officials — including then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
To prevent a reoccurrence of the Beirut intelligence disaster, the CIA was supposed to have put controls in place to prevent interrogations from ever again getting so far out of control.
The secret account of the 1983 incident stated “new [CIA] recruits [began to be] trained in how to handle hostile interrogations and [to] prevent other excesses,” meaning deadly torture.
The CIA assured the SSCI in 1989 that its agents were now being trained in interrogation methods that would prevent a reoccurrence of what happened in Lebanon. The committee learned of the murders when a decorated senior CIA Middle East operations officer brought them to the committee’s attention during a briefing to the committee on another matter.
According to the account about what happened, two “new [CIA Staff Officer] recruits” – one of whom was nicknamed “Crunch” because of his known penchant for physical violence – “[had] no Middle East experience.” They were working as “CIA staff paramilitary officers … on assignment in Beirut” under the supervision of the Deputy Chief of Operations [DCO] for Near East and South Asia.”
The account stated the two officers “murdered [the] Lebanese Palestinians who had been arrested by Lebanese government authorities on suspicion of involvement in the bombing of the US Embassy, Beirut.”
The account also described what happened: “Lebanese authorities allowed the CIA officers access to the prisoners, and the CIA officers electro-shocked, tortured and then beat the suspects to death.”
The account of the killings emphasized that it was “a clear-cut case of a gross violation of US and Lebanese law and CIA regulations which prohibit any CIA officer from participating in or condoning the use of torture and other physical interrogation techniques, and to protest and leave if a foreign government should attempt to or actually engage in such activity in the presence of US officers.”
Several mainstream reports about “Crunch” over the years portrayed the incident much differently than the secret account provided by the former CIA Middle East officer at the time.
But what is clear, is that a new policy was attached to the CIA’s Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual-1983 about the time of the 1983 torture deaths that stated “the use of force, mental torture, threats, insults or exposure to inhumane treatment of any kind as an aid to interrogation is prohibited by law, both international and domestic; it is neither authorized nor condoned. The interrogator must never take advantage of the source’s weaknesses to the extent that the interrogation involves threats, insults, torture or exposure to unpleasant or inhumane treatment of any kind.”
The new CIA policy on interrogation noted that “experience indicates that the use of force is not necessary to gain cooperation of sources. Use of force is a poor technique, yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts and can induce the source to say what he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.”
“Additionally,” the new CIA policy stated, “the use of force will probably result in adverse publicity and/or legal action against the interrogator (et. al) when the source is released.”
Indeed. Decades later in the 2004 report on the Agency’s post-9/11 enhanced interrogations, then CIA Inspector General John Helgerson also raised similar concern about whether the use of post-9/11 interrogation measures could expose CIA officers to legal liability.
And that is exactly what happened in response to the disclosure of the interrogation methods used on captured Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders and fighters. In Sept. 2006, the Washington Post reported CIA officials were signing “up in growing numbers for a government-reimbursed, private insurance plan that would pay their civil judgments and legal expenses if they are sued or charged with criminal wrongdoing” in response to “heightened anxiety at the CIA that officers may be vulnerable to accusations they were involved in abuse, torture, human rights violations and other misconduct …”
The Agency’s policy on interrogation following the Beirut fiasco in 1983 had concluded by saying “the use of force is not to be confused with psychological ploys, verbal trickery or other nonviolent and non-coercive ruses employed by the interrogator in the successful interrogation of reticent or uncooperative sources.”
According to the secret account of the Beirut killings written by the CIA Middle East officer at the time, The DCO “was very upset about [the incident], and … the Lebanese Government … protested to the CIA and the [State Department], and wished to detain the CIA officers for trial.” The DCO “said the Lebanese government also quietly protested the murders in a diplomatic note,” or demarche, in diplomatic parlance.
But, the official’s classified account stated, “the CIA and the US government refused to turn the CIA officers over to the Lebanese, and they were instead brought back to the US,” whereupon “the CIA investigated … and fired the two employees. The case was referred to the US Attorney General for criminal prosecution, but the decision was made to suppress the investigation and public knowledge of the incident, and not to prosecute the officers involved … on national security grounds.”
According to the official’s account, the CIA’s counsel’s office never pursued criminal charges against the two fired CIA officers because “identification of vulnerable foreign assets and sensitive overseas operations [might be disclosed which] could cause serious harm to individuals as well as to the national security of the United States.” Specifically cited were “foreign liaison relationships and details of joint operations” and “other sensitive operational details of overseas operations.”
For similar reasons, it’s believed that videos of post-9/11 interrogations of Al Qaeda and Taliban members were destroyed. As then CIA Director Michael Hayden said at the time, the videos posed a “serious security risk;” that if they had become public they would have exposed CIA officials “and their families to retaliation from Al Qaeda and its sympathizers.”
But as far as some professional IC interrogators were concerned, the lessons learned from the Beirut disaster were either discarded, ignored or forgotten by the time of the 9/11 attack, as evidenced by the uproar over the post-9/11 terrorist interrogations. Intelligence officials told Homeland Security Today that, just like in 1983, some terrorists in custody after 9/11 died during brutal interrogations before providing any useful intelligence — that is if useful intelligence would have been extracted from the jihadists to begin with.
“What happened in Beirut [in 1983] was supposed to have been a lesson in what not to do,” a former counterterrorist explained, noting, “the purpose of interrogation is to extract intelligence that can be acted on … torturing yoursubject to death does you no good if he hasn’t given you the information you need.”
According to the SSCI’s long-awaited top secret report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program released in redacted form on December 3, 2014, “Tenet issued formal guidelines for interrogations and conditions of confinement at detention sites in January 2003, by which time 40 of the 119 known detainees had been detained by the CIA.”
“Although CIA Director Tenet in January 2003 issued guidance for detention and interrogation activities, serious management problems persisted,” the report stated. “For example, in December 2003, CIA personnel reported that they had made the ‘unsettling discovery’ that the CIA had been ‘holding a number of detainees about whom’ the CIA knew ‘very little’ at multiple detention sites …”
Furthermore, “According to CIA records, no CIA officer, up to and including CIADirectors George Tenet and Porter Goss, briefed the president on the specific CIA enhanced interrogation techniques before April 2006,” the report stated, adding, “By that time, 38 of the 39 detainees identified as having been subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques had already been subjected to the techniques” and that, “The CIA did not inform the president or vice president of the location of CIA detention facilities other than [redacted country].”
The SSCI’s nearly 7,000-page majority Democratic report certainly appears to have documented the very sort of interrogation that the CIA and Tenet had assured this committee decades earlier the CIA would never again engage in.
“The interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others,” the SSCI’s Democratic majority report concluded.
“Beginning with the CIA’s first detainee, Abu Zubaydah, and continuing with numerous others, the CIA applied its enhanced interrogation techniques with significant repetition for days or weeks at a time,” the majority report stated. “Interrogation techniques such as slaps and ‘wallings’ (slamming detainees against a wall) were used in combination, frequently concurrent with sleep deprivation and nudity. Records do not support CIA representations that the CIA initially used an ‘an open, nonthreatening approach,’ or that interrogations began with the ‘least coercive technique possible’ and escalated to more coercive techniques only as necessary.”
According to the majority report, “The waterboarding technique was physically harmful, inducing convulsions and vomiting. Abu Zubaydah, for example, became ‘completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.’ Internal CIA records describe the waterboarding of Khalid Shaykh Mohammad as evolving into a ‘series of near drownings.’ Sleep deprivation involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads. At least five detainees experienced disturbing hallucinations during prolonged sleep deprivation and, in at least two of those cases, the CIA nonetheless continued the sleep deprivation.”
“Contrary to CIA representations to the Department of Justice, the CIA instructed personnel that the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah would take ‘precedence’ over his medical care, resulting in the deterioration of a bullet wound Abu Zubaydah incurred during his capture,” the majority report said, adding, “In at least two other cases, the CIA used its enhanced interrogation techniques despite warnings from CIA medical personnel that the techniques could exacerbate physical injuries. CIA medical personnel treated at least one detainee for swelling in order to allow the continued use of standing sleep deprivation.”
Continuing, the majority report stated, “At least five CIA detainees were subjected to ‘rectal rehydration’ or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity. The CIA placed detainees in ice water ‘baths.’ The CIA led several detainees to believe they would never be allowed to leave CIA custody alive, suggesting to one detainee that he would only leave in a coffin-shaped box. 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.’ CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee and a threat to ‘cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.’”
“The conditions of confinement for CIA detainees were harsher than the CIA had represented to policymakers and others,” the majority report continued, saying, “Conditions at CIA detention sites were poor, and were especially bleak early in the program. CIA detainees at the COBALT detention facility were kept in complete darkness and constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket to use for human waste. Lack of heat at the facility likely contributed to the death of a detainee.”
“The chief of interrogations described COBALT as a ‘dungeon,’” the majority report stated. “Another senior CIA officer stated that COBALT was itself an enhanced interrogation technique. At times, the detainees at COBALT were walked around naked or were shackled with their hands above their heads for extended periods of time. Other times, the detainees at COBALT were subjected to what was described as a ‘rough takedown,’ in which approximately five CIA officers would scream at a detainee, drag him outside of his cell, cut his clothes off and secure him with Mylar tape. The detainee would then be hooded and dragged up and down a long corridor while being slapped and punched. Even after the conditions of confinement improved with the construction of new detention facilities, detainees were held in total isolation except when being interrogated or debriefed by CIA personnel.”
“Throughout the program,” the majority report stated, “multiple CIA detainees who were subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques and extended isolation exhibited psychological and behavioral issues, including hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation. Multiple psychologists identified the lack of human contact experienced by detainees as a cause of psychiatric problems.”
In 2004, then CIA Inspector General Helgerson and deputy IG Mary O. McCarthy stated their preliminary investigation found that some of the agency’s approved interrogation methods "appeared to constitute cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, as defined by the International Convention Against Torture.”
In short, the majority report concluded that, “based on a review of CIA interrogation records … the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of obtaining accurate information or gaining detainee cooperation.”
After the 1983 interrogation failure, the CIA overhauled its interrogation practices to make sure such an intelligence failure never happened again. But the revelations of post-9/11 CIA “torture” of suspected and known jihadists at highly classified facilities operated by the Agency around the world indicated the CIA – with White House approval – had substantively relaxed the policies on interrogation that were instituted in the aftermath of what happened in 1983 in Beirut.
Still, counterterrorism officials interviewed on background by Homeland Security Today explained that “the interrogators are supposed to know just how far they can go without seriously harming – or killing — the subject in order to get out of him the intelligence they need.”
Other long time counterterror authorities also interviewed on background by Homeland Security Today agreed. “We damn sure want to make sure we get the intel from them that we need,” as one put it. “That’s the whole purpose of interrogation.”
In April 2009, the Department of Justice finally made public four top secret memos written in 2002 and 2005 by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel authorizing “enhanced” interrogation involving physical and psychological interrogation tactics for known and suspected terrorists that included head-slapping, simulated drowning and exposure to freezing cold.
The memo “defined torture narrowly under a federal law that prohibits it (18 U.S.C. sections 2340-2340A). It also discussed the language of the torture statute in detail in order to derive its definition of torture, concluding that "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment is not torture according to that statute. It concluded torture consists only of extreme acts according to the Convention Against Torture; that severe pain (a requisite for this definition of torture) is "serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death;” that prolonged mental harm is harm that must last for "months or even years;” and that "under the current circumstances, necessity or self-defense may justify interrogation methods that might violate Section 2340A."
Meanwhile, President Obama assured CIA operatives involved in enhanced interrogations would not be prosecuted.
The enhanced interrogation techniques authorized in the memos were among the Bush administration’s most closely guarded secrets, and at the time the most comprehensive public accounting of the program until the SSCI’s comprehensive declassified report was made public.
Despite opponents and critics’ claim that the memos constituted a definitive smoking gun, the memos also dealt substantially with ensuring that interrogated detainees be carefully monitored by physicians and other medical personnel, and that detainees’ health must be ensured and promptly attended to at all times.
The American Civil Liberties Union – which sued the government for release of the memos –said the memos clearly described criminal conduct and the need to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate who authorized and carried out the “torture.”
Andrew McCarthy, a National Review contributor who led the 1995 terrorism prosecution against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven others, said the memos "went on to say torture is unlawful only if the infliction of pain is the offender’s specific objective.”
Veteran counterterrorism officers mussed that “pain” obviously is the objective in such situations, and that the interrogators certainly know that pain will result. “Don’t be stupid,” one said.
Yet, “even if the defendant knows that severe pain will result from his actions, if causing such harm is not his objective, he lacks the requisite specific intent," one of the Justice Department memos opined.
It’s difficult to imagine, though, that a person engaged in the authorized enhanced interrogation measures didn’t have the cognitive reasoning capability to understand that such interrogation could induce some degree of physical pain.
A team of administration lawyers concluded in a March 2003 memorandum that the President is not bound by either an international treaty prohibiting torture or by a federal anti-torture law because he has the authority as commander in chief to approve any technique needed to protect the nation’s security, an argument Constitutional scholars continue to debate.
The memo, prepared for then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, added that any executive branch officials, including those in the military, could be immune from domestic and international prohibitions against torture for a variety of reasons.
The White House and Justice Department strongly denied that the 2005 memo allowed the torture of terrorist detainees months after the White House publicly renounced the use of torture. Then White House press secretary Dana Perino confirmed the memos were authentic, but insisted it did not undercut or reverse the earlier December 2004 memo touted by the White House in which it rejected the use of torture as "abhorrent."
"US policy is not to torture – and we do not," Perino told reporters. Bush reiterated that claim during press briefings. “We do not torture,” she said.
Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse issued a statement saying the December 2004 memo remains binding on the executive branch. "Neither Attorney General [Alberto] Gonzales nor anyone else within the department modified or withdrew that opinion," he said.
Outgoing White House Homeland Security Advisor Francis Townsend wrote an op-ed the CIA’s interrogation of terrorists is tough, but it is legal and it does not include torture.
According to the New York Times, [outgoing Attorney General Alberto] Gonzales approved the 2004 memorandum over the objections of James Comey, the deputy attorney general who resigned in protest following heated clashes with the White House over the matter. According to the Times, Comey strongly disagreed with what he viewed as the opinion’s overreaching legal reasoning. He reportedly told colleagues they would all be “ashamed” when the world eventually learned of it.
So, did enhanced interrogation work … or not?
Despite the punditry by pundits who knew nothing about what they spoke at the time, the key concern for intelligence practitioners who do know what they are talking about was whether harsh interrogation, even what could reasonably be construed as torture, works, and whether it had widespread utility in gleaning time sensitive, actionable intelligence that prevented the deaths of untold numbers of people.
Both official and unofficial statements [by intelligence officials] have indicated that in some instances, harsh interrogation did produce actionable intelligence.
According to some experts, waterboarding and other “enhanced” interrogation – which intelligence sources say has included instances of outright torture – did result in some terrorists spitting up what they knew.
John Kiriakou, the Pakistan-based CIA operative who led the elite CT team that captured Abu Zubayda, Osama bin Laden’s ostensible chief of operations, said early on that waterboarding — which he has since said he believes is torture — broke the jihadist in about 35 seconds and extracted "threat information [that] prevented a number of attacks."
Although Kiriakou said the waterboarding of Zubayda "stopped terrorist attacks and saved lives," he opposes the technique because, “now, after all these years, time has passed, and we’re more on our feet in this fight against Al Qaeda, and I think it’s unnecessary.” Kiriakou also said some CIA interrogators at the time expressed internal conflict over whether such interrogation practices should be broadly employed against captured terrorists.
Other veteran intelligence officials questioned Kiriakou’s claims at the time, especially given he wasn’t actually present when Zubaydah was interrogated. They also questioned the value of what Zubaydah divulged. According to Dan Coleman, the FBI’s top Al Qaeda analyst at the time, Zubaydah’s value was highly suspect. “This guy is insane, certifiable, [a] split personality,” Coleman was telling his bosses in Washington as Zubaydah was being waterboarded, according to Ron Susskind in his 2005 book, The One Percent Solution.
Coleman confirmed what he told Susskind. “They got nothing useful from the guy,” he said.
Other CT authorities said that in many more cases than not, the methods used on Zubaydah have not proved useful, and thus the value of their routine use isquestionable.
The use of harsh physical interrogation as a method to extract actionable intelligence isn’t just hotly debated, its value continues to be highly questionable, according to a variety of seasoned intelligence professionals, and serves to not only erode the US’s vaunted moral high-ground, but to actually give terrorists fodder they can use in their propaganda war against America, which they have successfully done. Perhaps more so since the SSCI’s declassified report was made public, despite concerns by the IC that it would be just more fodder for jihadists.
Increasingly, experts have said violent interrogation is, indeed, largely ineffective, especially when applied to persons who know nothing to begin with. And the problem “in these instances [is] they will tell you whatever you think you want to know,” a veteran counterterrorism intelligence official said. Others said extreme physical interrogation methods applied to persons who do know what it is the interrogator is seeking may only be effective after what the interrogated individual has given up has been verified to be alie, which may be too late.
“You return to the prisoner with the fact that what he initially told you is a lie and apply more violent torture in the hope that he finally tells you the truth,” the source said, noting, however, that “this is still an ineffective method of extracting intelligence because you’re just wasting valuable time … and if it’s a hardened religious-inspired jihadist, maybe, just maybe, his true believer mindset will allow him to endure the pain, and you still end up with squat.”
“But regardless of all that,” the IC veteran continued, “the wasting of valuable time in and of itself to verify what’s obtained through torture is not very good tradecraft; let’s just put it that way.”
His opinion is shared by not just a few senior IC and military officers and career interrogators.
The December 2006 report, Educing Information – Interrogation: Science and Art, by the National Defense Intelligence College’s Intelligence Science Board, indicated there is no scientific basis to conclude that the so-called “enhanced interrogation” methods markedly improve the quality of intelligence gleaned from captured terrorist suspects.
In releasing the new Army Field Manual on interrogation, Lt. Gen. John F. Kimmons, then Army deputy chief of staff for intelligence, said at the time that "no good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that."
Similarly, then Gen. David Petraeus, commander of US forces in Iraq, wrote “some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary.”
“It’s an inaccurate, invalidated assumption” that torture works when it’s needed to work. More often than not it’s more likely to end up sending you somewhere 2,000 miles away” from where, say, a bomb really is, “and, of course, by the time you figure that out, it’s too late,” Homeland Security Today was told by Terry D. Turchie, a retired FBI counterterrorism and counterintelligence expert who was a Bureau counterterrorism unit director and one of the few recipients of both the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service and the FBI Director’s Award.
Nevertheless, Turchie said a former high ranking CIA officer told him "torture is the only thing that works, it’s been proven."
Others have agreed. Writing in the Boston Globe, Daniel Byman, then director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University, said “when renditions put terrorists behind bars, it [at the very least] removes them from the streets and keeps them from plotting more attacks. [And] even when renditions do not lead to imprisonment, they can produce considerable information as those arrested often have documents, phone numbers or other information that is useful in disrupting plots. Such benefits can, in theory, be gained by using the traditional criminal justice system — and in most cases, this is the best path. However, renditions are often the only option for interrogating a suspect and bringing him to justice when extradition is not politically or legally possible.”
By and large, veteran counterterrorism officials told Homeland Security Today the CIA’s interrogation techniques were an assault on the law of the land and constituted largely ineffective spycraft, but also conceded that it "in fact" did extract important intelligence that likely would not have been obtained any other way. "That’s just the unfortunate fact of the matter," one said.
Turchie said from his Danville, California office that “torture is wrong. When President Bush signed an Executive Order authorizing the use of ‘special’ interview techniques and placed the CIA in charge of interrogations, he crossed a threshold that has diminished the law of the land and undermined the war on terror.”
Continuing, Turchie said at the time that “while lower level military personnel are convicted for offenses related to the torture of prisoners in Iraq, government officials in Washington disavow any knowledge of such activities. And yet, they have set the tone for them to occur … The current CIA Director has ordered an inquiry into his Inspector General’s efforts to investigate the use of torture by CIA officers. These conflicting signals have interfered with the trust and faith the government must establish and maintain with the American public if we are to be successful in preventing and defeating terrorism.”
But the question still remains – did post-9/11 interrogation techniques work?
The SSCI’s final report: just how reliable is it?
The little reported 167-page SSCI Republican members’ minority report strongly disagrees with many of the committee’s Democratic majority’s conclusions. The minority report contended that enhanced interrogation – and other methods – did in fact produce vitally important intelligence, and makes a compellingly convincing case that the majority report is based on “flawed analytical methodology” and “evidence of strongly held biases.”
“John Brennan emphasized this point prior to his confirmation as Director of the CIA when he told [SSCI] Vice Chairman [Saxby] Chambliss [R-Ga.] that, based on his reading of the originally approved Executive Summary and the Findings and Conclusions, the study was ‘’not objective’ and was a ‘prosecutor’s brief’ ‘written with an eye toward finding problems,’” the minority report stated.
The minority report, which was included as an “Appendix” to the majority report, painted a disturbingly different portrait of the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation, and raised the question that the majority report was indeed written with a "bent on the part of the authors" with "political motivations."
Furthermore, the majority report – which, according to the CIA, cost taxpayers more than $40 million dollars and diverted countless CIA analytic and support resources – “does not offer any recommendations for improving intelligence interrogation practices, intelligence activities or covert actions.”
“We found that those biases led to faulty analysis, serious inaccuracies and misrepresentations of fact in the study. For example, the study stated, “At no time during or after the aggressive interrogation phase did Abu Zubaydah provide the information that the CIA enhanced interrogation were premised upon, specifically, ‘actionable intelligence about Al Qaeda operatives in the United States and planned Al Qaeda lethal attacks against US citizens and US interests,’” the minority’s Appendex said.
However, the minorities’ “review of the documentary record revealed that Abu Zubaydah provided actionable intelligence after he was subjected to ‘aggressive’ interrogation in April and August 2002 that helped lead to the capture of Ramzi Bin Al Shibh and other Al Qaeda associates during the Karachi safe house raids conducted on September 10-11, 2002” — captures the minority report said “effectively disrupted the Al Qaeda plot to bomb certain named hotels in Karachi, Pakistan that had been selected because they were frequented by American and German guests.”
The minority report said the final SSCI study “is replete with uncited and absolute assertions like ‘there is no indication in CIA records that Abu Zubaydah provided information on Bin Al Shibh’s whereabouts.’ Our review of the documentary record revealed that Abu Zubaydah did provide locational information about Bin Al Shibh,” and that “Zubaydah made four separate photographic identifications of Bin Al Shibh and placed him in Kandahar, Afghanistan during the November to December 2001 timeframe and provided sufficient information for interrogators to conlude that Bin Al Shibh was subsequently with Khalid Shaykh Mohammad in Karachi, Pakistan.”
Further disputing the final SSCI majority report’s conclusion that the "CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees,” the minority report pointed out that the majority report “attempts to validate this conclusion by relying upon four faulty premises. The first faulty premise is that ‘seven of the 39 CIA detainees known to have been subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques produced no intelligence while in CIA custody.’ If true, that means that 82 percent of detainees subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques produced some intelligence while in CIA custody, which is better than the 57.5 percent effectiveness rate of detainees not subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques.”
“Regardless,” the minority report stated, “these statistics do not provide any real insight on the qualitative value of the intelligence information obtained. The true test of effectiveness is the value of what was obtained — not how much or how little was obtained.”
In short, the minority report raises many more serious and troubling questions about the integrity, thoroughness and conclusions of the majority report, and especially its overall definitive assertion that enhanced interrogation provided no usable intelligence. The minority report is replete with page after page of convincing evidence disproving the widely reported conclusions of the majority report – facts that have been overshadowed by reporting on the majority report’s lurid descriptions of enhanced interrogation measures like "rectal rehydration” and ignoring the biases, contradictory data, inconsistencies, questionable logic and investigative methodologies and such that populate the majority report.
The minority report concluded that, “Specifically, we found that the [majority report’s] flawed analytical methodology cannot negate the reality that the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program set up an effective cycle of events whereby Al Qaeda terrorists were removed from the battlefield, which had a disruptive effect on their current terrorist activities and often permitted the Intelligence Community to collect additional intelligence, which, in turn, often led back to the capture of more terrorists.”
In concluding, the minority report stated, “’The CIA called the detention program a crucial pillar of US counterterrorism efforts, aiding intelligence and law enforcement operations to capture additional terrorists, helping to thwart terrorist plots and advancing our analysis of the Al Qaeda target.’ We agree. We have no doubt that the CIA’s detention program saved lives and played a vital role in weakening Al Qaeda while the program was in operation. When asked about the value of detainee information and whether he missed the intelligence from it, one senior CIA operator [redacted] told members, ‘I miss it every day.’ We understand why.”
While there is in fact substantive evidence that the enhanced interrogation techniques as strictly set forth and approved by the Justice Department been adhered to, and had the lessons learned by the CIA from the terrorist interrogation excesses that occurred in Beirut in 1983 been appropriated, perhaps the misfortunes brought about by the post-9/11 enhanced interrogations not gone awry — and, thus, we wouldn’t still be engaged in a contentious debate about it.
Editor’s note: This report was modified from the original on January 1, 2015 to better define certain sourcing and to better explain certain information and accounts.
Photo 1: Aftermath of October 23, 1983 bombing of the Battalion Landing Team 1, 8th Marines, which killed 241 Americans and 238 Marines.
Photo 2: Rescue and clean-up crews search for casualties following the barracks bombing in Beirut on Oct. 23, 1983. Photo by Randy Gaddo.
Photo bottom: Imad Fayez Mughniyah, top Hezbollah operative believed to have been involved in the bombing.