TIME intelligence

The Twitter Debate Between the CIA and the Senator Behind the Torture Report

Sen. Dianne Feinstein oversaw the compilation of the 6,700 page report — and has a license to fact-check

While CIA Director John Brennan defended his agency from a sharply critical Senate report into its post-9/11 detention and interrogations on Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein took to Twitter to fact-check his assertions. Feinstein, the chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, led the compilation of the 6,700 page report.

Here are statements Brennan made during the press conference, and what Feinstein tweeted about their accuracy:

Brennan: “The cause and effect relationship between the use of EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques] and useful information subsequently provided by the detainee is, in my view, unknowable.”

Brennan: “Another key point with which we take issue is the study’s characterization of how CIA briefed the program to the Congress, the media and within the executive branch, including at the White House. The record simply does not support the study’s inference that the agency repeatedly, systematically and intentionally misled others on the effectiveness of the program.”

Brennan: “[CIA professionals] are a testament to our history and our spirit, and a consistent reminder of the women and men who make sacrifices daily so that they can help keep their fellow Americans safe and our country strong.”

Brennan: “There was information obtained subsequent to the application of EITs from detainees that was useful in the bin Laden operation.”

Brennan: “But as I think we have acknowledged over the years, we have brought those mistakes, shortcomings and excesses to the attention of the appropriate authorities, whether it be to our inspector general, to the Department of Justice and others. As you well know, the Department of Justice looked at this for many years and decided that there was no prosecutable crimes there.”

Finally, Sen. Feinstein concluded with advice to Brennan:

 

TIME intelligence

CIA Director Defends Agency Over Senate Report

"Our nation, and particularly this agency, did a lot of things right during this difficult time," John Brennan said

CIA Director John Brennan defended his agency from a sharply critical Senate report into its post-9/11 detention and interrogations in a rare press conference Thursday.

Speaking from the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va., Brennan called the report “flawed,” chafed at its level of disclosure, and disagreed with the report’s conclusions that the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” were ineffective. Brennan called the efficacy of those tactics, which included waterboarding and sleep-deprivation, “unknowable.”

Brennan opened his public statement with a drawn-out reminiscence of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, calling it the “backdrop” for the use of those tactics. “Whatever your views are on EITs, our nation, and particularly this agency, did a lot of things right during this difficult time,” he said.

Casting the efforts of the agency as a scramble to protect the nation after the deaths of nearly 3,000 fellow citizens, Brennan acknowledged that the CIA was in “uncharted territory” with the interrogation and detention programs, and had made mistakes.

“I look back at the record and I see this was a workforce that was trying to do the right thing,” Brennan said. “I cannot say with certainty that individuals acted with complete honesty.”

The CIA director questioned the Senate panel’s decision not to interview the officers involved in carrying out or overseeing the program to understand their perspective. “I think it’s lamentable that the committee did not avail itself of the opportunity to interact with CIA personnel,” he said.

Under questions from reporters, Brennan openly complained about the contents of the Senate report. “I think there’s been more than enough transparency that has happened over the last couple of days,” Brennan said. “I think it’s over the top.”

Brennan refused to characterize some of the CIA’s activities as “torture,” despite President Obama’s declaration in August that “we tortured some folks.” He would only concede that some officers “exceeded the policy guidance that was given,” adding that they were “abhorrent, and rightly should be repudiated by all.”

Brennan would only concede that the use of coercive techniques had a high likelihood of producing false information.

“We fell short when it came to holding some officers accountable for their mistakes,” Brennan added. The Department of Justice ended criminal probes of the practices in 2012 without charging any of the officers involved.

Weighing into one of the most contentious debates about the utility of program, Brennan said it was a fact that detainees subjected to brutal interrogation techniques provided information that led to the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

“I am not going to attribute that to the use of the EITs,” Brennan said. “I am just going to state as a matter of fact the information they provided was used.”

Saying the detention and interrogation program ended seven years ago, “my fervent hope is that we can put aside this debate and move forward.”

TIME intelligence

Watch Live: CIA Director Addresses Reporters About Torture Report

CIA Director John Brennan is addressing reporters Thursday afternoon for the first time since the release of a Senate report that faulted the agency for brutal Bush-era interrogation tactics and for misleading Congress and the White House about it.

Watch the news conference live above.

TIME intelligence

Dick Cheney Says Senate Torture Report Is ‘Full of Crap’

“It's a terrible piece of work”

In an interview that aired on Fox News Wednesday, former Vice President Dick Cheney called the recently released report on the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11 a “terrible piece of work.”

“It’s a classic example of what you see too often in Washington where a group of politicians get together and sort of throw the professionals under the bus,” Cheney said.

He called the report, which found that the CIA misled the White House and used practices that could be classified as torture on detainees, “deeply flawed,” noting that the Senate Democrats that wrote the report did not interview any key subjects.

“We did exactly what needed to be done in order to catch those who were guilty on 9/11 and prevent a further attack,” Cheney said. “We were successful on both parts.”

He added, when the anchor pressed him on the fact that the report found otherwise, “The report is full of crap, excuse me.”

[Fox News]

TIME Egypt

Egypt’s Rights Groups View Report on CIA Torture With Weary Familiarity

It's a reminder of Egypt's past as a home for "outsourced" torture — and its present regime's alleged use of the same kinds of practices

For rights advocates in Egypt, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report released Tuesday detailing years of CIA torture was a reminder not only of the country’s past role as a destination for “outsourcing” U.S. torture, but also of a present reality in which Egypt’s security forces continue to use brutal methods on detainees.

Egypt was a key destination under the CIA’s “rendition” program in which the U.S. transferred prisoners to other countries for interrogation. For years the CIA cooperated with the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, including the Egyptian security agencies whose widespread use of torture was one of the hallmarks of the authoritarian state.

In the eyes of human rights activists, the legacy of the CIA’s collaboration with the Egyptian state lives on in widespread accounts of security force abuses. “Today we see more cases of enforced disappearances involving the Military Intelligence and the National Security. These are practices that existed in Egypt before and were used in the extraordinary rendition program,” said Mohamed Lotfy, the executive director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms. “This mistake shouldn’t be repeated.”

The 500-PAGE executive summary report released by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Tuesday redacts the names of the partner countries involved in rendition and torture, but those countries involved have long been publicly identified. The U.S. began rendering people suspected of involvement in terrorism to Egypt in 1995 under President Bill Clinton. According to a 2013 report by the Open Society Foundations, Egypt accepted a U.S. request to join the program in part because it wanted access to suspected members of Al Qaeda.

Rendition expanded massively following the September 11, 2001 attacks. In 2005, Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif admitted that “60 to 70” people had been rendered to Egypt, out of an estimated total of 100 to 150. The CIA also sent detainees to Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya and Bashar Al-Assad’s Syria, all autocratic regimes with long records of torture. All three countries would be shaken by popular uprisings in the “Arab Spring” of 2011.

Egypt was the destination for some of the most high-profile cases of extraordinary rendition, according to the Open Society Foundations report. Detainees included Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, an Egyptian who had been living in Italy. Abu Omar was picked up on a street in Milan in 2003, then flown to Ramstein airbase in Germany, then to Egypt, where he was detained secretly for 14 months and subjected to electric shocks.

In another instance detailed by the Open Society Foundations report, an Australian citizen named Mamdouh Habib was captured in Pakistan, questioned by U.S. and Australian agents, then rendered to Egypt where he was tortured. In another instance, a pair of Egyptian men seeking asylum in Sweden, Muhammed al-Zery and Ahmed Agiza, were handed to the CIA then flown back to Egypt. In Agiza’s case, CIA agents “stripped him, dressed him in overalls, and chained and shackled him,” according to the report. The Egyptian government had assured Sweden that the two would not be tortured, but both were submitted to electric shocks.

Hosni Mubarak was removed from power in the 2011 revolt that was in part fueled by public outrage at the abuses of the security forces. But the massive police apparatus he oversaw remained intact, and the regime figures and security officials responsible for the use of torture stayed in place. Torture of detainees continued after Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi was elected in 2012, human rights groups say, and after the military deposed Morsi in July 2013.

(Egyptian government officials dispute claims of torture. Though the Interior Ministry has in recent years admitted some violations, it asserts that it holds offending officers accountable and also said it was training police in human rights principles.)

Throughout, opponents of the Egyptian regime expressed dismay at the U.S. role in cooperating with the Egyptian security forces. “Mubarak used the security agencies to continue his rule,” said Mohsen Bahnasy, a human rights lawyer specializing in cases of torture said, “The United States unfortunately did not take a stance against the Egyptian government’s use of torture. The U.S. used Egypt as a bridge,” he said, “sending prisoners to be tortured here before moving them elsewhere.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee report argues that the CIA’s rendition program undermined efforts to compel other countries to change their treatment of detainees. It describes an incident in 2004 when the U.S. Secretary of State ordered the ambassador to an unidentified country to urge that country open its prisons to the International Committee of the Red Cross. At the time, the report states, the country whose name is redacted “was holding detainees being held in secret at the CIA’s behest.”

Since the military takeover in Egypt, an estimated 40,000 people have been detained in a clampdown on opponents of the regime, according to a database maintained by WikiThawra, an initiative of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights. Former detainees describe beatings, burns, and electric shocks. Amnesty International, Egyptian human rights rights groups, and journalists have also documented the forced disappearance of dozens of civilians held at Al-Azouly detention center in the Galaa military base near the city of Ismailia. The government refuses to acknowledge the facility.

“The CIA and the Egyptian intelligence were cooperating at a time when the Mubarak government was hated and the people revolted against it,” says Lotfy. “The foreign policy of the U.S. has to keep in mind that the stability they want to reach by fighting terrorism in this way is a false stability.”

TIME intelligence

What Did Top Democrats Know About CIA Interrogation?

The lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building in McLean, Virginia
The lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building in McLean, Va. Larry Downing—Reuters

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee during much of the George W. Bush Administration, has a message for Jose Rodriguez, a former top CIA official in charge of the post-9/11 interrogation program.

“The man’s an idiot,” he told TIME.

In a Washington Post op-ed Friday, Rodriguez accused Rockefeller and other Democrats of hypocrisy for opposing the torture of terrorism suspects after being briefed on such actions and giving their tacit support, a claim Rockefeller clearly felt was ridiculous given his years of investigating the agency’s use of torture and efforts to publicly release the Senate Democrats’ CIA torture report, which finally occurred on Tuesday.

But Rodriguez’s charge of Democratic hypocrisy—shared by many Republicans on Capitol Hill—beg a review of what two top Democratic Congressmen, Rockefeller and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, knew of the CIA’s interrogation program.

In early September 2002, the CIA briefed Pelosi and other top members on the House Intelligence Committee about the enhanced interrogation techniques. The members and staffers “questioned the legality of these techniques if other countries would use them,” but the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center legal staff deleted from a draft memo that sentence, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s new report. Rodriguez, who was CTC director at the time, replied in an email, “short and sweet.”

Pelosi’s definitive response has been the same since 2009, when she said that she was not told in the briefing that waterboarding or any other enhanced methods had already been used—even though they had been. She did recall then that the Administration did say those methods are legal. She added that she heard about the use of some of the EITs in early 2003, but did not speak out due to government secrecy rules and worked to ban the use of torture through legislation and electing a Democratic President in 2008. Rodriguez charges that he briefed Pelosi of the EITs, including waterboarding, had been used in 2002.

One of Rodriguez’s main points on an alleged Democratic flip-flop is that congressional leaders like Rockefeller tacitly supported the interrogation program as they participated in dozens of briefings between 2002 and 2009. Rockefeller took to the Senate floor Tuesday to detail how exasperating those briefings were, calling them “a check box exercise that the Administration planned to use and later did use so they could disingenuously claim that they had—in a phrase I will never forget—‘fully brief the Congress.’” He called his efforts to investigate the CIA interrogation program, which led to Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein’s new study, “the hardest fight I’ve ever been through.”

“The CIA refused to provide me or anybody else with any additional information about the program,” he said of briefings that began in 2003, when he rose to a top post on the Intelligence committee and first learned about some aspects of the interrogation program. “It was absurd,” he added of the 45-minute flip chart presentations led by Vice President Dick Cheney, recalling the drives back with Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts in which they couldn’t speak to each other.

“They refused to offer anything to be of assistance,” he said of the CIA. “The briefings I received offered little or no insight into the CIA’s programs. Questions for follow-ups were rejected and at times I was not allowed to consult with legal counsel.”

Rockefeller added that he hoped that the more than 6,000-page Senate torture report is made public—so far a 500-page executive summary has been—to ensure U.S.-sanctioned torture “never happens again.”

TIME intelligence

Here’s What the CIA Actually Did in Interrogations

More than just waterboarding

The debate over the CIA’s interrogation and detention program became very graphic Tuesday with the release of a Senate report.

After reviewing more than 6.2 million documents, Senate investigators went into detail on some of the specific things done to detainees under the program, which critics say amounted to torture.

Not every method was used regularly and some may have been used only once. But here’s a running list of the methods outlined in the report:

  • Forcibly shaving a detainee (p. 72)
  • Waterboarding one detainee more than 183 times (pg. 85)
  • Pureeing a detainee’s lunch tray of hummus, pasta, nuts and raisins and putting it in his rectum (pg. 100)
  • Forcing detainees to stand on broken feet (pg. 101)
  • Forcing a detainee to wear a diaper with no access to a bathroom (pg. 53)
  • Playing loud music 24 hours a day (pg. 53)
  • Handcuffing a detainee to the ceiling for 22 hours a day so he couldn’t lower his arms (pg. 53)
  • Forcing a detainee to sit naked on a cold concrete floor (pg. 54)
  • Depriving detainees of sleep for up to 180 hours (pg. 165)
  • Threatening a detainee with a gun and an electric drill (pg. 69)
  • Threatening detainees’ families, including telling one detainee that his mother would be sexually abused in front of him (pg. 70)
  • Forcibly bathing a detainee with a stiff brush (pg. 70)
  • Keeping detainees in isolation for years (pg. 80)
  • Dousing detainees with cold water (pg. 105)
  • Keeping detainees in uncomfortably cold temperatures (pg. 105)
  • Forcing detainees to subsist on liquid diets (pg. 165)
  • Putting insects in a confinement box with a detainee (pg. 409)
  • Carrying out mock executions (pg. 59)
  • Covering detainees’ heads with hoods (p. 53)
  • “Walling,” or slamming detainees against the wall (pg. 40)
  • Administering facial and abdominal slaps (p. 42)
  • Blowing cigarette smoke into a detainee’s face (pg. 190)
  • Dragging a detainee blindfolded through the dirt in a “rough takedown” (pg. 190)

 

TIME intelligence

Torture Debate Once Again Hinges on a ‘Ticking Time Bomb’

The lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building in McLean, Virginia
The lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building in McLean, Va. Larry Downing—Reuters

The metaphor comes back

In the debate over the government’s use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques to question terror suspects the classic scenario put forth to defend torture is the “ticking time bomb.” Throughout the 2000s, torture proponents raised the specter of an imminent attack on innocent Americans to argue that coercive tactics might not just be permissible but morally necessary.

In the wake of the release of a Senate report critical of the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of torture the metaphor has returned with a vengeance.

In summarizing the findings Tuesday on the floor of the Senate, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California said that Senate investigators never found a single instance of it happening.

“At no time did the C.I.A.’s coercive interrogation techniques lead to the collection of intelligence on an imminent threat that many believe was the justification for the use of these techniques. The Committee never found an example of this hypothetical ticking time bomb scenario,” she said.

But in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal online shortly after Feinstein began speaking, six former directors and deputy directors of the CIA argued that was too narrow of a reading of what a “ticking time bomb” means.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, former directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden wrote that the CIA “had evidence that al Qaeda was planning a second wave of attacks,” that Osama bin Laden had met with Pakistani nuclear scientists and reports (which turned out not to be accurate) that nuclear weapons were being smuggled into New York and evidence that al Qaeda was trying to manufacture anthrax.

“It felt like the classic ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario—every single day,” they wrote.

On page 181, the Senate report notes that the “ticking time bomb” was also used as a justification by former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee in a response to a Department of Justice report. Bybee stated that “the ‘ticking time bomb’ that could justify the necessity defense was, in fact, a ‘real world’ scenario,” arguing that convicted terrorist Jose Padilla was believed to have planted a dirty bomb when he was captured, an account Senate investigators say was “inaccurate.”

According to The New Yorker, the “ticking time bomb” conceit first appeared in a 1960 novel about the counterinsurgency tactics France employed in defending its occupation of Algeria—a fictionalized account that does not appear to have been based in actual events. The scenario enjoyed its greatest notoriety as the central plot device for every season of the fictional show 24. But Senate investigators say that’s where it remains — in the realm of fiction.

TIME intelligence

The Fight Over The Hunt For Bin Laden

Al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in April 1998.
Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in April 1998 AP

The release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report into the Central Intelligence Agency’s enhanced interrogation program is rekindling the fight over the use of controversial tactics in the hunt for 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, even as it sheds new light on the hunt for the al Qaeda leader.

The long-delayed Senate report cast doubts on CIA assertions after the 2011 killing of bin Laden that the interrogation program yielded vital information leading to the identification of bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmad ai-Kuwaiti, who was killed with the al Qaeda leader by SEAL Team Six operators during the Abbottabad raid.

“A review of CIA records found that the initial intelligence obtained, as well as the information the CIA identified as the most critical—or the most valuable—on Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti, was not related to the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques,” the committee report states. It argues that detainees didn’t begin to provide information on Abu Ahmad until 2003, a year after he had already been made a target of the intelligence agency based off the interrogations of detainees held by foreign governments, and was tracking his phone number and email address. The Committee adds that the CIA either misled or misstated the importance of enhanced interrogation program results in testimony to lawmakers following the bin Laden raid, including claiming the EIT program was successful for detainees before they were even in the agency’s custody.

But in its formal response to the Senate report, the CIA contends that the report overstates the importance of the intelligence possessed by the agency before the use of the tactics. “That intelligence was insufficient to distinguish Abu Ahmad from many other Bin Ladin associates until additional information from detainees put it into context and allowed us to better understand his true role and potential in the hunt for Bin Ladin,” the agency said of the pre-2003 intelligence.

One detainee, Hassan Gul, “was subjected to continuous sleep deprivation, facial holds, attention grasps, facial slaps, stress positions, and walling, until he experienced auditory and visual hallucinations.” The other was Ammar al-Baluchi, who was also subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. The CIA claims that Ammar was the first to let on Abu Ahmad’s role as a courier for bin Laden. “Before that, we had only general information [redacted] that Abu Ahmad had interacted with Bin Ladin before the group’s retreat from Tora Bora, Afghanistan in late 2001, when Bin Ladin was relatively accessible to a number of al-Qa’ida figures,” the agency writes.

Gul, the agency said, speculated before being subjected to EITs that Abu Ahmad could be one of three individuals with bin Laden. After subjection to the tactics, he said Abu Ahmad has specifically carried a letter from bin Laden in late 2003, and that he had disappeared in late 2002.

However, both reports concur that EITs did not lead to accurate information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, believed to be the key architect of the 9/11 attacks, or Abu Faraj al-Libbi.
Despite undergoing more than 180 waterboardings, Mohammed lied about Abu Ahmad’s role in the al Qaeda organization to interrogators, while Abu Faraj denied knowing him at all, despite Ammar claiming he was the recipient of the letter from bin Laden through Abu Ahmad.

The CIA maintains it is impossible to know in hindsight whether it could have acquired the intelligence from Ammar, Gul, and others without the use of enhanced interrogation techniques or from other sources. But it maintains that “the information we did obtain from these detainees played a role-in combination with other important streams of intelligence-in finding the al-Qa’ida leader.”

Indeed, by all accounts, recognizing Abu Ahmad’s role in the al Qaeda organization led CIA analysts on the path to identifying the compound where bin Laden and his family were hiding in Pakistan. The perhaps unanswerable question is how they got there.

Read the Senate’s accounting of the intelligence leading to the identification of Abu Ahmad.

Read the CIA’s accounting of the intelligence leading to the identification of Abu Ahmad.

TIME intelligence

CIA Misled Congress About Use of Religion, Torture Report Says

The lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building in McLean, Virginia
The lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building in McLean, Va. Larry Downing—Reuters

The CIA did not give accurate testimony to Congress about how it used religion during its interrogation of detainees, according to a Senate report released today.

The report lists inaccurate CIA testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and describes the incongruencies in a lengthy chart in Appendix 3. One of the sections is titled “The Religious Foundation for Cooperation,” and is found on pages 485-86.

CIA director Michael Hayden testified on April 12, 2007, that an interrogation technique was to “burden” detainees in the name of Allah, or to convince them that Allah has given them the freedom to speak during interrogations:

Director Hayden: “Perceiving themselves true believers in a religious war, detainees believe they are morally bound to resist until Allah has sent them a burden too great for them to withstand. At that point —and that point varies by detainee —their cooperation in their own heart and soul becomes blameless and they enter into this cooperative relationship with our debriefers.”

Director Hayden: “Number one, we use the enhanced interrogation techniques at the beginning of this process, and it varies how long it takes, but I gave you a week or two as the normal window in which we actually helped this religious zealot to get over his own personality and put himself in a spirit of cooperation.”

Vice Chairman [Christopher ‘Kit’] Bond: “Once you get past that time period, once you have convinced them that Allah gives them the green light, that’s when you get the 8,000 intelligence reports.”

Director Hayden: “That’s correct, Senator, when we get the subject into this zone of cooperation. I think, as you know, in two-thirds of the instances we don’t need to use any of the techniques to get the individual into the zone of cooperation.”

But CIA records, according to the Senate report, contradict this testimony. “CIA records do not indicate that CIA detainees described a religious basis for cooperating in association with the CIA’s enhanced interrogation technique,” the report says on page 485.

The report also guts the testimony of a CIA officer who testified in 2007 that a Abu Zubaydah thanked him for this religious burdening: “I will continue to be the religious believing person I am, but you had to get me to the point where I could have absolution from my god to cooperate and deal with your questions,” the officer testified, as explained in Footnote 2646. “So he thanked us for bringing him to that point, beyond which he knew his religious beliefs absolved him from cooperating with us.”

In reality, the report says, Abu Zubaydah “prayed his ‘Istikharah’ (seeking God’s guidance) and was now willing to tell what he really knew,” and “that he had received guidance from God” to cooperate to “prevent his captured brothers from having a difficult time,” and so there are no CIA records to support the officer’s testimony.

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