Senator Wyden Responds To CIA Defenders Distorting The Truth About CIA Torture

from the setting-the-record-straight dept

Last week, Senator Ron Wyden picked apart a Wall Street Journal “op ed” by former CIA directors, attacking the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s torture program. However, with more CIA defenders coming out of the woodwork, he’s done so again. He’s written the following for Techdirt in response to a misleading op-ed published by former CIA acting director and deputy director John McLaughlin that was published in the Washington Post. As you can see, the Senator finds that if there are distortions being made, it is from these former CIA officials.

With the release of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s use of torture, many former CIA officials have rushed to defend themselves and their actions. Unfortunately, many of these responses mischaracterize the report’s contents and continue to repeat inaccurate information about the results of torture and the CIA?s years of misrepresentations. Hopefully these responses, including specific citations, to former CIA official John McLaughlin will help set the record straight.

The most incredible and false claim in the Senate intelligence committee?s report on the CIA interrogation program is that the program was neither necessary nor effective in the agency?s post-9/11 pursuit of al-Qaeda.

Actually, the Committee’s report does not include conclusions about the effectiveness of “the CIA interrogation program” — its conclusions address the CIA’s use of torture. The Committee’s report identifies numerous instances in which detainees who had not been tortured (or not yet been tortured) provided useful information.

The report, written by the committee’s Democratic majority and disputed by the Republican minority and the CIA, uses information selectively and distorts facts to ?prove? its point.

The Committee’s report was approved on a bipartisan vote of 9-6, and the Committee elected to release it on a bipartisan vote of 11-3, along with additional and minority views. When the report was publicly released on December 9, 2014, Senators from both parties, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) spoke in favor of it on the Senate floor.

Furthermore, the Committee?s report is comprehensive, not selective. The public version of the Committee?s report is 499 pages and includes 2,725 footnotes. The full, classified version is over 6,700 pages, with approximately 38,000 footnotes, which appears to make it the largest Senate report in history.

Finally, the facts laid out in the Committee’s report come almost entirely from the CIA’s own internal records. And they show that the CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the White House, the Justice Department, Congress and the public. Chairman Feinstein also noted in her March 2014 Senate floor statement that the CIA’s own internal “Panetta Review” came to many of the same conclusions as the Committee’s investigation. The Panetta Review currently remains classified.

I won?t try to convince you that the program was the right thing to do ? reasonable people will differ. Nor will I discuss the management of the program, other than to say that the record clearly shows the agency went to extraordinary lengths to assure it was both legal and approved ? and the CIA halted the program when uncertain.

The CIA received legal and policy approvals for coercive interrogations after it provided extensive inaccurate information to the Justice Department, the White House and Congress about their use and effectiveness.

The Committee’s report documents this inaccurate information in detail. For example, on pp. 217-225, the report describes the CIA’s inaccurate claim that coercive interrogations led to the discovery of particular terrorist plots, and on pp. 49-50, 59, and 69, the report describes the CIA’s inaccurate claims about the training and qualifications of CIA interrogators.

The Democratic staffers who drafted the report assert the program contributed nothing important, apparently to bolster a bogus claim that the CIA lied.

The Committee?s report does not assert that CIA interrogations contributed “nothing important.” The report evaluates the CIA’s repeated claims that its coercive interrogations provided critical “otherwise unavailable” information, and finds that the CIA’s own internal records do not support this claim. In all twenty cases that the Committee examined, the CIA had access to the information from more traditional intelligence sources, and later attributed it to the use of coercive interrogations.

The man who led the United States to bin Laden, a courier known as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, was mentioned by earlier sources but only as one of many associates bin Laden had years before

This is not accurate. As detailed on pp. 378-400 of the Committee’s report, the CIA had substantial intelligence on Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti prior to any CIA detainee reporting about him. In particular, CIA records show that in August 2002 a detainee in foreign custody with known links to al-Kuwaiti reported that al-Kuwaiti was “one of a few close associates of Usama bin Laden.”

The most specific information about the courier came from a detainee, Hassan Ghul, who, after interrogation, strengthened the case by telling of a specific message the courier had delivered for bin Laden to operations chief Abu Faraj al-Libi

As detailed on pp. 395-396 of the Committee’s report, Hassan Ghul provided the most accurate CIA detainee reporting on bin Laden BEFORE being subjected to the CIA’s coercive interrogations. During this period Ghul told CIA debriefers that al-Kuwaiti was bin Laden’s “closest assistant” and listed al-Kuwaiti as one of three individuals likely to be living with bin Laden. Ghul also discussed bin Laden’s likely living arrangements, and made statements about al-Kuwaiti moving messages to Abu Faraj al-Libi. Some of this information was corroborative of intelligence collected by the CIA in 2002, which was also unrelated to the CIA?s coercive interrogations.

Finally, interrogated senior operatives such as Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who by that time was enormously cooperative, lied when confronted with what we had learned about the courier

As detailed in the Committee’s report, CIA records describe in detail how the CIA assessed KSM was continually uncooperative before, during, and after the use of torture. See pp. 81-96 and 210-216.

The staffers who prepared the Senate draft do not appear to understand the role in analysis of accumulating detail, corroboration and levels of confidence in making momentous decisions like the May 2011 Abbottabad operation that killed bin Laden.

As detailed throughout the Committee’s report, the CIA repeatedly told the Justice Department, Congress and the White House that coercive interrogations were necessary to obtain “otherwise unavailable” information. These statements were not supported by CIA records. In all cases cited by the CIA, the CIA had either obtained the information previously from other intelligence sources, or never obtained it from the detainee in question.

If the CIA had said only that tortured detainees provided information that corroborated other sources, or that they repeated information that they had provided before being tortured, this claim would have been accurate.

Capturing 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed. This led to disrupting numerous plots. But the committee says interrogation of detainees did not play a role in getting him because a CIA asset (not a terrorist detainee) helped us. This is astounding to those of us involved in capture operations. In fact, interrogated detainees were essential to connecting the source to Mohammed. The CIA will not permit me to reveal the operational details ? a classic problem for intelligence officers seeking to defend against outlandish charges.

The capture of Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KSM) is detailed on pp. 326-333 of the Committee’s report. This section clearly explains how a sensitive CIA asset led the CIA directly to KSM, and how the asset’s access to KSM was described in CIA records from 2001.

This section of the report is based on both contemporaneous CIA internal communications as well as after-action interviews conducted by the CIA’s Oral History Project. The CIA officer who ‘handled’ the sensitive asset and who was directly involved in the capture of KSM described it as “a HUMINT op pretty much from start to finish.” (The CIA’s claims regarding the role of detainee reporting are discussed in the footnotes to this section.)

After interrogation, Khalid Sheik Mohammed told us he transferred money to Hambali via a certain individual to finance attacks in Asia. This triggered a string of captures across two continents that led us to Hambali in Southeast Asia.

The capture of Hambali is described on pp. 301-311 of the Committee’s report. CIA officials repeatedly told policymakers and the Justice Department that the information about this money transfer was first provided by KSM as a result of the use of the CIA’s coercive interrogation techniques. However, CIA records show that the information about the money transfer was first obtained from a detainee in foreign government custody, who was questioned using non-coercive interrogation methods. (See footnote 1721 on pp. 307-308 for the CIA’s description of these methods.)

The committee says a source run by another country mentioned a plot to use airplanes to strike West Coast targets. But that’s all we knew ? none of the details needed to stop it.

That information came from detainees, starting with Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who told us after interrogation that Hambali would replace him in this plot.

The Committee’s report discusses this plotting on pp. 246-258. CIA records actually show that this plotting was disrupted in early 2002, and that a CIA detainee in foreign government custody (who was questioned using non-coercive interrogation methods) provided detailed information about the plotting, operatives and proposed method of attack.

Of note, the President’s Homeland Security Advisor stated in a February 2006 White House briefing that this plot had been disrupted in February 2002, which was over a year prior to the capture of KSM.

This drove our effort to find Hambali.

As noted on p. 302 of the Committee’s report, internal CIA communications described Hambali as the CIA’s “number one target” in Southeast Asia a year before the capture of KSM.

We located him and found he had recruited 17 Southeast Asians and was apparently trying to arrange flight training for them to attack the West Coast

As detailed on p. 255 of the Committee’s report, the information that led to the capture of Hambali’s brother came from Hambali himself, who provided his brother?s true name and location while still in foreign government custody. Furthermore, the report describes how Hambali’s brother provided information about this group of Southeast Asians while in foreign government custody. A wide body of CIA records indicates that this group was not witting of or involved in the “second wave plotting.” See p. 247-248 and pp. 483-484.

The committee says interrogation played no role in heading off attacks on the Pakistani hotels, where U.S. and other Western visitors stayed. But it leaves out the fact that detainee Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida, provided information on how to locate al-Qaeda ?safe houses? in Karachi. One of these provided us a letter that tipped us to the plots. That is how those famous ?dots? really get connected.

As detailed on pp. 239-246 of the Committee’s report, the CIA’s own records state that the Karachi plotting was disrupted when key captures were made by Pakistani authorities based on “unrelated criminal leads.”

To drive home their points, the committee frequently cherry-picks documents. It describes officers expressing concern via e-mail that they will be ?ostracized? for saying that certain detainees ?did not tell us everything.? But the staff leaves out the critical context: The CIA officers were actually discussing their dismay over the agency?s decision to cease the interrogation program, causing the loss of important intelligence information.

The Committee’s report provides additional context about these communications on p. 213. The interrogator who wrote “I’m ostracized whenever I suggest those two [KSM and Abu Zubaydah] did not tell us everything” also wrote in the same exchange “I think it’s a dangerous message to say we could do almost the same without measures. Begs the question — then why did you use them before?” This interrogator also told the CIA inspector general that KSM had “beat the system” and that KSM responded better to “creature comforts and a sense of importance” than to “confrontational approaches.”

Many administration and congressional officials ritualistically say we will never know whether we could have gotten important information another way. This is a dodge wrapped in political correctness

The Committee’s report does not conclude that the answer to this question is unknowable. The report systematically examines the top twenty examples that the CIA used to justify its use of torture. In each of these twenty cases the CIA’s claims were verifiably inaccurate ? in every case the information that CIA officials later attributed to coercive interrogations was actually obtained from other sources. (See pp. 172-401 of the Committee?s report.)

The point is we did succeed in getting vital information ? during a national emergency when time was limited by the great urgency of a clock ticking on the next plot.

Terrorists had just killed thousands of Americans, and we felt a deep responsibility for ensuring they could not do it again.

We succeeded.

The Committee’s report includes substantial information about the counterterrorism threats faced by the United States, and the successes that the CIA and other US government agencies had in uncovering and disrupting those plots. The report also details how CIA officials often inaccurately claimed that coercive interrogations had produced “otherwise unavailable” information that was key to disrupting these plots. As detailed on pp. 172-401 of the Committee’s report, these statements are not supported by CIA records.

The release of this report finally makes the facts about torture available to the American public, and is an important step toward making sure that the US never repeats these mistakes. Another important step is calling out the defenders of torture any time they distort or deny the facts. Correcting years of misrepresentations from these officials is the only way to ensure the informed public debate that is necessary to keep America safe.

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Comments on “Senator Wyden Responds To CIA Defenders Distorting The Truth About CIA Torture”

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Beech says:

“Actually, the Committee’s report does not include conclusions about the effectiveness of “the CIA interrogation program” — its conclusions address the CIA’s use of torture.”

Wow. I have never thought of that particular dodge before. Damn there be some slimy creeps in government.

Thank you, Mr. Wyden, for your monumental efforts taken to protect our freedom

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Wow. I have never thought of that particular dodge before.
Well the reason is I guess because you are not a politcian.
But on the other hand if I read the report correctly the effectiveness was mentioned as being zero. Meaning no usefull information was gained by it. But then again you have to be in politics to make that distinction.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

No, you have to be a complete sadist and/or sociopath to make that distinction. Who gives a damn whether or not it ‘worked’, it’s still torture, and therefor completely unacceptable either way.

The people who try and defend torture by claiming how ‘effective’ it is(which it isn’t, unless the goal is inflicting harm and suffering), are basically admitting that to them, the ends justify the means. They are willing to do, or accept, anything as long as they feel that it ‘works’. Nothing is to low, and no action to vile, all that matters is efficiency.

It should go without saying, but these kinds of people are the last kinds of people that should be given any form of power or authority, because as long as they can convince themselves that a course of action ‘works’, there’s pretty much nothing they won’t accept or do.

Anonymous Coward says:

How do you maintain silence so long?

When members of the intelligence committees, and the gang of 8, learn of extreme morally reprehensible actions like this, how do you keep silence? I am completely surprised that you guys follow your self-imposed rules and also give the executive such a big say in what and when you tell the world about their crimes.
I understand that violating those rules of disclosure would limit your ability for future oversight. But wow. When you learn that Soylent Green is People – it blows my mind that you can keep from yelling it in the streets right away.

(… and can we have a real democracy, when the people have no idea what’s going on?)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Information control needs checks and balances

Both the judicial and the legislative branches give too much control of information to the executive. We see the executive use selective leaking (and probably selective classification) to push their particular propaganda all the time. Why does congress –
a) not do its own selective leaking more often? and
b) give the executive such power to decide which information congress will and will not share?

(It’s like giving the defendant the final say about what evidence is admissible in a court room.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: How do you maintain silence so long?

More importantly, faced with verified cases of the CIA providing inaccurate information to oversight bodies, what actions can you take to limit (Intelligence Agency) oversight evasion?

What penalties can be assessed upon officials not coming forth with corrections to inaccurate testimony? We’ve seen examples where officials attempted to “massage the numbers” to reflect what they’ve testified to.

At what point does an agency become liable for perjury, for manipulating oversight testimony; by weasel-words, redefinitions, misinforming the agent providing the testimony, or other cases?

Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

Ok so I am for and against the report.

I think that the report was released for political reasons and for that reason I am against it.

In the other personality I am for the complete and always visible accounting of the actions we take to counter threats which this report does highlight.

This is not about party.

It’s about what do we do as Americans to secure our lives and our liberty. It’s about security versus government control.

I quote Ben Franklin:

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

”Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither.”

”He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security.”

”He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.”

”People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.”

”If we restrict liberty to attain security we will lose them both.”

”Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.”

”He who gives up freedom for safety deserves neither.”

”Those who would trade in their freedom for their protection deserve neither.”

”Those who give up their liberty for more security neither deserve liberty nor security.”

sorrykb (profile) says:

Re: Re: Ok so I am for and against the report.

For all his wisdom… Ben Franklin must have been insufferable.
[Everyone’s down at the local tavern having a grand old time]
“Friends! Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation. Remember: Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
[Awkward pause as music and raucous conversation die down]
“Egads, who invited Ben?”

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Ok so I am for and against the report.

If he talked that way, sure. But in reality, Ben Franklin was a major party animal who was really into getting drunk, high, chasing a lot of tail, and bragging about it all.

I’d totally love to be at a party with that dude. You can get a taste of what it would be like by reading his more salacious, apolitical writings such as his book praising farts and his essay discussing why it’s better to have sex with older women.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Ok so I am for and against the report.

“I think that the report was released for political reasons and for that reason I am against it.”

Then you must be against literally everything the government does, because it’s all for political reasons. However, I think what you intended to say was that it was released for partisan reasons.

If that’s what you meant, then I believe that you are wrong. The report was surprisingly bipartisan.

Anonymous Coward says:

If this was 60 years ago everyone person that was involved in this would have been arrested and tried for treason. Instead people debate over whether it is right to torture prisoners. or say because it’s the government doing it that’s ok.

Nazism the parallels should have people worried. And no I don’t automatically lose whatever argument people will bring up just because I mentioned Nazis. Godwyn’s law or something.

Anonymous Coward says:

so, basically, everything in the report is lies and bullshit, which everyone opinioned anyway and all those making the report have done is fill more lies and bullshit to try to defend the despicable way the CIA (and probably other agents too) acted. nothing was gained from the torture and other nations who despise this behavior (and the USA was one) can now claim that whatever they do is not as bad as the USA! just like the internet censorship that is carried out in communist countries and condemned by the USA, the UK and others, have no right to do so as they are implementing more and more censorship, not to aid the government in any way but to help keep an incumbent industry back in the analogue ages, refusing to update itself and even worse, forbidding any other industry from heading towards the future as well!!

Name says:


Every so often, I turn on the television or radio and the host of whichever show will send someone into the street with a microphone and ask someone on the street a question. Usually something to do with politics. Such as: “Who is the Vice President of the United States?”, or something similiar.

And I get depressed.

Simple stuff, and they have no clue. And if you cannot answer a simple question like that, because you are more interested in whomever is going to get kicked off of whatever reality show is curreently popular, then I sometimes feel this country is doomed.

And yet, I come to this site, read the comments on an article like this, and you guys give me hope.

I just want to say thank you to Techdirt, the people who comment, and a big shout out to The Honorable Senator Wyden for all of his work in Congress.

P.S. Keep your hands off my guns! We may need them in the future.

Name says:

Re: Politics

Because I am getting older I had to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. As I was walking toward it, something caught my ear on television, which was still on.

I tried to find a link for it, as it was related to my earlier post. No such luck.

But as long as I am up, I decided to re-check Techdirt to see if my earlier post made the cut here. It did, however, I am really disappointed that when I had originally posted my comment, I was rewarded with a “Comment Held For Moderation” immediately after hitting “post”. I understand that is unique for a politician to post an article on Techdirt, and therefore you guys may be on the lookout for someone who may post something inappropiate to the conversation, but I have posted comments before, with swear words, and have never gotten a “Comment Held For Moderation” so quickly. I just got done thanking Techdirt for the article, but, I am starting to wonder about your censoring policies. Shame on you.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Politics

Techdirt has, I believe, several layers of spam filters, to deal with what I hear is a fairly prodigious amount of attempted spam posts. Every so often, a couple of them make it through, and likewise, every so often a ‘normal’ comment will trip one of the filters and end up held for moderation. Really nothing more than a simple glitch is all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Politics

I use a VPN and many of the sites I frequent associate my ip with spammers (because spammers use the same VPN provider with shared ip’s i get added to blocklists) TechDirt not being one of them , they do hold my comments every once in awhile , but not always and it’s not worth getting worked up over.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Politics

“Such as: “Who is the Vice President of the United States?”, or something similiar.”

Don’t let that depress you. Those kinds of “man in the street” pop quizzes are rigged. You only see the tiny number of people who are complete idiots. The vast majority of the people they ask do answer the question correctly — they just don’t show you those people because that’s not entertaining.

Anonymous Coward says:

I too would like to thank Sen. Wyden for his stand on transparency. This is something that the American nation is not supposed to be about. In my eyes, I am looking at the security state gone hog wild and not much different at this stage than that of the Nazis when they were coming to power.

As a military vet, I am both shocked and appalled that our government could so ignore the Geneva Convention rules to put our military personnel into such danger by the ignoring of this treaty.

Our government has once again gone bat shit insane and accounting is called for.

Anonymous Coward says:

Had me until...

The release of this report finally makes the facts about torture available to the American public, and is an important step toward making sure that the US never repeats these mistakes.

They weren’t mistakes, they were crimes. If we’re going to call them “mistakes,” we might as well give up on saying “torture” and roll the language back to “enhanced interrogation.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Even if torture did provide US Intelligence with unique information. Would we want other countries torturing captured American soldiers for information?

Bush got around the Geneva Convention by classifying Jihadist as terrorists, instead of enemy combatants.

“Rumsfeld said the president decided the Al Qaeda would not fit under the Geneva Convention, because the Geneva Convention is an instrument among states in conflict. “The Al Qaeda is not a state; it is a terrorist organization,” he said. “

I believe this classification also applies to ISIS, since it’s viewed as an offshoot of al-Qaeda. Either way the classification should be irrelevant when it comes to torture. Torturing people is wrong no matter who you do it to. It shouldn’t matter if they belong to a state or not.

How can the US Gov. classify these people as terrorists. While at the same time it’s torturing these same people, which is an act of terrorism in and of itself. The whole point of torture is to terrify someone into answering your questions. Through the use of pain, fear, and intimidation.

Torturing people will eventually cause America to turn into the same savage enemy it currently wages war against.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Reading this a year-and-a-half later, one thing which jumps out at me which hasn’t been commented on is the repeated statement that various detainees revealed information “after interrogation”.

Interrogation is the term for the entire process of questioning a detainee and getting answers. The only way for a detainee to provide answers after the conclusion of interrogation is by calling someone back in and volunteering the information. Barring that, if the detainee is still giving answers, interrogation must still be ongoing.

As such, either the person who chose that phrasing (John McLaughlin?) has repeatedly and consistently misstated the timing of when the answers were given, or that person is using the term “interrogation” as a euphemism for something else. In the latter case, given the context at hand, it seems likely that the “something else” would be what the defenders of the activity don’t want to admit is called torture.

I would have liked to see this little dodge pointed out explicitly, either in rebuttals such as this article, or in discussion with the people who came out with that phrasing…

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