Enhanced Interrogation Meant Torture!
This has been a week of startling revelations about how the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) reacted to protect the country from further attacks after the September 11, 2001 disaster. There is no question that our leaders and citizens were all in shock when the Twin Towers collapsed after two hijacked airplanes flew directly into them. Viewers across the nation and the world were riveted by live pictures from New York City on television. The Pentagon was hit next by a third hi-jacked plane, while the fourth was brought down by courageous passengers before it could reach its target in Washington D.C.
It is now more than thirteen years later and we have learned how the C.I.A. was given the power to capture and imprison terrorists with Al Qaeda by a secret order signed by President George W. Bush. They first planned to adhere to the United States Army Field Manual which prohibits coerced, painful questioning. C.I.A. lawyers wrote in November, 2001 that the prisons would “be tailored to meet the requirements of U.S. law and the federal rules of criminal procedure.” We now know that plan never happened.
On Tuesday, December 9, Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, spoke for an hour on the floor of the chamber. She disclosed essential parts of the five- year committee report on the actions of the C.I.A. since 9/11 to the senators and the world. In the foreword to the report, she wrote, “It is my sincere and deep hope that through the release of these findings and conclusions and executive summary that U.S. policy will never again allow for the secretive indefinite detention and the use of coercive interrogations.” Five hundred pages were released to the media including the executive summary and conclusions of the still classified 6,700 page complete investigation.
Newspaper front page articles and television commentators explored key findings of the report. They included: Explicit descriptions of the “enhanced interrogation” methods used to extract information from prisoners in the “black sites” overseas . The countries where the prisons existed stretched from Poland and Lithuania in Europe, to Morocco in Africa , Afghanistan in the Middle East and Thailand in Asia. Thirteen brutal methods included: water boarding, prolonged sleep deprivation, wall slamming, nudity, iced water dousing, stress positions and threats to their families. The most important conclusion committee members reached from their years of studying cables, memos, emails, reports and other documents was that the harsh methods DID NOT WORK. They certainly did not produce information that led to the capture and death of Osama Bin Laden It was traditional methods of questioning a detainee, Hassan Ghul, by skilled C.I.A investigators in 2002 that caused him to sing “like a Tweetie bird” . This led to the courier , the compound in Pakistan and Bin Laden’s eventual death.
The Senate Intelligence Report also related how outside contractors were hired to plan and supervise the interrogation of prisoners. Two former military psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, had taught Air Force officers how to resist torture if captured during the Korean War. However, they had no experience as actual interrogators, did not speak any of the detainees languages and had no knowledge of Al Qaeda or Islam. They drew on a theory developed in the 1960’s to create “ a sense of helplessness” in dogs. In a laboratory setting, the dogs were given shocks until they reached a stage of “ learned helplessness”. Mitchell and Jessen became convinced that brutal techniques including water boarding would eliminate detainees “sense of control and predictability” and induce a desired level of “helplessness”. It should be noted that when the report was released, one of the original researchers, the psychologist who conducted the initial studies on dogs, Martin Seligman, said he was “grieved and horrified” that his work was cited to justify abusive interrogations of humans.
Dianne Feinstein had been under enormous pressure from the administration and the Republicans not to release the Intelligence Committee Report. Secretary of State John Kerry warned that there would be severe repercussions from the countries where the ‘black site’ prisons had existed. The Republican members of the committee, who did not participate in the five year investigation, released their own Minority Report. Both reports made clear that President Bush did not know the extent of the brutal interrogations from 2002 until 2006 when he was given more detailed information. His three lawyers insisted that the enhanced interrogations were legal and not torture as defined by the Geneva Conventions. They were David S. Addington, Jay S. Bybee and John C. Yoo.
When Barack Obama became president in 2009, he declared the enhanced interrogation techniques to be “torture” and ordered an immediate stop to them in all government prisons here and abroad. By 2014, he felt release of the Senate Intelligence Report would put the nation’s focus back on the past when his goal was to shape the future years. Yet, Senator Feinstein knew that if she did not release the report, the Republicans who would control the Intelligence Committee in January would never release it. She said, “I came to the conclusion that America’s greatness is being able to say we made a mistake and we are going to correct it and go from there.” She felt that a relatively small number of C.I.A. workers were guilty of “brutality in stark contrast to our values as a nation.” Senator Martin Heinrich, who sat on the committee, said, “Given the coordinated efforts to try to keep that report from coming out, you can just see how much strength and backbone she has.”
On Thursday, December 11, John Brennan, the Director of the C.I. A. gave a 40 minute speech and press conference to defend the agency against charges of “torture”. He called the C.I.A. workers “patriots” and declared cryptically that the results of harsh tactics are “unknown and unknowable.” He was questioned in depth by reporters but stayed with his original narrative of how from 9/11 on, the C.I.A. workers stayed on their posts to avert any more attacks and to keep Americans safe. Brennan never used the word ‘torture’, but did acknowledge that a small number of C.I.A. officers had used “interrogation methods that were not authorized, were abhorrent and rightly should be repudiated by all.” He stressed that, “the overwhelming majority of officers involved in the program” carried out their responsibilities “faithfully and in accordance with the legal and policy guidance they were provided.”
Severe critics of the Intelligence report are led by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who appeared on Fox News and vehemently insisted that everything that was done was legal. He declared, “I would do it again in a minute!“ Cheney did admit he had not read the Senate Intelligence report —but it was “full of crap.” He was joined by several Fox commentators who blamed the committee for never interviewing C.I.A. officials. Apparently they did not know the facts — that a federal investigation was going on from 2006 that prohibited anyone interviewing C.I.A. officials. Dick Cheney secured five deferments during wartime and never served in the military. His responses to the torture allegations are in direct contrast to Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona.
Senator McCain was a navy fighter pilot during the Vietnam War who was captured and brutally tortured for years at the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prison. On the day Senator Feinstein spoke to the Senate, he rose and said, “ I understand the reasons that governed the decision to resort to these interrogative methods, and I know that those who approved them and those who used them were dedicated to secure justice for the victims of terrorist attacks and to protecting Americans from further harm… but I dispute wholeheartedly that it was all right for them to use these methods, which this report makes clear were neither in the best interests of justice nor our security nor the ideals we have sacrificed so much blood and treasure to defend. Torture is a stain on our national conscience. We are always Americans, and different, stronger and better than those who would destroy us.”