The CIA: The Devastating Indictment

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Joe Newman/Project on Government Oversight
Former CIA acting general counsel John Rizzo, one of the main architects of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program from 2001 to 2009

Mark Danner has been writing in these pages about the use of torture by the US government since the first years after September 11, 2001. Following the release in December 2014 of the Senate’s report on the CIA torture program, Hugh Eakin spoke to Danner for the New York Review blog about some of the most startling findings of the investigation and what it reveals about the continued political debate surrounding the program. This is a shortened version of the interview, which can be read in full at www.nybooks.com/u/k.

Hugh Eakin: Nearly six years ago, you published the secret report by the International Committee of the Red Cross documenting the CIA’s torture of more than a dozen “high-value” detainees. And now we have the Senate’s extensive investigation of the torture program itself. What are some of the most revealing findings of the Senate report?

Mark Danner: There is a lot in the executive summary that we already knew but that is now told in appalling detail that we hadn’t seen before. The relentlessness, day in, day out, of these techniques—walling, close confinement, water dousing, waterboarding, the newly revealed “rectal rehydration,” and various other disgusting and depraved things—and the totality of their effect when taken together is recounted in numbing, revolting detail. The effect can only be conveyed by a full reading, through page after awful page of this five-hundred-page document, which is after all less than 10 percent of the report itself.

What I think is strictly speaking new is, first, how amateurish the torture program was. It was really amateur hour, beginning with the techniques themselves, which were devised and run by a couple of retired Air Force psychologists who were hired by the CIA and put in charge though they had never conducted an interrogation before. They had no expertise in terrorism or counterterrorism, had never interrogated al-Qaeda members, or anyone else for that matter. When it came to actually working with detained terrorists and suspected terrorists they were essentially without any relevant experience. Eventually, the CIA paid them more than $80 million.

The second revelation is the degree to which the CIA claimed great results, and did so mendaciously. Sometimes the attacks they said they had prevented were not serious threats in the first place. Sometimes the information that actually might have led to averting attacks came not from the “enhanced interrogation techniques” but from other traditional forms of interrogation or from other information entirely. But what the report methodically demonstrates is that the claims that had been repeated for years and years about having obtained essential, lifesaving intelligence thanks to these techniques are simply not true. And the case is devastating.

H.E.: This was a central…



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