Reuel Marc Gerecht is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He was a CIA case officer from 1985 to 1994.
The Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence have bequeathed to the lucky few with clearances a 6,000-page report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s enhanced interrogation program. Although such length suggests detailed intellectual promiscuity (the bipartisan 9/11 Commission Report — a masterpiece that covered decades — was a mere 567 pages, with notes), the senators who insist that a declassified version be released are surely right.
Americans should assess whether Langley engaged in torture in its war against al-Qaeda. The country’s honor is at stake, not just the competence of its primary intelligence service. Neither the CIA nor national security is likely to be harmed if the behemoth were released with the necessary camouflage for operatives, tradecraft and foreign intelligence services.
We should all want a vigorous debate about the type of duress — psychological and physical — a liberal democracy is willing to use against captured holy warriors who would down skyscrapers. Given the history of weapons proliferation and the continuing vibrancy of Islamic militancy, it is naive to assume we have seen the end of mass-casualty terrorism in the United States.
And the country is obviously ill-served by case officers who would mislead our elected representatives, as has been suggested in this report. Jose Rodriguez, a former head of the Counterterrorism Center (CTC) and the Clandestine Service, has written that on Sept. 4, 2002, he and a CTC team briefed Reps. Porter Goss and Nancy Pelosi, then the chairman and ranking minority member of the House intelligence committee, about the specific techniques used against Abu Zubaida, the first of three terrorists to be waterboarded. Senior Democratic and Republican senators received similar briefings. Pelosi vehemently denies that she knew or approved of the program. Somebody is shamelessly lying.
In my experience, case officers are capable of prevaricating before Congress. Omission is a well-honed habit in the executive branch. And working-level operations officers often have little difficulty elongating the truth for their bosses.
But why would Rodriguez or other agency officers have wanted to deceive their overseers? It was in the CIA’s interest to have senior Democrats aware of, and approving, the methods used. Even in the heady days after 9/11, when Langley had no idea what terrorist cells al-Qaeda could activate against the United States, even the most fearful case officer probably thought about “CYA” politics. That is inescapably part of Washington’s culture.
The CIA also had cause to believe that the methods it rapidly assembled would not cause shock in Congress or the White House: They had been used for decades in training elite military and CIA operational cadres. Sleep deprivation, which Rodriguez maintains broke 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, is standard fare in such training. An ethical case officer who had personally endured prolonged sleep deprivation could understandably conclude that using such a tactic in a monitored manner wouldn’t denote torture to his superiors. Ditto for CIA and White House lawyers.