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2002 Document Referred to Extreme Duress as 'Torture,' Warned of Techniques' Unreliability

"That information was not brought to the attention of the principals," said the official, who was involved in deliberations on interrogation policy and spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. "That would have been relevant. The CIA did not present with pros and cons, or points of concern. They said this was safe and effective, and there was no alternative."

The Aug. 1 memo on the interrogation of Abu Zubaida draws from the JPRA's memo on psychological effects to conclude that while waterboarding constituted "a threat of imminent death," it did not cause "prolonged mental harm." Therefore, the Aug. 1 memo concluded, waterboarding "would not constitute torture within the meaning of the statute."

But the JPRA's two-page attachment, titled "Operational Issues Pertaining to the Use of Physical/Psychological Coercion in Interrogation," questioned the effectiveness of employing extreme duress to gain intelligence.

"The requirement to obtain information from an uncooperative source as quickly as possible -- in time to prevent, for example, an impending terrorist attack that could result in loss of life -- has been forwarded as a compelling argument for the use of torture," the document said. "In essence, physical and/or psychological duress are viewed as an alternative to the more time-consuming conventional interrogation process. The error inherent in this line of thinking is the assumption that, through torture, the interrogator can extract reliable and accurate information. History and a consideration of human behavior would appear to refute this assumption."

There was no consideration within the National Security Council that the planned techniques stemmed from Chinese communist practices and had been deemed torture when employed against American personnel, the former administration official said. The U.S. military prosecuted its own troops for using waterboarding in the Philippines and tried Japanese officers on war crimes charges for its use against Americans and other allied nationals during World War II.

The reasoning in the JPRA document contrasted sharply with arguments being pressed at the time by current and former military psychologists in the SERE program, including James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who later formed a company that became a CIA contractor advising on interrogations. Both men declined to comment on their role in formulating interrogation policy.

The JPRA attachment said the key deficiency of physical or psychological duress is the reliability and accuracy of the information gained. "A subject in pain may provide an answer, any answer, or many answers in order to get the pain to stop," it said.

In conclusion, the document said, "the application of extreme physical and/or psychological duress (torture) has some serious operational deficits, most notably the potential to result in unreliable information." The word "extreme" is underlined.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.


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