CIA Report Calls Oversight Of Early Interrogations Poor
'Improvised, Inhumane' Techniques Were Result

By Peter Finn, Joby Warrick and Julie Tate
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A partially declassified CIA report released Monday by the Obama administration describes the early implementation of the agency's interrogation program in 2002 and 2003 as ad hoc and poorly supervised, leading to the use of "unauthorized, improvised, inhumane and undocumented" techniques.

Interrogators lifted one detainee off the floor by his arms while they were bound behind his back with a belt. Another interrogator used a stiff brush to clean a detainee, scrubbing so roughly that his legs were raw with abrasions. And another squeezed a detainee's neck at his carotid artery until he began to pass out.

Authorized techniques such as waterboarding were applied in a manner that exceeded the language of Justice Department memos that authorized their use. Interrogators "continuously applied large volumes of water," explaining afterward that they needed to make the experience "more poignant and convincing," the report said.

In releasing the 2004 report and other documents, President Obama continued to confront the legacy of his predecessor's counterterrorism policies while attempting to move beyond them.

On Monday, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. appointed a prosecutor, John H. Durham, to investigate allegations of detainee abuse by the CIA. The administration also unveiled an elite interagency interrogation team designed to break high-value suspects without coercion.

Cumulatively, the newly released documents provide a forensic accounting of some of the Bush administration's most closely held secrets and deepen public knowledge of a program whose scope and details have emerged piecemeal ever since the first suspected high-level al-Qaeda detainee was questioned in 2002 at a hastily assembled "black site" in Thailand.

The Obama administration was forced to release the CIA documents because of a wide-ranging Freedom of Information Act lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union filed in 2003. "The report underscores the need for a comprehensive criminal investigation that reaches not just the interrogators who exceeded authority but the senior officials who authorized torture and the Justice Department lawyers who facilitated it," said Jameel Jaffer, director of the organization's national security program.

The releases Monday follow the earlier dissemination of Justice Department memos sanctioning the use of harsh interrogation techniques, as well as the Obama administration's decisions to end the CIA program and close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where high-value detainees are now held.

'Inadequate' Guidance

The inspector general's report said that the CIA's efforts to provide "systematic, clear and timely guidance" to interrogators were "inadequate at first" and that that failure largely coincided with the most significant incidents involving the unauthorized coercion of detainees. Significant portions of the report were not made public, including the inspector general's recommendations.

Interrogators menaced a detainee with a handgun and a power drill, staged mock executions to convince suspects that they too could be killed, and threatened to punish the family of another detainee.

"We're going to kill your children," one interrogator told Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, if there was another attack.

As carried out by CIA interrogators, waterboarding was far more aggressive than anything used in military survival schools, whose training programs formed the basis of the harsh techniques. The CIA's use of waterboarding eventually drew a rebuke from the agency's Office of Medical Services, which said the "frequency and intensity" with which the technique was used could not be certified as "efficacious or medically safe."

But the report, noting the steady accumulation of guidelines from agency headquarters, said discipline and safeguards within the program "improved considerably" over time. Still, the report pointed to ongoing tensions between interrogators in the field and officials at the CIA Counterterrorism Center as to when detainees were compliant and when the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" was appropriate.

None of the material, however, is likely to resolve the debate over the effectiveness of such techniques, including waterboarding.

The CIA's first high-value detainee -- Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida -- was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002. Although he provided more information after the technique was applied to him, "it is not possible to say definitively that the waterboard is the reason" for his increased cooperation or if other factors, "such as the length of detention, was a catalyst," the inspector general's report concluded.

The inspector general determined that the repeated waterboarding of Abu Zubaida and Mohammed was inconsistent with guidelines promulgated by the Justice Department. But it noted that the attorney general told investigators that he was "fully aware of the repetitive use of the waterboard."

"The Attorney General was informed the waterboard had been used 119 times on a single individual," the report states. Mohammed was ultimately waterboarded 183 times, according to Justice Department memos.

The report found that "there is no doubt" that the detention and interrogation program itself prevented further terrorist activity, provided information that led to the apprehension of other terrorists, warned authorities of future plots, and helped analysts complete an intelligence picture for senior policymakers and military leaders. But whether the harsh techniques were effective in this regard "is a more subjective process and not without some concern."

Reports Cited by Cheney

The CIA also released two documents that then-Vice President Richard B. Cheney had invoked to assert that the harsh tactics worked and "kept us safe for seven years."

One of the reports said "detainee reporting has become a crucial pillar of US counterterrorism efforts, aiding intelligence and law enforcement operations to capture additional terrorists, helping to thwart additional plots, and advancing our analysis of the al-Qaeda target."

The triangulation of intelligence led to the capture of a succession of key operatives, and the report noted that Walid bin Attash, now charged in a military commission in Guantanamo Bay, "was captured on the verge of mounting attacks against the US Consulate in Karachi, Westerners at the Karachi Airport, and Western housing areas" in Pakistan, according to the report, called "Detainee Reporting Pivotal for the War Against Al-Qa'ida."

A second report, describing Mohammed as a preeminent source on al-Qaeda, said that "he has provided information on Al Qa'ida strategic doctrine, probable targets, the impact of striking each target set, and likely methods of attacks inside the United States."

Panetta Message to CIA

CIA Director Leon Panetta, in a message to agency employees Monday morning, described the release of the documents as "in many ways an old story" and said that "the challenge is not the battles of yesterday, but those of today and tomorrow."

"My emphasis on the future comes with a clear recognition that our Agency takes seriously proper accountability for the past," Panetta said in the message, which was released by the CIA. "As the intelligence service of a democracy, that's an important part of who we are."

Panetta said the interrogation program obtained intelligence from high-value detainees at a time when the country had little hard information on al-Qaeda's structure and plans, but he noted that "whether this was the only way to obtain that information will remain a legitimate area of dispute, with Americans holding a range of views on the methods used."

Almost from its beginnings, the interrogation program generated concern inside the CIA.

The 2004 report by then-Inspector General John L. Helgerson noted, presciently, that "the agency faces potentially serious long-term political and legal challenges as a result of the . . . program, particularly its use of [enhanced interrogation techniques] and the inability of the U.S. Government to decide what it will ultimately do with terrorists detained by the agency."

The report said CIA personnel "are concerned that public revelation" of the program will "seriously damage" personal reputations as well as "the reputation and effectiveness of the agency itself." One officer said he could imagine CIA agents ending up before the World Court on war crimes charges.

"Ten years from now, we're going to be sorry we're doing this," said one CIA officer. But "it has to be done."

Staff writer Dana Priest contributed to this report.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company