The CIA failed to disclose to Congress how widely it used extreme interrogation methods, which in one case led to a prisoner’s death from hypothermia, according to two U.S. officials who have seen a 6,300-page report by the Senate intelligence committee.
The panel is scheduled to vote today on whether to declassify the executive summary, key findings and a summary of the report. It may be the government’s most comprehensive public assessment of waterboarding and other interrogation techniques that were used on suspected terrorists at secret prisons in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
If the committee approves declassification, it will be up to President Barack Obama to approve how much is made public, so any release of material could take weeks or months. Still, the push to declassify at least some of the voluminous report would be a milestone in attempts to shed light on practices during President George W. Bush’s administration that Obama has called torture and prohibited.
The report cites the case of Gul Rahman, an Afghan militant captured in 2002, who died after he was chained while partially clothed, had cold water poured on him repeatedly and then was left in an unheated prison cell in Afghanistan, said the two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters.
The Central Intelligence Agency’s records on the case make Rahman’s death appear to be an accident, without explaining why he was left in a cold cell without enough clothing to keep him warm, one of the officials said.
The CIA has said only three prisoners were waterboarded, a procedure that simulates drowning. Yet other techniques were more widespread than the agency has acknowledged, the officials said. They said CIA officers and contractors subjected more than the 30 suspects cited by the agency to sleep deprivation, stress positions, loud rock music and confinement to small spaces.
Such confinement was used by North Korea on American prisoners of war during the Korean War to extract false confessions of engaging in biological warfare, one of the officials said. Those bogus confessions by Americans should have been a clue that such enhanced interrogation methods often produce false information, the official said.
While the Senate committee is expected to support releasing redacted versions of parts of the report, Obama still would have to approve what can be made public. He would be confronted by a dilemma because he’s condemned the Bush administration interrogation practices, while saying soon after he became president that Congress should be ‘‘looking forward’’ rather than probing the past.
Prospects for approval in the Democratic-controlled committee were bolstered yesterday when Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said in a statement that she would vote to make the report public.
Some of the 15-member committee’s seven Republicans have been critical of the years-long investigation and were debating whether to issue a minority report that would cite what Republicans and CIA officials have said are mistakes in the panel’s document.
Democrats “are going to contend that none of the information gleaned from this program was beneficial to interrupting or disrupting another attack,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the committee’s top Republican. “And that’s just flat wrong.”
Chambliss, who spoke yesterday at a Bloomberg Government breakfast, said the U.S. “did glean information from the program from individuals who were detained and interrogated in the program that helped lead us” to Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader who was killed in a 2011 U.S. raid in Pakistan.
The CIA hasn’t received a final copy of the report, agency spokesman Dean Boyd said in a statement. “Until we’re given the opportunity to review it, we are unable to comment on details it may contain,” he said.
The committee chairman, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, has become involved in an open feud with the CIA stemming from the panel’s investigation. She has accused the CIA of hacking into computers used by the committee’s staff to access documents used in its investigation, while the CIA has alleged wrongdoing by the committee staff.
The report seeks to document that the CIA overstated the value of its enhanced interrogation program and the quality of the intelligence that it produced, officials said.
Ali Soufan, a former agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who was the first to interrogate the suspected al-Qaeda operative known as Abu Zubaydah, has argued in recent years that enhanced techniques are both unnecessary and ineffective.
“There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics,” Soufan wrote in a 2009 column for the New York Times.
A former CIA official said Zubaydah offered a little information initially and then stopped cooperating. That led CIA officials to use the interrogation methods because they suspected he was withholding further intelligence at a time when they were under pressure from Congress and the Bush administration to prevent more attacks on Americans.
The Senate panel’s report, if declassified, also could aid in the defense of Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, the nephew of the self-described Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Both men are awaiting trial by a military commission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Ali, also known as Ammar al-Baluchi, has claimed he was tortured by the CIA in a secret prison.
Ali’s lawyer, James Connell, issued a statement yesterday calling on the military commission to require the Senate intelligence committee to provide the report for his defense.
“There is every reason to believe” that the report “contains information about the CIA’s torture of Mr. al-Baluchi,” Connell said in a statement. The Senate committee “knows the truth of what happened, and the military commission considering whether to execute Mr. al-Baluchi should know too.”
The use of waterboarding and other “enhanced” techniques wasn’t a rogue operation, former CIA General Counsel John Rizzo said in a telephone interview. The idea of using them originated in the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center after the March 28, 2002, capture of Zubaydah in Pakistan.
It “germinated there,” and was implemented only after officials at the Bush White House and Justice Department had been consulted, said Rizzo, now senior counsel in the Washington office of the law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP.
The Counter-Terrorism Center’s exploration of more extreme interrogation methods began at a time when there was abundant evidence that al-Qaeda was planning more major attacks on the U.S., including one on the West Coast that the group later abandoned, said two former agency officials who were present during the deliberations.
Officials at the center consulted U.S. Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training manuals and with psychologists and intelligence analysts before bringing a set of proposed techniques to him, Rizzo said. “I suppose I could have squelched them then and there,” he said, but he knew little about waterboarding and the other proposed methods.
Rizzo said he took all the details to the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and asked, “What do you think?” The proposal was discussed at a series of inter-agency meetings with White House, Justice Department and intelligence officials, which resulted in a 50-page Aug. 1, 2002, memo from Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. It was the first of what opponents call the “torture memos.”
‘Checked Every Box’
White House officials decided that only the leaders of both chambers of Congress and of the two intelligence committees, called the “Gang of Eight,” could be briefed on the program, Rizzo said. Because Congress was adjourned in August, that briefing didn’t take place until after Labor Day, and after Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded in August, he said.
The use of the enhanced techniques, Rizzo said, didn’t begin until “we checked every box we could,” and the program had been approved by policy makers and received a legal sign-off from the Justice Department, said Rizzo, author of the new book, “Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA.” Rizzo said he was never interviewed by the Senate committee.
“We were told what was happening,” Chambliss said. “And there was no uprising against that, because at that point we were still fighting al-Qaeda on a daily basis, as we still are.”
None of the former directors of central intelligence during the period in question -- George Tenet, Porter Goss and, briefly, Michael Hayden -- was interviewed by the Senate committee, one of the former officials said.
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