Did Torture Provide Useful Information? The CIA Chief's Many Answers

John Brennan gave mixed responses as to whether the CIA's use of enhanced interrogation techniques provided any useful information from detained terror suspects.

Director of Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan takes questions from reporters during a press conference at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, December 11, 2014. The head of the Central Intelligence Agency acknowledged Thursday some agency interrogators used 'abhorrent' unauthorized techniques in questioning terrorism suspects after the 9/11 attacks.

Photographer: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Did the CIA's use of torture produce valuable intelligence in the fight against terrorism? In an extraordinary news conference Thursday, agency Director John Brennan answered that question with much less certainty than former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former Vice President Dick Cheney.

In his first public remarks since the release of the Senate Committee's Report on the CIA's Use of Torture, Brennan returned to the question of whether there were any actual ends that justified his agency's brutal means of extracting them. In the process, he detailed his thinking on "EITs," or enhanced interrogation techniques, and why he supports President Barack Obama's 2009 decision banning them. 

1. "Unknowable"

"I have already stated that our reviews indicate that the detention and interrogation program produced useful intelligence that helped the United States thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives. But let me be clear: We have not concluded that it was the use of EITs within that program that allowed us to obtain useful information from detainees subjected to them. The cause and effect relationship between the use of EITs and useful information subsequently provided by the detainee is, in my view, unknowable."

2. Other methods work, too 

"Irrespective of the role EITs might play in a detainee’s provision of useful information, I believe effective, non-coercive methods are available to elicit such information; methods that do not have a counterproductive impact on our national security and on our international standing. It is for these reasons that I fully support the president’s decision to prohibit the use of EITs."

3. Correlation vs. causation

“There was very valuable intelligence obtained from individuals who had been, at some point, subjected to EITs."

In response to a question from NPR's Tom Bowman seeking clarification as to whether the techniques worked, Brennan added:

"What I said was that detainees who were subjected to EITs at some point during their confinement subsequently provided information that our experts found to be useful and valuable in our counterterrorism efforts, and the cause and effect relationship between the application of those EITs and the ultimate provision of information is unknown and unknowable. But for someone to say that there was no intelligence of value, of use, that came from those detainees once they were subjected to EITs, I think that is–lacks any foundation at all."

4. Did torture lead to Osama bin Laden?

"It is our considered view that the detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided information that was useful and was used in the ultimate operation to go against bin Laden. Again, intelligence information from the individuals who were subjected to EITs provided information that was used in that. Again, I am not going to attribute that to the use of the EITs; just going to state as a matter of fact, the information that they provided was used."

Brennan then took pains to note that information was gleaned from detainees in a period of time after they were subjected to EITs, if not as a result of them directly. 

"There was information obtained subsequent to the application of EITs from detainees that was useful in the bin Laden operation."

5. Are the CIA's torture days over?

"We are not contemplating at all getting back into the detention program using any of those EITs. So I defer to the policymakers in future times when there is going to be the need to be able to ensure that this country stays safe if we face a similar type of crisis."

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