Following Wash. Post article, conservative media advance falsehood that CIA documents prove interrogation techniques worked

››› ››› ADAM SHAH

Citing a misleading Washington Post article that stated that alleged 9-11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed became cooperative after being subjected to waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and other interrogation techniques, conservative media have advanced the falsehood that three recently released 2004 CIA documents prove that these enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) were necessary to gain valuable intelligence. In fact, two CIA memos on the value of intelligence obtained from detainees do not discuss interrogation techniques, and a CIA inspector general's (IG) report of the CIA's interrogation program stated that "[t]he effectiveness of particular interrogation techniques in eliciting information that might not otherwise have been obtained cannot be easily measured."

CIA IG report repeatedly makes clear that it does not assess the effectiveness of particular techniques

IG report: "The effectiveness of particular interrogation techniques in eliciting information that might not otherwise have been obtained cannot be so easily measured." From the "conclusions" section of the 2004 CIA IG report on "Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities":

The Agency's detention and interrogation of terrorists has provided intelligence that has enabled the identification and apprehension of other terrorists and warned of terrorist plots planned for the United States and around the world. The CTC Detention and Interrogation Program has resulted in the issuance of thousands of individual intelligence reports and analytic products supporting the counterterrorism efforts of U.S. policymakers and military commanders. The effectiveness of particular interrogation techniques in eliciting information that might not otherwise have been obtained cannot be so easily measured.

IG report: "[T]here is limited data on which to assess [EITs'] individual effectiveness." From the IG report:

Inasmuch as EITs have been used only since August 2002, and they have not all been used with every high value detainee, there is limited data on which to assess their individual effectiveness. This Review indentified concerns about the use of the waterboard, specifically whether the risks of its use were justified by the results, whether it has been unnecessarily used in some instances, and whether the fact that it is being applied in a manner different from its use in SERE training brings into question the continued applicability of the DoJ opinion to its use. Although the waterboard is the most intrusive of the EITs, the fact that precautions have been taken to provide on-site medical oversight in the use of all EITs is evidence that their use poses risks.

IG report details reasons why "[m]easuring the overall effectiveness of EITs is challenging." From the IG report:

Determining the effectiveness of each EIT is important in facilitating Agency management's decision as to which techniques should be used and for how long. Measuring the overall effectiveness of EITs is challenging for a number of reasons including: (1) the Agency cannot determine with any certainty the totality of the intelligence the detainee actually possesses; (2) each detainee has different fears of and tolerance for EITs; (3) the application of the same EITs by different interrogators may have different results; and [REDACTED]

IG report: "Some participants" in CIA program judge that assessments that "detainees are withholding information are not always supported by an objective evaluation." From the IG report:

Agency officers report that reliance on analytical assessments that were unsupported by credible intelligence may have resulted in the application of EITs without justification. Some participants in the Program, particularly field interrogators, judge that CTC assessments to the effect that detainees are withholding information are not always supported by an objective evaluation of available information and the evaluation of the interrogators but are too heavily based, instead, on presumptions of what the individual might or should know.

Separate CIA reports on the intelligence detainees provided do not discuss the effectiveness of interrogation techniques. As The New York Times noted, the partially declassified CIA memos on "Khalid Shaykh Muhammad: Preeminent Source on Al-Qa'ida" and "Detainee Reporting Pivotal for the War Against Al-Qa'ida," do not contain reference "to any specific interrogation methods and do not assess their effectiveness."

Citing misleading Wash. Post article, conservative media falsely claim CIA reports prove EITs worked

Scarborough: Argument that EITs "never worked is just ... insanity." MSNBC host Joe Scarborough claimed that "[for] months there'd been lies that have been propagated that no good information was passed." Scarborough later asserted that "[w]hen The Washington Post actually started writing about this, there are a lot of people that are going to look so unbelievably stupid for the ignorant things they've been saying." Scarborough went on to state that while one may argue that EITs were "immoral," "the argument that this never worked is just -- it's insanity." [MSNBC's Morning Joe, 8/31/09]

Fox host Steve Doocy on EITs: "It worked. It kept ... us safe." Fox & Friends aired a video clip of former Vice President Dick Cheney's August 30 appearance on Fox News Sunday, in which Cheney argued that EITs, "specifically waterboarding," were what "persuaded" Mohammed "to cooperate." Doocy followed Cheney's remarks by saying, "OK, so there you go. It worked. It kept -- kept us safe." Co-host Brian Kilmeade later said: "[W]e have an inspector general that goes in there and decides what the conclusions are. This is the conclusions that Dick Cheney says this is a portion of what I wanted to release. It was released in Saturday's Washington Post." [Fox News' Fox & Friends, 8/31/09]

Wash. Post charge that Mohammed "cooperated after waterboarding" undermined by article's own claims. As Media Matters for America has noted, The Washington Post article that Scarborough and Kilmeade cited charged that Mohammed "cooperated" with the CIA "after waterboarding" and that this occurred "to an extraordinary extent, only when his spirit was broken in the month after his capture March 1, 2003, as the [CIA] inspector general's report and other documents released this week indicate." However, these claims are undermined by reporting elsewhere in the article, which notes that Mohammed gave false information during waterboarding and that the CIA inspector general who investigated the CIA's interrogation programs could not "reach definitive conclusions about the effectiveness of particular interrogation methods."

Numerous media outlets have noted that CIA reports do not prove that enhanced interrogation techniques were effective

Salon's Greenwald: It is "patently clear" that CIA reports don't back claims about effectiveness of EITs. From Glenn Greenwald's August 29 blog post on Salon.com:

That the released documents provide no support for Cheney's claims was so patently clear that many news articles contained unusually definitive statements reporting that to be so. The New York Times reported that the documents Cheney claimed proved his case "do not refer to any specific interrogation methods and do not assess their effectiveness." ABC News noted that "the visible portions of the heavily redacted reports do not indicate whether such information was obtained as a result of controversial interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding." TPM's Zachary Roth documented that "nowhere do they suggest that that information was gleaned through torture," while The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman detailed that, if anything, the documents prove "that non-abusive techniques actually helped elicit some of the most important information the documents cite in defending the value of the CIA's interrogations." [emphasis in original; Greenwald, 8/29/09]

ABC says reports "do not indicate whether such information was obtained as a result of controversial interrogation techniques." ABCNews.com reported that the CIA recently had released two memos that "former Vice President Dick Cheney requested earlier this year in an attempt to prove his assertion that using enhanced interrogation techniques on terror detainees saved U.S. lives." The article added that the "documents back up the Bush administration's claims that intelligence gleaned from captured terror suspects had thwarted terrorist attacks, but the visible portions of the heavily redacted reports do not indicate whether such information was obtained as a result of controversial interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding." [ABCNews.com, 8/25/09]

Newsweek: The "newly declassified material does not convincingly demonstrate" that EITs "produced ... useful information." Newsweek reported that the CIA reports show that "the CIA's interrogations of suspected terrorists provided U.S. authorities with precious inside information about Al Qaeda's leadership, structure, personnel, and operations." However, the article added that "the newly declassified material does not convincingly demonstrate" that "the agency's use of 'enhanced interrogation techniques' -- including sleep deprivation, stress positions, violent physical contact, and waterboarding" was what "produced this useful information. In fact, though two of the newly released CIA reports offer examples of the kind of details that detainees surrendered, the reports do not say what information came as a result of harsh interrogation methods and what came from conventional questioning." Newsweek also reported that "based on this evidence, it is impossible to tell whether waterboarding and other brutal methods really were more effective than nonviolent techniques in extracting credible, useful information from Abu Zubaydah or other detainees." [Newsweek, 8/25/09]

Los Angeles Times: Documents offer "little to support the argument that harsh or abusive methods played a key role." The Los Angeles Times reported that the CIA documents "are at best inconclusive" as to the EITs effectiveness and offer "little to support the argument that harsh or abusive methods played a key role." [Los Angeles Times, 8/26/09]

Transcripts

From the August 31 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): In newly declassified material, evidence has shown that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was not cooperating at all until they started the high-intensity interrogations. His spirit was broken. After his capture -- March 1, 2003 -- he told old stuff. And then after the -- after the -- the interrogation started picking up steam, he began to tell all the stuff. Here is Vice President Dick Cheney on the methods used and the results that were gotten from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed's talk.

CHENEY [video clip]: The interesting thing about these is it shows that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah provided the overwhelming majority of reports on Al Qaeda; that they were, as it says, pivotal in the war against Al Qaeda. The application of enhanced interrogation techniques, specifically waterboarding, especially in the case of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, is what really persuaded him he needed to cooperate.

DOOCY: OK, so there you go. It worked. It kept -- kept us safe. That's what we've been hearing from the George W. Bush administration over the last six months or so.

KILMEADE: But Steve, I would even say this, from the CIA inspector general John Helgerson -- not from George Bush.

DOOCY: Right.

KILMEADE: This is just as the CIA said -- we have an inspector general that goes in there and decides what the conclusions are. This is the conclusions that Dick Cheney says this is a portion of what I wanted to release. It was released in Saturday's Washington Post.

DOOCY: Right.

From the August 31 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:

SCARBOROUGH: Pat Buchanan, John McCain saying that the CIA program didn't work. It actually created more terrorists. What say you, sir?

BUCHANAN: I think certainly John McCain is in part right when he says revelation that torture and things like this were used on prisoners damages the United States and is used as a tool of recruitment by Al Qaeda. I have no doubt about that, and I have no doubt that Abu Ghraib was very damaging and helped Al Qaeda recruit.

At the same time, Joe, I have no doubt that Vice President Cheney is also correct that these enhanced interrogation methods, threatening people with mock executions, threatening them with drills, these things -- sleep deprivation -- apparently elicited an enormous -- an enormous amount of information, from what I've read, about Al Qaeda plots, about their identity of their people in the United States, and that it was a successful program.

SCARBOROUGH: We waterboarded three people.

BUCHANAN: So I think they're both right.

SCARBOROUGH: And we waterboarded three people. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed gave us a remarkable treasure trove of intel. For months, there'd been lies that have been propagated that no good information was passed. Even Khalid Shaikh Mohammed said a couple of months ago, "Oh, I just made things up." Yeah, you made things up that led our agents to understand the entire -- the entire -- setup of Al Qaeda. And we --

BUCHANAN: You know, Joe, they got this -- this one fellow in Ohio -- sleeper agent, truck driver out there -- right away he's being arrested. Other folks are being arrested in New York. And all manner of these plots were revealed by this fellow, and eventually, when he was turned, he gets up, and he's conducting a seminar laying out all the details of it for the United States. An unbelievable treasure trove of information.

SCARBOROUGH: And he actually -- Khalid Shaikh Mohammed -- and this will come out -- we've actually talked about it here. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed would set up, after the waterboarding and everything else, things had leveled off, he would -- he would set up a -- they would give him a dry erase board, and he would conduct three-hour lectures on how Al Qaeda worked. And he would actually -- he would lecture the CIA agents.

If they started to fall asleep, and he'd be like, "This is important. This is an important part." There is so much stuff that's going to come out. When The Washington Post actually started writing about this, there are a lot of people that are going to look so unbelievably stupid for the ignorant things they've been saying over the -- if you wanted -- if you want to debate the morals of this, as I've been saying from the beginning, say we're better than this as a country.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI (co-host): Right.

SCARBOROUGH: Say it's immoral.

BRZEZINSKI: Right.

SCARBOROUGH: Say that this violates our -- make those moral arguments if you want. But, please, the argument that this never worked is just -- it's insanity.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, but I think -- I'm not sure everyone's trying to make that argument.

SCARBOROUGH: Getting intel --

BRZEZINSKI: Harold Ford Jr. --

SCARBOROUGH: -- no, most people -- can we read The Washington Post.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I think we can get some bad information, too. So I think there's the balance of the overall effect of it that needs to be looked at. And Harold Ford Jr., wouldn't you argue that there is some value at looking back at what we have done? I know, there's going to be some [inaudible].

SCARBOROUGH: Can we read The Washington Post article before the show's over?

BRZEZINSKI: Fine.

SCARBOROUGH: If that's OK?

BRZEZINSKI: Yes.

SCARBOROUGH: Before the show's over. And, by the way, if you get bad intel, Mika, you know what you find out? You find out it's bad intel, and then you circle back. But if you get intel that there's a truck driver in Ohio -- a sleeper agent in Ohio -- and you hear this from two or three different -- you find out that actually it's good intel. And, again, the facts are out there. The truth is getting known now.

BRZEZINSKI: I'm not disputing your argument.

SCARBOROUGH: And that's why newspapers like The Washington Post are having to back up now and say, "Oh, wait a second. This did work."

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