Mike Posner on the Question of ‘Enhanced Interrogation’

On Monday, April 30, former CIA Director George Tenet published his memoir, At the Center of the Storm. Much of the coverage of the book has focused on Mr. Tenet’s assessment of the CIA’s role leading up to the war in Iraq. But both in the book and in several media appearances, Mr. Tenet has tried to justify the CIA’s use of secret prisons and so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

What Mr. Tenet says about the monitoring of prisoners in CIA custody:

“CIA officers came up with a series of interrogation techniques that would be carefully monitored at all times to ensure the safety of the prisoner.”
[At the Center of the Storm, p. 242]

Human Rights First’s response:

Monitored by whom? The CIA program Mr. Tenet refers to included holding prisoners in secret incommunicado detention with no access to the International Committee of the Red Cross or any outside monitoring agency. This practice is illegal under U.S. and international law. According to a number of reports, including an in-depth report by Human Rights First, the CIA has operated these secret detention facilities in a number of places including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jordan, Morocco, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, the Ukraine, Kosovo, Macedonia and on Diego Garcia.

What Mr. Tenet says about torture and “aggressive interrogation techniques”:

“The most aggressive interrogation techniques conducted by CIA personnel were applied to only a handful of the worst terrorists on the planet, including people who had planned the 9/11 attacks and who, among other things, were responsible for journalist Daniel Pearl’s death. The interrogation of these few individuals was conducted in a precisely monitored, measured way intended to try to prevent what we believed to be an imminent follow-up attack. ”
[At the Center of the Storm, pp. 241-42].

“I don’t talk about techniques and we don’t torture people . . . Whatever we did was authorized. Whatever the program is, the Attorney General of the United States said is legal, you can go ahead.”
[Interview with Scott Pelley – CBS “60 Minutes,” April 29, 2007]

“[W]hat we did was authorized, legal, prudent, briefed. And we don’t torture and I don’t talk about techniques.”
[Interview with Larry King, CNN “Larry King Live,” April 30,2007]

Human Rights First’s Response:

What Mr. Tenet terms “aggressive interrogation techniques” reportedly include torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading practices like these:

Water Boarding: The detainee is bound to a board while water is poured over his face, which is wrapped in plastic. This causes near asphyxiation and a fear of drowning

Exposure to Severe Cold Temperatures: The detainee is soaked in cold water and left to stand naked in a cold cell.

Stress Positions: the detainee is cuffed and shackled in uncomfortable positions for upwards of 40 hours, depriving him of sleep and causing him pain.

The Belly Slap: The detainee is hit in the stomach, with the intent to cause pain but not internal injury. Government doctors reportedly warned that it could cause permanent internal damage.

In addition the CIA has reportedly denied pain medication, and used extreme sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation and isolation.

All of these techniques violate U.S. and international laws to which US officials, including CIA personnel, are bound. Each of these techniques also explicitly violates the U.S. Army’s Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation. Last September, on the day the revised Army Field Manual was made public, Lt. General John Kimmons, the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Interrogations announced the Army’s rejection of official cruelty: “[N]o good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices.”

Mr. Tenet’s use of the term “Torture”:

“Larry, we don’t torture people. It’s very important for people to understand that we live in a nation of laws.”
[Interview with Larry King, CNN “Larry King Live,” April 30, 2007]

Human Rights First’s Response:

Mr. Tenet and other administration officials have consistently drawn a distinction between what they deem to be torture, which they say the US does not allow, and other forms of official cruelty, which they argue may be practiced. In August 2002, lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel of the Justice Department defined torture to mean that “[w]hen the pain is physical, it must be of an intensity akin to that which accompanies serious physical injury such as death or organ failure. Severe mental pain requires suffering not just at the moment of infliction but it also requires lasting psychological harm.” The memo was written at the request of the CIA, which was looking for legal authority to use the techniques described above. Under public pressure, the administration withdrew this definition, which flies in the face of the common sense meaning of the term. But Mr. Tenet and others have continued to assert that the CIA’s “alternative interrogation procedures” are not torture and therefore legal.

These “enhanced” or “alternative” interrogation techniques violate U.S. and international law, including the Detainee Treatment Act, passed overwhelmingly by Congress in the fall of 2005. This law explicitly bans all forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of any prisoners in US custody. It also applies the Army’s field manual to all U.S. agencies including the CIA when they operate in a US military facility.

Mr. Tenet’s comments on the effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program:

“Information from these interrogations helped disrupt plots aimed at locations in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Middle East, South Asia and Central Asia.” [In the Center of the Storm, p. 242]

“I know that this program has saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots.”
[Interview with Scott Pelley, CBS “60 Minutes,” April 29,2007]

Human Rights First’s response:

While these coercive interrogations may have yielded some useful intelligence, they also have stained America’s image in the world and seriously undermined support for U.S. efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere among people around the world whose cooperation and expertise the U.S. needs.

In some important cases, these techniques also have led to official reliance on unreliable information extracted by coercive means. One striking example is the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libbi. He was interrogated by the CIA in Pakistan and then turned over by them to the Egyptian intelligence services for coercive interrogation. Under duress he gave detailed information describing ties between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration relied heavily on this testimony in making the case for the war in Iraq , at the UN and elsewhere. Al-Libbi later recanted his testimony after he was returned to U.S. custody, and the U.S. intelligence community recommended that information obtained from al-Libbi be regarded as highly suspect.

Mr. Tenet’s response to Senator John McCain and others who are calling for an end to all forms of official cruelty:

“Listen, Larry, I respect Senator McCain and I know what his experience was . . . And Senator McCain raised something at the end that’s quite important. He raised this values question. He raised where we want to be as a society. All I’m saying , wherever we decide to be , whatever the country decides , whatever we decide on a bi-partisan basis, listen: I accept the issues he raises.”
[Interview with Larry King, CNN “Larry King Live,” April 30,2007]

Human Rights First’s response:

We agree with Mr. Tenet that these issues are about values and who Americans want to be as a people.

Responding specifically to Mr. Tenet’s book Senator John McCain said:

“A man I admire more than anyone else, General Jack Vessey, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff … told me once – he said ‘John, any intelligence information we might gain through the use of torture could never, ever balance the damage that it does to our image in the world.’ I agree with him. Look at the war in Algeria. Look, the fact that you torture someone, they are going to tell you everything they think you want to know. It’s an affront to everything we stand for and believe in.”

“It’s interesting to me that every retired military officer whether it be Colin Powell or whether it be former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – everybody whose been in war doesn’t want to torture people and think that it’s the wrong thing to do. And history shows that.”
[Interview of John McCain by Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday,” April 29, 2007]

What Military Leaders Say

And finally these are comments by three senior military leaders on the same subject.

“I continue to read and hear that we are facing a ‘different enemy’ in the war on terror; no matter how true that may be, inhumanity and cruelty are not new to warfare nor to enemies we have faced in the past. In my short 46 years in the armed forces Americans confronted the horrors of prison camps of the Japanese in World War II, the North Koreans in 1950-53, and the North Vietnamese in the long years of the Vietnam War, as well as knowledge of the Nazi’s holocaust depredations during World War II. Through those years, we held our own values. We should continue to do so.”
[Letter from General John Vessey , former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Senator McCain opposing a proposed redefinition of Common Article 3 (the humane treatment standard) of the Geneva Conventions, September 12, 2006]

“The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. To redefine Common Article 3 would add to those doubts. Furthermore it would put our own troops at risk.”
[Letter from General Colin Powell to Senator McCain on the same subject, September 13, 2006.]

“This issue is all about how we, as Americans, act. Do we walk our talk? Do we change the rules of the game because our enemy acts in a horrific manner? Do we give up our honor because our enemy is without honor? If we do, we begin to mimic the very behavior we abhor.”
[Letter from General Charles Krulak, former Commandant of the Marine Corps, to Senator McCain, September 2006.]


Published on May 3, 2007


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