Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Senate Torture Report (executive summary)

I am starting at page 192 III "Intelligence Acquired and CIA Representations on the Effectiveness of the CIA's Enhanced Interrogation Techniques to Multiple Constituencies"

Because I assume many others are starting on page 1 and because reading about the torture techniques is very painful.

update: Talk about burying the lead. Only on page 226 does the Senate Report describe the Jose Padilla dirty bomb plot in detail

This is the plot which allegedly made it necessary for the US to completely abaondon the 5th amendment and authorize the President to hold anyone held incommunicado forever on his say so.

An issue key to the assessment of the effectiveness of techniques (which are criminal and unacceptable in any case) is when information was obtained from people the CIA tortured. FBI agent Ali Soufan claims that he and his partner obtained valuable information from Abu Zubaydah *before* he was tortured and that Abu Zubaydah stopped providing information when the "enhanced" interrogation began. I will not how many times CIA representations say something about who talked and what they revealed but avoid any hint about when.

Not in the report, the Washington Post presents both sides of the debate

CIA Director John Brennan on Monday rebutted ...

“Our review indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom [enhanced interrogation techniques] were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives,” Brennan said in the statement. “The intelligence gained from the program was critical to our understanding of al-Qa’ida and continues to inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day.”

Note no hint as whether the interrogation which produced intelligence was "enhanced" or on whether it occured before the "enhanced" interrogation techniques were used on that detainee. His alleged rebutal is consistent with Soufan's claim.

The Senate report stresses this issue and claims it is the first official report to address it.

From the report page 206

I think the "time off for a break and to attend to personal matters" tells me much more than I want to know about how seriously Abu Zubaydah's interrogators worried about the morality of torture. Also notice the torture started *after* the discussion of the end game, that is after someone at least raised the question of whether there was any need for further questioning whether "enhanced" or legal.

The report continues

Abu Zubaydah's inability to provide information

So they tortured Abu Zubaydah because they thought he knew things which he did not reveal after being tortured, and which there is no reason to believe he knew. I don't think there is proof that there were Al Qaeda operatives inside the United States at the time.

The not at all shocking at this point fact is that, as the report notes on page 503, long after the water boarding CIA employees repeated the claim that Abu Zubaydah ceased to cooperate before being water boarded and that he then revealed valuable information. Those thoughts moved from hypothesis to history without ever being reported as current events. Or to put it another way, people guessed wrong, authorized torture based on their guesses, and then lied.

Ah this is still shocking. Before torturing Abu Zubaydah the interrogation team wrote in a cable "assumption is that the objective of this operation is to achieve a high degree of confidence that [Abu Zubaydah] is not holding back actionable information concerning threats to the United States beyond that which [Abu Zubahdah] has already provided"

The standard isn't torture if you know it is necessary but torture if you have only a moderate but not a high degree of confidence that it must be useless, because all actionable intelligence has already been obtained by legal means.

This is cute. According to the report the CIA's representations about the interrogation of both Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheik Muhammad bpth contain the unsupported claim that the terrorist "believed the general US population was 'weak' lacked resilience and was unwilling to 'do what was necessary." (I am quoting p210-11 on KSM, but the exact same quote (except missing the period) is on page 205 on AZ). So CIA torture advocates asserted that AZ and KSM believed the US was too weak to support torture and the CIA. Bit of rather obvious reverse psychology there no ?

udate: minor discussion removed for space.

Catch 22. Janat Gul was subjected to "enhanced interrogation" because Source Y said he had vital information related to an imminent atach in 2004. Gul denied everything. When confronted, source Y admitted he lied. So the enhanced interrogation provied the useful information that Source Y was a liar. The vital information Gul revealed was that Gul had no vital information to reveal. Heads they win, tails the Geneva Conventions lose.

Are they even trying ? On page 366

Finding Bin Laden: This is the final and very extensive section on the effectivness of torture. The report makes an absolutely convincing case that "enhanced interrogation" played no useful role in the finding of Bin Laden. They key to finding Bin Laden was determining that Habib al-Rahman was his courier and used the pseudonym Abu-Ahmad al-Kuwaiti. The courier's true name was guessed based interrogation of someone detained by a country other than the USA (such countries are never named in the report). The report also notes the huge amount of valuable information provided by top terroris Hassan Ghul during the two days he was detained at Cobolt (I think NY Times has figured out that is code for Bagram) *before* he was subjected to "enhanced interrogation" and the absense of significant useful information obtained after he was subjected to enhanced interrogation. In contrast KSM denied that Al-Kuwaiti was a courier and said he was retired from al Qaeda. This section is very long. I understand that the debate about whether "enhanced interrogation" was useful in the search for Bin Laden is still very open. I think it is worth reading in full (the report has a table of contents). I can just say that the report is extremely convincing on this point.

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