CIA Officers Involved in Legally Approved Interrogation Program Feared Government Would ‘Not Stand Behind Them,’ Says Inspector General Report

August 25, 2009 - 11:46 AM
CIA officers involved in a legally approved terrorist interrogation program nonetheless feared that the U.S. government would not "stand behind them" if  they were later targeted for legal action because of the tough techniques used in the program, according to a report by the CIA's Office of Inspector General.

The cover of a newly declassified CIA document from the CIA’s inspector general, dated May 7, 2004, detailing counterterrorism, detention and interrogation activities. (AP Photo/CIA)

(CNSNews.com) - Officers of the Central Intelligence Agency involved in a terrorist interrogation program that had been reviewed by the Justice Department, authorized by agency superiors, approved by top administration officials and repeatedly briefed to leaders of the intelligence committees in the House and Senate nonetheless feared that the U.S. government would not “stand behind them” if  they were later targeted for legal action because of the tough techniques used in the program, according to a report by the CIA’s Office of Inspector General.
 
On Monday, Atty. Gen. Eric Holder took a step toward justifying those fears, when it was reported he was naming a special prosecutor to investigate the CIA’s interrogation of detained terrorists.
 
A May 7, 2004 report by CIA’s inspector general also was released yesterday as demanded by the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit brought under the Freedom of Information Act.
 
The report details problems that occurred in the interrogation program and relates the concerns of CIA officers involved.
 
“One officer expressed concern that one day, Agency officers will wind up on some ‘wanted list’ to appear before the World Court for war crimes stemming from activities [phrase redacted],” said the IG report. “Another said, ‘Ten years from now we’re going to be sorry we’re doing this … [but] it has to be done.’”
 
This CIA officer, according to the IG report, “expressed concerns that the CTC [Counterterrorist Center] Program will be exposed in the news media and cited particular concern about the possibility of being named in a leak.”
 
CIA officers harbored these fears even though the agency had vetted the program with the Justice Department, received approval from administration officials and repeatedly informed leaders of the congressional intelligence committees about what they were doing.
 
“The current CTC Detention and Interrogation Program has been subject to DoJ legal review and Administration approval but diverges sharply from previous Agency policy and rules that govern interrogations by U.S. military and law enforcement officers,” the IG report said. “Officers are concerned that public revelation of the CTC Program will seriously damage Agency officers’ personal reputations, as well as the reputation and effectiveness of the Agency itself.”
 
The program was not free of problems and abuses. The IG report indicates, however, that these were few in number.
 
One case of non-physical detainee abuse discussed in the report was referred by the CIA to the Justice Department in 2003. The Justice Department considered the case for several months and then declined to prosecute.
 
“This Review heard allegations of the use of unauthorized techniques [redacted phrase],” said the IG report. “The most significant, the handgun and power drill incident discussed below, is the subject of a separate IG investigation. In addition, individuals interviewed during the Review identified other techniques that caused concern because DoJ had not specifically approved them. These included the making of threats, blowing cigar smoke, employing certain stress positions, the use of a stiff brush on a detainee, and stepping on a detainee’s ankle shackles.
 
“For all the instances, the allegations were disputed or too ambiguous to reach any authoritative determination regarding the facts,” said the IG report. “Thus, although these allegations are illustrative of the nature of the concerns held by individuals associated with the CTC Program and the need for clear guidance, they did not warrant separate investigations or administrative action.”
 
The handgun-and-power drill incident involved Abd al-Rahim Al-Nashiri, described by the 9/11 Commission Report as the mastermind of the attack on the USS Cole.  A CIA debriefer, according to the IG report, “used an unloaded semi-automatic handgun as a prop to frighten Al-Nashiri into disclosing information. After discussing this plan with [redacted] the debriefer entered the cell where Al-Nashiri sat shackled and racked the handgun once or twice close to Al-Nashiri’s head.”
 
The debriefer also used a power drill in a similar manner. “On what was probably the same day,” said the IG report, “the debriefer used a power drill to frighten Al-Nashiri. With [redacted] consent, the debriefer entered the detainee’s cell and revved the drill while the detainee stood naked and hooded. The debriefer did not touch Al-Nashiri with the power drill.”
 
The CIA inspector general referred these incidents to the Justice Department. “OIG investigated and referred its findings to the Criminal Division of DoJ,” said the IG report. “On 11 September 2003, DoJ declined to prosecute and turned these matters over to CIA for disposition. These incidents are the subject of a separate OIG Report of Investigation.”
 
Despite the fact that there were few instances in which CIA interrogators used techniques that went beyond the scope of what had been specifically approved by the Justice Department, the CIA inspector general was concerned that the actual use of the waterboard in interrogations—which was employed on only three CIA detainees—was more harsh and prolonged than it had been in the U.S. military training program that had been the basis for the Justice Department’s analysis that the technique was legal.
 
“There were few instances of deviations from approved procedures [redacted phrase] with one notable exception described in this Review,” said the IG report. “With respect to two detainees at those sites, the use and the frequency of one EIT, the waterboard, went beyond the projected use of the technique as originally described to DoJ. The Agency, on 29 July 2003, secured oral DoJ concurrence that certain deviations are not significant for purposes of DoJ’s legal opinions.”
 
The report indicates that the CIA repeatedly went to leaders in the administration and the congressional intelligence committees to report what it was doing.
 
“In the fall of 2002,” says the IG report, “the Agency briefed the leadership of the Congressional Intelligence Oversight Committees on the use of both standard techniques and EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques].
 
“In early 2003, CIA officials, at the urging of the [CIA’s] General Counsel, continued to inform senior Administration officials and the leadership of the Congressional Oversight Committees of the then-current status of the CTC Program,” says the IG report. “The Agency specifically wanted to ensure that these officials and the Committees continued to be aware of and approve CIA’s actions. The General Counsel recalls that he spoke and met with White House Counsel and others at the NSC, as well as DOJ’s Criminal Division and Office of Legal Counsel beginning in December 2002 and briefed them on the scope and breadth of the CTC’s Detention and Interrogation Program.”

In repeated briefings, according to the IG report, the leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees did not express objections to the interrogation program.
 
“Representatives of the DO [Directorate of Operations], in the presence of the Director of Congressional Affairs and the General Counsel, continued to brief the leadership of the Intelligence Oversight Committees on the use of the EITs and detentions in February and March 2003,” says the IG report. “The General Counsel says that none of the participants expressed any concern about the techniques or the Program.”
 
When they were briefed again on the program that fall, according to the IG report, the leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees still did not express any problem with the CIA program.
 
“According to OGC [Office of General Counsel], the senior officials were again briefed regarding the CTC Program on 16 September 2003, and the Intelligence Committee leadership was briefed again in September 2003,” said the IG report. “Again, according to OGC, none of those involved in these briefings expressed any reservations about the program.”
 
Yet CIA officers involved in the program, the IG report said, feared the U.S. government would “not stand behind them” in the event they were later targeted by legal action. 
 
In this context, the report noted that the program was dramatically different from past U.S. practices, differed from the public statements of U.S. officials, and that officers were aware that there had been some activities that “were outside or beyond the scope” of the Justice Department’s written opinion on the legality of the program.
 
“A number of Agency officers of various grade levels who are involved with detention and interrogation activities are concerned that they may at some future date be vulnerable to legal action in the United States or abroad and that the U.S. government will not stand behind them,” said the IG report.
 
“Although the current detention and interrogation Program has been subject to DoJ legal review and Administration political approval, it diverges sharply from previous Agency policy and practice, rules that govern interrogation by U.S. military and law enforcement officers, statements of U.S. policy by the Department of State, and public statements by very senior U.S. officials, including the President, as well as the policies expressed by Members of Congress, other Western governments, international organizations, and human rights groups,” said the IG report.
 
“In addition, some Agency officers are aware of interrogation activities that were outside or beyond the scope of the written DoJ opinion,” said the IG report.  “Officers are concerned that future public revelation of the CTC Program is inevitable and will seriously damage Agency officers’ personal reputations, as well as the reputation and effectiveness of the Agency itself.”
 
The IG report indicated that information gleaned from terrorists detained and questioned by the CIA led to the capture of additional terrorists and information about multiple plots against the United States. The report also said, however, that assigning credit to any particular interrogation technique for collecting information that could not have been collected by other means was difficult to do.
 
“The effectiveness of particular interrogation techniques in eliciting information that might not otherwise have been obtained cannot be so easily measured, however,” said the report.
 
According to the report, information from Abu Zubaydah—one of the three terrorists who was waterboarded—“helped lead to the identification of Jose Padilla and Binyam Muhammad—operatives who had plans to detonate a uranium topped dirty bomb in either Washington, D.C. , or New York City.” 
 
Information from detainees, the report said, also helped uncover plots to “loosen track spikes in an attempt to derail a train in the United States,” “blow up several U.S. gas stations to create panic and havoc,” “hijack and fly an airplane into the tallest building in California in a west coast [sic] version of the World Trade Center attack,” and “cut lines of suspension bridges in New York in an effort to make them collapse.”
 
Before the CIA’s Inspector General report was released yesterday, CIA Director Leon Panetta issued a public statement to CIA employees.
 
“The Agency sought and received multiple written assurances that its methods were lawful,” said Panetta. 
 
“I make no judgments on the accuracy of the 2004 IG report or the various views expressed about it. Nor am I eager to enter the debate, already politicized, over the ultimate utility of the Agency’s past detention and interrogation effort,” said Panetta. “But this much is clear: The CIA obtained intelligence from high-value detainees when inside information on al-Qa’ida was in short supply. Whether this was the only way to obtain that information will remain a legitimate area of dispute, with Americans holding a range of views on the methods used.”