So Much Torture Disclosure to Be Had

April 21, 2009 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

Former Vice President Dick Cheney — the avatar of secrecy — really did say this last night. Daphne puts together a wish list:

[I]f there are memos showing that torture and the CIA’s other “extreme” interrogation techniques were successful, I’d like to see those, too — all of them. Including the ones that show that detainees like Abu Zubaydah gave up the most important information they had before they were waterboarded — and nothing of much use afterwards. And while we’re at it, let’s see the proof that the techniques were successful — that the information these torture victims offered actually turned out to be reliable.

But that’s not all! Naturally I’d like to see this Office of Legal Counsel memo from 2007. But any full account of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program has to include CIA Inspector General John Helgerson’s 2004 internal investigation of the program. That report has never been released despite numerous congressional requests. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, cited its nondisclosure in an op-ed arguing for the creation of an independent commission to investigate Bush-era security activities.

Several footnotes in the Office of Legal Counsel memos written by Steven Bradbury in 2005 and released last week indicate what the inspector general report found. As first reported by Marcy Wheeler at Firedoglake, Helgerson’s review determined that in practice, the CIA’s interrogators often went beyond what the Justice Department had authorized for enhanced interrogations in 2002. Medical personnel were not present at all of the enhanced interrogations, though 2002-era memoranda had anticipated they would be. The maximum-allotted number of hours for sleep deprivation was, by 2004, “260 hours or 11 days,” though 2002-era memoranda had anticipated it would be much shorter than that. CIA interrogators conducted waterboarding that was more painful and severe than the training program for U.S. Special Forces that formed the basis both for the interrogation program and the 2002-era memoranda’s legal justification for it. As a result of these inspector general-discovered discrepancies, Bradbury apparently had to re-certify that CIA interrogation practices were legal, according to the 2005-era memoranda.

Helgerson’s review made him no friends within the CIA. Former CIA Director Mike Hayden sparred with Helgerson in 2007 over whether Helgerson’s investigation of interrogation practices went beyond the inspector general’s mandate and intruded onto the portfolio of the CIA’s legal counsel. On Feb. 18, Helgerson announced his retirement from the CIA. A CIA official who declined to be quoted said that Helgerson was in the process of leaving the agency, and would be finished with his final paperwork by June. He’s no longer serving as inspector general in the interim.

By all means: disclose, disclose, disclose. Disclose *how we’d know *that we got valuable, accurate information from torture that saved Americans’ lives. We know that in at least one case, rendering an al-Qaeda detainee to Egypt named Ibn Shaikh al-Libi to be tortured resulted in claims about nonexistent ties between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that administration officials like former Secretary of State Colin Powell publicly stated as part of the case for invading Iraq. The CIA retracted those claims as unreliable a year after the invasion. Let’s see whatever memoranda exist about determining when a detainee should be interrogated by the CIA and when he should be sent to a foreign country to be tortured. No half-measures here. Cheney just made a case for a robust truth commission. Thanks!

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