Here’s How the CIA Can Fudge the Question of Whether Torture ‘Worked’

August 24, 2009 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

For those, like former Vice President Dick Cheney, who want to argue that CIA torture “worked,” a footnote on page six of the 2004 CIA inspector general’s report on torture provides a blueprint for muddying the waters. Rarely if ever, according to the report, did torture occur by itself. The CIA also used the rapport-building techniques that trained interrogators like the FBI’s Ali Soufan have urged, for a combination approach that might be called Good Cop/Psychotic Cop.

Before 11 September (9/11) 2001, Agency personnel sometimes used the terms interrogation/interrogator and debriefing/debriefer interchangeably. The use of these terms has since evolved and, today, CTC [the Counterterrorist Center] more clearly distinguishes their meanings. A debriefer engages a detainee solely through question and answer. An interrogator is a person who completes a two-week interrogations training program, which is designed to train, qualify, and certify a person to administer EITs ["enhanced interrogation techniques."]. An interrogator can administer EITs during an interrogation of a detainee only after the field, in coordination with Headquarters, assesses the detainee as withholding information. An interrogator transitions the detainee from a non-cooperative to a cooperative phase in order that a debriefer can elicit actionable intelligence through non-aggressive techniques during debriefing sessions. An interrogator may debrief a detainee during an interrogation; however, a debriefer may not interrogate a detainee.

The report goes on to say that 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 around the world.” Because of the joint relationship of “interrogators” and “debriefers,” it’s extraordinarily difficult to distinguish between what approaches worked and what didn’t for the purposes of the report. (Even factoring out moral and legal considerations.) That lack of disaggregation may be what contributed to the documents that Cheney wanted the CIA to declassify showing the alleged utility of torture.”

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