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What George Tenet Thought Wasn’t an ‘Enhanced Interrogation Technique’

A few months ago I pointed to declassified references in the 2005 Office of Legal Counsel torture opinions to guidelines issued by former CIA Director George Tenet in January 2003 for the application of torture techniques. It turns out, according to the 2004 CIA inspector general’s report, that Tenet issued guidelines for both the “enhanced interrogation techniques” — waterboarding, walling, the “facial slap,” etc. — and also for “standard interrogation techniques” that “do not incorporate significant physical or psychological pressure.” Straightforward enough distinction, right? Perhaps, but look what it meant in practice:

These techniques include, but are not limited to, all lawful forms of questioning employed by U.S. law enforcement and military interrogation personnel. Among standard interrogation techniques are the use of isolation, sleep deprivation not to exceed 72 hours [reduced in December 2003 to 48 hours' maximum], reduced caloric intake (so long as the amount is calculated to maintain the general health of the detainee), deprivation of reading material, use of loud music or white noise (at a decibel level calculated to avoid damage to the detainee’s hearing), the use of diapers for limited periods (generally not to exceed 72 hours), [REDACTED] at moderate psychological pressure. The DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] Interrogation Guidelines do not specifically prohibit improvised actions. A CTC/Legal officer has said, however, that no one may employ any technique outside specifically identified standard techniques without Headquarters approval.

Before then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld began the process of expanding the definitions of what military interrogation personnel were allowed to do in November 2002 and culminating in April 2003 — a process significantly based, in chicken-and-egg fashion, on what the CIA was already doing to detainees — none of these listed techniques would have been acceptable for U.S. military interrogators. And FBI interrogators (like Ali Soufan) objected to similar treatment of detainees witnessed in 2003 at Guantanamo Bay. It’s unclear what basis Tenet had for thinking that keeping someone in a diaper for up to three days was acceptable for non-CIA interrogators. But it’s also an example of how torture, once adopted, spreads — and becomes normative. Remember, these techniques aren’t even “enhanced” ones.

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