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The Information Feedback Loop

Ah, CIA analysts: they can’t participate in interrogations, but they can ensure that the interrogations remain brutal. According to the 2004 CIA inspector general report on torture, the CIA didn’t know a tremendous amount about al-Qaeda to inform its interrogations. Quoth the report, “This lack of knowledge led analysts to speculate about what a detainee ‘should know,’ vice information that the analyst could objectively demonstrate the detainee did know.”

What did that lead to? More torture. In the absence of information, “the assumption at Headquarters” became that if a detainee wasn’t giving interrogators what they wanted, it was because the detainee hadn’t been sufficiently tortured. “Consequently, Headquarters recommended resumption of EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques].” There became no way for a detainee to prove that he didn’t know something. In that way, once torture was introduced, a prudential interrogator calculation — he probably knows more — became a license to continue the torture. Former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan has alluded to that in his testimony about the gradual descent into torturing al-Qaeda detainee Abu Zubaydah in 2002.

What the report doesn’t go into — at least in its unredacted portions — is whether some of this had to do with tying al-Qaeda to Iraq, a top contemporaneous Bush administration priority. Already the Senate Armed Services Committee report from last year had a conspicuous passage about how Guantanamo Bay military interrogators were under pressure to produce such ties. “While we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al Qaida and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al Qaida and Iraq,” one interrogator told the committee. “The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link … there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.” Ibn Shaikh al-Libi, the source of the Bush administration’s claims that Saddam Hussein provided al-Qaeda with WMD training, later recanted his account, which was produced under torture.

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