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GOP Memo Misrepresents CIA IG Report on Effectiveness of Torture

It’s not just former Vice President Dick Cheney who misrepresented what the CIA inspector general’s report says about the effectiveness of torture. Michael Goldfarb at the Weekly Standard reports on a “GOP memo” he says is being circulated on the Hill that’s a laughable tissue of decontextualized bullet-pointed quotes from the report. For instance, its first example:

• “Agency senior managers believe that lives have been saved as a result of the capture and interrogation of terrorists who were planning attacks, in particular, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, Abu Zubaydah, Hambali, and Al-Nashiri.” page 88 para 217.

Read the sentence that precedes it: “This Review did not uncover any evidence that these plots were imminent.” There’s a difference between belief and reality — and if you read the section of the report on “Effectiveness” (it begins at page 85) in context, it’s clear that the former CIA inspector general, John Helgerson, took great pains to distinguish the two and provide explicit skepticism on those claims. The CIA’s detention program “has been effective,” he writes, insofar as it got the terrorists apprehended. “Measuring the effectiveness of EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques], however, is a more subjective process and not without some concern.” He then spends two pages providing a dispassionate account of information detainees “provided… on al-Qa’ida and other terrorist groups” that “assisted” in the “identification of terrorists.” He does not vouch for the information.

But starting on page 89, at paragraph 220, Helgerson pours cold water — you’ll pardon the pun, right? — on the GOP memo’s claims:

Inasmuch as EITs have been used only since August 2002, and they have not all been used with every high value detainee, there is limited data on which to assess their individual effectiveness. This Review identified concerns about the use of the waterboard, specifically whether the risks of its use were justified by the results, whether it has been unnecessarily used in some instances, and whether the fact that it is being applied in a manner different from its use in SERE training brings into question the continued applicability of the DoJ opinion to its use. Although the waterboard is the most intrusive of the EITs, the fact that precautions have been taken to provide on-site medical oversight in the use of all EITs is evidence that their use poses risks.

[REDACTED] Determining the effectiveness of each EIT is important in facilitating Agency management’s decision as to which techniques should be used and for how long. Measuring the overall effectiveness of EITs is challenging for a number of reasons including: (1) the Agency cannot determine with any certainty the totality of the intelligence the detainee actually possesses; (2) each detainee has different fears of and tolerance foe EITs; (3) the application of the same EITs by different interrogators may have different results; and [REDACTED].

With admirable intellectual honesty, Helgerson analyzes the waterboarding cases of the three detainees on whom the technique was used. With the first, Abu Zubaydah, the number of intelligence reports provided before and after his waterboarding is redacted, and there is no attempt at adjudicating the claims of those reports. “It is not possible to say definitively that the waterboard is the reason for Abu Zubaydah’s increased production, or if another factor, such as the length of detention, was the catalyst,” he writes, but still says that “since the use of the waterboard” Abu Zubaydah has “appeared to be cooperative,” which will convince everyone who believes the post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc fallacy that waterboarding worked.

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Helgerson writes, was initially compliant after waterboarding, but then his interrogators thought he was holding out on him, so he was tortured further but not waterboarded. “Because of the litany of techniques used by different interrogators over a relatively short period of time, it is difficult to identify why exactly al-Nashiri became more willing to provide information,” he writes, but — again with the post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc construction — Helgerson does write that after being tortured, al-Nashiri “provided information about his most operational planning.” So I’ll cede that one to be charitable.

Then there is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, whom the CIA says is its “preeminent source” about al-Qaeda. Helgerson says that KSM wasn’t compliant before his waterboarding, providing “outdated, inaccurate or incomplete” information. But the rest of the paragraph detailing what Helgerson judges about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is redacted.

This is also context that the GOP memo, perhaps unsurprisingly, omits and ignores. Similarly, Helgerson follows the “effectiveness” section with an extensive discussion of the policy implications of embracing torture, beginning with the flat statement that “the EITs used by the Agency under the CTC [Counterterrorist Center] Program are inconsistent with the public policy positions that the United States has taken regarding human rights.” He continues to provide the dreaded Equivalence, citing examples of the State Department criticizing foreign countries for performing their own “enhanced interrogation techniques.” It’s laughable, but perhaps not surprising, that those who defend the torture program the loudest and misrepresent its contents the greatest consider themselves to be stalwart advocates of liberty.

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