CIA battles Senate Democrats over torture report
Officials are concerned that the historical record may define them as torturers instead of patriots and expose them to legal action around the world.
The Senate intelligence committee's report doesn't urge prosecution for wrongdoing, and the US justice department has no interest in re-opening a criminal probe. But the threat to former interrogators and their superiors was underlined as a UN special investigator demanded that those responsible for "systematic crimes" be brought to justice.
Human rights groups have also pushed for the arrest of key CIA and Bush administration figures if they travel overseas.
Current and former CIA officials pushed back on Wednesday, determined to paint the Senate report as a political stunt by Democrats, trying to tarnish a programme that saved American lives.
It is a "one-sided study, marred by errors of fact and interpretation - essentially a poorly done and partisan attack on the agency that has done the most to protect America," former CIA directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece.
Mr Hayden was singled out by Senate investigators for what they said was a string of misleading or outright false statements he gave in 2007 about the importance of the CIA's brutal treatment of detainees in thwarting terrorist attacks. He described the focus on him as "ironic on so many levels" as any wrongdoing pre-dated his arrival at the agency.
"They were far too interested in yelling at me," Mr Hayden said in an email.
The intelligence committee released a 500-page summary of the main report on Tuesday. It concluded that the CIA inflicted suffering on Al Qaeda prisoners beyond its legal authority and that none of the agency's "enhanced interrogations" provided critical, life-saving intelligence. The summary cited the CIA's own records, documenting in detail how waterboarding and lesser-known techniques such as "rectal feeding" were actually employed.
The CIA is now in the uncomfortable position of defending itself publicly, given its basic mission to protect the country secretly. Its 136-page rebuttal suggests Senate Democrats searched through millions of documents to pull out only the evidence backing up pre-determined conclusions. "That's like doing a crossword puzzle on Tuesday with Wednesday's answer's key," the CIA said in an emailed statement.
Challenging the report's argument that harsh interrogation techniques didn't lead to Osama bin Laden, the CIA pointed to questioning of Ammar Al Baluchi, who revealed how an Al Qaeda operative relayed messages to and from bin Laden after he departed Afghanistan. Before then, the CIA said, the agency only knew that courier Abu Ahmad Al Kuwaiti interacted with bin Laden in 2001, when the Al Qaeda leader was accessible to many of his followers. Al Kuwaiti eventually led the United States to bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.
Poring over the same body of evidence as the investigators, the CIA insisted that most of the 20 case studies cited in the Senate report actually illustrated how enhanced interrogations helped disrupt plots, capture terrorists and prevent another 9/11-type attack. The agency said it obtained legal authority for its actions from the justice department and White House, and made "good faith" efforts to keep congressional leaders informed.
Former CIA officials responsible for the program echoed these points in interviews.
John McLaughlin, who was the CIA's deputy director at the time of the September 11 attacks, said waterboarding and other tactics transformed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed into a US "consultant" on Al Qaeda.
The agency's then director, Mr Tenet, said the interrogation program "saved thousands of Americans lives" while the country faced a "ticking time bomb every day."
Former Vice President Dick Cheney has also pushed back, saying in a Fox News interview that the Senate report "is full of crap."
In no uncertain terms, Mr Cheney said the CIA's approach to interrogating terror suspects was necessary after the attacks on 9/11, and the people who carried them out were doing their duty.
"We asked the agency to go take steps and put in place programmes that were designed to catch the bastards who killed 3,000 of us on 9/11 and make sure it didn't happen again, and that's exactly what they did, and they deserve a lot of credit," he said, "not the condemnation they are receiving from the Senate Democrats. "
Former CIA officials have also published a website - ciasavedlives.com - pointing out decade-old statements from Senators Dianne Feinstein and Jay Rockefeller that seem to show support of agency efforts. The two Democrats spearheaded the Senate investigation.
The intelligence committee's Republicans issued their own 167-page "minority" report and said the Democratic analysis was flawed, dishonest and, at US$40 million (Dh146.9m), a waste of taxpayer money. Ms Feinstein's office said on Wednesday that the CIA incurred most of this cost by trying to hide its record.
If the sides agreed on one thing, it was that the CIA suffered from significant mismanagement problems early on. The agency and its Republican supporters say those failings were corrected, however.
* Associated Press
Published: December 11, 2014 04:00 AM