Four CIA Chiefs Said 'Don't Reveal Torture Memos'
Agency's ex-directors objected to interrogation techniques being revealed. But Barack Obama went ahead anyway.
WASHINGTON - Four former CIA directors opposed the release of classified Bush-era
interrogation memos, officials say, describing objections that went all
the way to the White House and slowed disclosure of the records. Former
CIA chiefs Michael Hayden, Porter Goss, George Tenet and John Deutch
all called the White House in March warning that release of the
so-called "torture memos" would compromise intelligence operations,
current and former officials say.
President Barack Obama
ultimately overruled the objections after internal discussions that
intensified in the weeks that followed the former directors'
intervention. The memos were released on Thursday.
involvement grew as the decision neared, and he even led a National
Security Council session on the matter, four senior administration
officials said. White House adviser David Axelrod, who said he also
talked to Mr Obama about the pending release of the memos in recent
weeks, said the ex-directors' opposition was considered seriously but
did not impede the decision-making process. "The CIA directors weighed
in and it slowed things down," Mr Axelrod said on Friday.
The memos detailed the legal rationales that senior Bush
administration lawyers drew up authorising the CIA to use simulated
drowning and other harsh techniques on terror suspects. They described
how prisoners were naked, shackled and hooded at the start of
interrogation sessions. When the CIA interrogator removed the hood, the
questioning began. When a prisoner resisted, the documents outlined
techniques the CIA could use to bring him back in line:
sleep deprivation and dietary restrictions kept prisoners compliant and
reminded them they had no control over their basic needs. Clothes and
food could be used as rewards for co-operation.
prisoners on the face or abdomen was allowed. So was grabbing them
forcefully by the collar or slamming them into a false wall, a
technique called "walling" intended to induce fear rather than pain.
Water hoses were used to douse the prisoners for minutes at a time. The
hoses were turned on and off as the interrogation continued.
Prisoners were put into one of three "stress positions", such as
sitting on the floor with legs out straight and arms raised in the air.
At night, the detainees were shackled, standing naked or wearing a
nappy. The length of sleep deprivation varied but was authorised for up
to 180 hours, or seven and a half days. Interrogation sessions ranged
from 30 minutes to several hours and could be repeated as necessary,
and as approved by psychological and medical teams.
administration approved the use of waterboarding, a technique in which
a suspect was strapped to a board, his feet raised above his head, and
his face covered with a wet cloth as interrogators poured water over
it. The body responds as if it is drowning, over and over as the
process is repeated. "We find that the use of the waterboard
constitutes a threat of imminent death," Justice Department attorneys
wrote. "From the vantage point of any reasonable person undergoing this
procedure in such circumstances, he would feel as if he is drowning at
the very moment of the procedure due to the uncontrollable
physiological sensation he is experiencing."
decided that waterboarding caused "no pain or actual harm whatsoever"
and so did not meet the "severe pain and suffering" standard to be
President Obama has ended the CIA's
interrogation programme. CIA interrogators are now required to follow
army guidelines, under which waterboarding and many of the techniques
listed above are prohibited.
The President gave the question of
these documents' release "the appropriate reflection", Mr Axelrod said.
He said Mr Obama's deliberations revolved around "the issue of national
security versus the rule of law", and amounted to "one of the most
profound issues the President of the United States has to deal with".
18 March, the Justice Department told the Director of the CIA, Leon
Panetta, as he was leaving for a foreign trip, that it would be
recommending that the White House release the memos almost completely
uncensored, officials said. Mr Panetta told the US Attorney General,
Eric Holder, and officials in the White House that the administration
needed to discuss the possibility that the memos' release might expose
CIA officers to lawsuits on allegations of torture and abuse. Mr
Panetta also pushed for more censorship of the memos, officials said.
The Justice Department informed other senior CIA leaders of the
decision to release the memos and, as a courtesy, told former agency
Senior CIA officials objected, arguing that the
release would damage the agency's ability to interrogate prisoners.
They also said the move would tarnish CIA officers who had acted on the
Bush officials' legal guidance. And they warned that the action would
erode foreign intelligence services' trust in the CIA's ability to
protect national security secrets. The four former directors
immediately protested to the White House, officials said. The enhanced
interrogation procedures outlined in the memos had been approved on Mr
Tenet's watch during the Bush administration.
On 19 March, the
Justice Department requested a two-week delay in responding to a
Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil
Liberties Union (ACLU) that asked for release of the memos. Justice
officials told the court dealing with that lawsuit that it was
considering releasing the memos voluntarily. Two weeks later, Justice
Department lawyers told the court the memos would come out on or before
Inside the White House, according to aides, Mr Obama
expressed concerns that releasing the memos could threaten current
intelligence operations as well as US officials. He also echoed the CIA
chiefs' worries about US relationships with always-skittish foreign
intelligence services. The Justice Department argued that the ACLU
lawsuit would in the end force the administration to release the
documents anyway, officials said.
Mr Obama eventually agreed.
The administration decided it would be better to make the release
voluntarily, so as not to be seen as being forced to do so, the
officials said. The only items blacked out included names of US
employees or foreign services or items related to techniques still in
use. Still, CIA officials needed reassurance about the decision, the
Mr Obama took the unusual step of accompanying
his decision with a personal letter to CIA employees. He also devoted a
big share of his public statement to saying and repeating that he
believed strongly in keeping intelligence operations secret, and
operations about them classified. He said he would not apologise for
doing so in the future
What the memos reveal
Bush administration memos describe the interrogation methods used
against 28 terror suspects, the fullest government account of the
techniques to date. They range from waterboarding - or simulated
drowning - to using a plastic neck collar to slam detainees into walls.
The treatment of two suspects in particular are described:
In 2002, the Justice Department authorised CIA interrogators to step up
the pressure even further on the suspected terrorist. Justice
Department lawyers said the CIA could place Zubaydah in a cramped
confinement box. Because Zubaydah appeared afraid of insects, they also
authorised interrogators to place him in a box filled with caterpillars
(though the tactic was not in fact used). Finally, the Justice
Department authorised interrogators to take a step into what the United
States now considers torture: waterboarding. Zubaydah was strapped to a
board, his feet raised above his head. His face was covered with a wet
cloth as interrogators poured water over it.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
A memo dated 30 May 2005 says that before the harsher methods were used
on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a top al-Qa'ida detainee, he refused to
answer questions about pending plots against the US. "Soon, you will
know," he said, according to the memo. It says the interrogations later
extracted details of a plot called the "second wave", using East Asian
operatives to crash a hijacked airliner in Los Angeles. Plots that were
disrupted, the memos say, include the alleged effort by Jose Padilla to
detonate a "dirty bomb", spreading radioactive materials by means of