That question has been among the most hotly disputed issues at the center of the continuing controversy over the CIA’s interrogation of suspected terrorists. The report released Monday from the former CIA Inspector General John Helgerson should end the debate.
Throughout his report, Helgerson goes out of his way to avoid expressing an opinion about the effectiveness of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs). On page 85, for instance, he writes generally about the CIA’s detention and interrogation program:
The detention of terrorists has prevented them from engaging in further terrorist activity, and their interrogation has provided intelligence that has enabled the identification and apprehension of other terrorists, warned of terrorist plots planned for the United States and around the world, and supported articles frequently used in the finished intelligence publications for senior policymakers and war fighters. In this regard, there is no doubt that the Program has been effective.
Then he adds this caveat about EITs:
Measuring the effectiveness of EITs, however, is a more subjective process and not without some concern.
On page 89 he writes:
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.
And later, on the same page, he argues:
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 for EITs; (3) the application of the same EITs by different interrogators may have produced different results.
I’m not sure what he means that such judgments are “not without some concern.” But is it really the case that it is difficult to judge the effectiveness of EITs because of different fear thresholds among the detainees and differences in the application of the techniques by interrogators? And does it really matter, in judging whether the techniques were effective, if the CIA doesn’t know exactly how much information each detainee possesses?
A hypothetical. One detainee, we’ll call him Detainee #1, has a low tolerance for EITs. So his interrogator, we’ll call him Interrogator #1, uses four of the ten approved EIT techniques and does not use the waterboard. Still, Detainee #1 shares 70 percent of the totality of the intelligence he possesses, including information that leads to the detention of other high-ranking al Qaeda terrorists. Detainee #2 has a higher fear threshold. So Interrogator #2 uses all of the approved EITs, including the waterboard, and manages to extract, say, 80 of the totality of the intelligence the detainee possesses, including details about organizational structure and specific information about al Qaeda operatives planning attacks in the United States.
So we have 1) the inability of interrogators to extract 100 percent of the information held by the detainees; 2) different fear thresholds among detainees; and, 3) different application of EITs by interrogators.
Would anyone suggest that the use of EITs in these cases was not effective?
Consider the details in the IG report. On page 90, we learn about EITs and Abu Zubaydah. Although the report redacts the specific number of intelligence reports generated before the use of EITs and after they were employed, we do know that his cooperation increased.
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. Since the use of the waterboard, however, Abu Zubaydah has appeared to be cooperative.
If it was a mere coincidence, the same thing happened after EITs were used on Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the al Qaeda operative behind the attack on the USS Cole.
With respect to al Nashiri [redacted] reported two waterboard sessions in November 2002, after which the psychologist/interrogations determined that al Nashiri was compliant. However, after being moved [redacted] al Nashiri was thought to be withholding information. Al Nashiri subsequently received additional EITs, [redacted] but not the waterboard. The Agency then determined al Nashiri to be “compliant.” Because of the litany of technique 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. However, following the use of EITs, he provided information about his most current operational planning and [redacted] as opposed to the historical information he provided before the use of EITs.
And what about 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Shaykh Mohammad? More coincidence? From page 91:
On the other hand, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, an accomplished resistor, provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate or incomplete. As a means of less active resistance, at the beginning of their interrogation, detainees routinely provide information that they know is already known. Khalid Shaykh Muhammad received 183 applications of the waterboard in March 2003.
The section immediately following this overview of KSM’s pre-waterboard disclosures is redacted. But flip back a few pages in the IG report, to page 87, and we learn the details of KSM’s post-waterboard intelligence. KSM provided so many leads to other terrorists and plots that the IG described him as “the most prolific” source of information among the detainees. So, what did he tell us?
He provided information that helped lead to the arrests of terrorists including Sayfullah Paracha and his son Uzair Paracha, businessmen who Khalid Shaykh Muhammad planned to use to smuggle explosives into the United States; Saleh Almari, a sleeper operative in New York; and Majid Khan, an operative who could enter the United States easily and was tasked to research attacks [redacted]. Khalid Shaykh Muhammad’s information also led to the investigation and prosecution of Iyman Faris, the truck driver arrested in early 2003 in Ohio.
Let’s review. Abu Zubaydah gave up some information before the use of EITs. But “since the use of the waterboard…Abu Zubaydah has appeared to be cooperative,” and gave up even more intelligence. Al Nashiri provided mostly historical information in the short time before EITs were employed. “However, following the use of EITs, he provided information about his most current operational planning…” And “accomplished resistor” Khalid Shaykh Muhammad provided mostly useless information before the application of EITs. Afterwards, he “provided information that helped lead to the arrests of terrorists” – so much information, in fact, that he was regarded as the “most prolific” intelligence source.
Reasonable people can – and do – disagree about the morality of using EITs. But only the most accomplished resister could continue to claim that they were not effective.