Obama Versus the CIA
The agency’s interrogation practices were lawful—and effective.
On Monday the Obama administration released a 2004 CIA inspector general’s report on the agency’s detention and interrogation program. Yesterday, the New York Times reported some gruesome abuses on its front page, above the fold: “Excessive physical force was routinely used, resulting in broken bones, shattered teeth, concussions, and dozens of other serious injuries over a period of less than two years, a federal investigation has found. . . . [D]espite rules allowing force only as a last resort. ‘Staff at the facilities routinely used uncontrolled, unsafe applications of force, departing from generally accepted standards,’ said the report.”
While officials at the New York state detention facilities failed to report the abuses (“the ombudsman’s office charged with overseeing the youth prison centers had virtually ceased to function,” the Times reported), the CIA inspector general’s report describes a well-run, highly disciplined CIA interrogation program, where clear guidelines were established and abuses or deviations from approved techniques were stopped, reported and addressed.
Indeed, the CIA report makes clear from its first paragraphs that it was those who ran the program who brought abuses to the IG’s attention: “In November 2002, the Deputy Director of Operations (DDO) informed the Office of Inspector General (OIG) that . . . he had just learned of and had dispatched a team to investigate [REDACTED]. In January 2003, the DDO informed OIG that he had received allegations that Agency personnel had used unauthorized techniques with a detainee, Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri . . . and requested that OIG investigate.”
Once the IG report was completed, the agency referred it to the Justice Department for review for possible criminal prosecutions. This review was conducted not by Bush political appointees. It was conducted by career prosecutors from the Eastern District of Virginia. They recommended against prosecutions in all but one case—that of a CIA contractor, not in the official interrogation program, who had beaten a detainee in Afghanistan. (The detainee later died and the contractor was subsequently convicted of assault.)
Now Attorney General Eric Holder, a political appointee, is overruling the decisions of career Justice Department officials and appointing a special prosecutor. If the Bush administration had done the same thing to its predecessor, the mainstream media would be howling.
The decision to prosecute will have a devastating effect on the intelligence community—pushing the agency back into a risk-averse, pre-Sept. 11, 2001, mentality. Indeed, the IG report itself indicates that agency officials knew this day was coming. “One officer expressed concern that one day, Agency officers will wind up on some ‘wanted list’ to appear before the World Court. . . . Another said, ‘Ten years from now, we’re going to be sorry we’re doing this . . . [but] it has to be done.'”
He was right. It had to be done. According to the IG report, “Khalid Sheykh Mohammed, 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.” After undergoing the waterboard, however, KSM became “the most prolific” of the detainees in CIA custody. “He provided information that helped lead to the arrests of terrorists including Sayfullah Paracha and his son Uzair Paracha, businessmen whom [KSM] 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].” Other plots the agency did not know about before KSM and other detainees told them, according to the inspector general, were “plans to [REDACTED]; attack the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan; hijack aircraft to fly into Heathrow Airport . . . [and] hijack and fly an airplane into the tallest building in California in a west coast version of the World Trade Center attack. . . .”
The IG report states that it did not uncover evidence these plots were “imminent,” but it also reports that, “Agency senior managers believe that lives have been saved as a result of the capture and interrogation of terrorists who were planning attacks.”
While the focus of the news media has been on the abuses described in the report, the inspector general himself describes these abuses as deviations from approved procedure. The inspector general further concluded that, “The CTC [CIA Counterterrorism Center] did a commendable job in directing the interrogation of high value detainees. . . . Agency personnel—with one notable exception described in this review—followed guidance and procedures and documented their activities well. . . . Numerous agency components and individuals invested immense time and effort to implement the CTC program quickly, effectively, and within the law.”
The bottom line: The CIA’s interrogation practices were lawful, they were necessary, and they were effective. Reading this report, the real crime that comes to light is the Obama administration’s decision to eliminate this capability and prosecute those who stopped the next attack.
Mr. Thiessen served in senior positions in the Pentagon and White House, most recently as chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush. He is writing a book on the CIA interrogation program to be published by Regnery in 2010.