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Two Views Of The CIA's 'Enhanced' Interrogations


This is a WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. And this is For The Record, and a warning that some listeners might find descriptions in this story disturbing. It took five years of investigating and more than 6,000 pages to lay it all out. The Senate Intelligence Committee released its report on the CIA's detention and interrogation practices this past week. The chairman of the committee, Dianne Feinstein, said the result was devastating.

SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN: It shows that the CIA's actions a decade ago are a stain on our value and on our history.

MARTIN: There were the things the American public already knew - the secret prisons, the waterboarding detainees, the sleep deprivation. But the report detailed other abuse including something called rectal rehydration, and the revelation that one detainee in American custody died of hypothermia. Many Republicans say the report is a partisan attack, and they point out Senate Democrat's who led the investigation never interviewed any CIA employees. Former vice president Dick Cheney went on Fox News to defend the CIA.

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: The notion that the committee is trying to peddle - that somehow the agency was operating on a rogue basis, and we weren't being told or the president wasn't being told is just a flat out lie.

MARTIN: Then on Thursday, the current director of the CIA, John Brennan, responded to the Senate report in a rare press conference. In his opening remarks, Brennan said the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques or EITs were used in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 when the U.S. Government was desperately trying to prevent another attack.

JOHN BRENNAN: There were no easy answers. And whatever your views are on EITs, our nation and, in particular, this agency did a lot of things right during this difficult time to keep this country strong and secure.

MARTIN: But in that same address Brennan said there was no way to know if the brutal interrogation practices actually generated useful intelligence.

BRENNAN: The cause-and-effect relationship between the use of EITs and useful information subsequently provided by the detainees is in my view unknowable.

MARTIN: For The Record today - drawing a line in the torture debate. You're about to hear two different views on the U.S. interrogation and detention program after 9/11. The first is from a military interrogator who was working in Iraq in 2003.

COLONEL STEVE KLEINMAN: I'm Colonel Steve Kleinman. I am a career intelligence officer.

MARTIN: And the second perspective...

GENERAL MIKE HAYDEN: I'm Mike Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency.

MARTIN: On September 11, 2001, then Lieutenant General Mike Hayden, was at the NSA.

HAYDEN: Of course we're all shocked by the attack. Those of us in the intelligence community knew that everyone was dependent upon us in order to detect future attacks.

MARTIN: That meant getting as much intelligence as possible and getting it fast. Here's Colonel Steve Kleinman.

KLEINMAN: The mood at the moment - the fear, the anger, the desire for revenge - that existed. And nobody can deny that. And every American citizen - many citizens in the West - had the right to feel that way. The people who didn't have the right to feel that way were the professionals that those taxpayers paid to defend them to collect the information necessary to keep them safe.

MARTIN: General Hayden admits that right after 9/11, the CIA was in over its head and, quote, making it up as they went along.

HAYDEN: We had not done interrogation for more than a generation of officers. We were ill-prepared for that task, and we made a lot of mistakes. I mean, we had two desks.

MARTIN: Steve Kleinman was a military interrogator in those early years. In 2003 he was sent to Iraq to help oversee the interrogation and detention program. When he got there he was shocked at the techniques being used.

KLEINMAN: It was walling, meaning throwing somebody, literally, up against a wall, slapping across the chin, punching into the stomach. Then also it forced nudity, a certain amount of sleep deprivation.

MARTIN: He called his commanding officer back in the U.S. who told him, yes, that's the protocol now. And Kleinman was to keep the abusive tactics going. He didn't.

KLEINMAN: No, I would not do it. I stopped those interrogations I observed that were employing what I thought were abusive methods. It became very controversial. And I found myself in the center of a really ugly vortex.

MARTIN: The most controversial interrogation and detention practices happened when George Tenet was the director of the CIA and Porter Goss after him. When General Hayden took the job in 2006, the most egregious tactics had stopped. But he had full awareness of how the CIA was treating detainees before his tenure.

MARTIN: Did any of what you saw disturb you?

HAYDEN: All of what I saw disturbed me. I mean, these were human beings. And, Rachel, your listeners need to understand we didn't do any of this out of enthusiasm. This was done out of duty. I mean, it's hard to suppress your humanity.

MARTIN: Even so he is convinced that the harsh interrogation tactics worked.

MARTIN: In your 2007 testimony to the Senate committee you called the EIT program - enhanced interrogation techniques - you called it the most successful program being conducted by American intelligence today. Do you still believe that?

HAYDEN: Yeah, I do. I mean, it created this home depot-style warehouse of information about al Qaeda - information that we did not otherwise have.

MARTIN: But just this past week, the current director of the CIA, John Brennan, said there was no way to know if the so-called enhanced interrogation practices produced reliable intelligence. I asked General Hayden if he agrees with Brennan.

HAYDEN: Look, I understand John's philosophical point. Post hoc is not propter hoc, but as a practical matter, after the application of the techniques we got a lot more intelligence than we did before.

MARTIN: Can you point to a specific piece of intelligence that was derived from so-called enhanced interrogation?

HAYDEN: I just have to defer to the agency's rebuttal. The agency comes back very strongly that very important information was derived from these people after enhanced interrogation techniques were applied, information not otherwise available.

MARTIN: But shouldn't you, as a former director of the CIA, be able to point to some piece of important intelligence that was actionable as a result of it?

HAYDEN: Well, the fact that I don't choose to go into specifics, but can point you to a document that's got about 30 pages of specifics, in no way undercuts the argument.

MARTIN: I put the same question to be former interrogator Colonel Steve Kleinman.

MARTIN: Can interrogation techniques like the ones that you saw - can they ever generate valuable intelligence?

KLEINMAN: Can they ever? Oh, absolutely. But is it a reliable, consistent way to obtain information? And I think the answer to that is absolutely categorical no. We have to consider the fragility of the memory, and every strategy that we employ has to meet a standard of will this enhance memory, or will it degrade memory? And if it degrades it, we should not do it.

MARTIN: Instead of extracting useful information from detainees, Kleinman says the harsh interrogations he witnessed had an emotional element that felt like retribution. I asked General Hayden about that.

MARTIN: This was emotional for people. This was emotional for the CIA. Was there any aspect of this program that was punitive?

HAYDEN: No. No, we have no right to be punitive. We're an intelligence organization. Our job is not to punish. Our job is to get information to prevent. So this wasn't about punishment at all.

MARTIN: Again, Steve Kleinman.

KLEINMAN: I mean, the things that are outlined in that report - if they couldn't recognize that that was outright torture, they went rogue. If they told the world, essentially, you know, told us, taxpayers, that they were experts in interrogation then they lied. They lied.

MARTIN: So what is the practical effect of the Senate report? What will it change, if anything? No U.S. laws were broken. There will likely not be any prosecutions, although the report has prompted new questions about whether there should be new laws limiting the CIA. But the immediate impact is more about optics. President Obama has said releasing the Senate report on the CIA's interrogation practices will help the U.S. regain the moral authority it has lost over the past decade. Colonel Steve Kleinman says it is a start.

KLEINMAN: It's not a red banner day for America. But it takes courage to do this. So we - what other country - this is the first time I ever speak like this. What other country in the world would bear their souls like we have? I think it's remarkable.

MARTIN: General Michael Hayden, the former director of the CIA, says he and his colleagues see it quite differently.

HAYDEN: The report is viewed, I'm sure, by the work force this way - as a betrayal. The CIA is asked to do things and to go places no one else is asked to do or go. We operate on the edge all the time. We have now trained our national espionage service to be timid. And do you know what, Rachel? Do know what I was accused of within minutes or days of 9/11? We were all accused of being risk-averse. Well, guess what? We would...

MARTIN: Would you order the program again?

HAYDEN: If I were faced with the circumstances that George Tenet was faced with in 2002, I would order the program again.

MARTIN: There's a footnote to this story. One CIA officer connected to the interrogation program was indicted. John Kiriakou is serving a 30-month sentence for disclosing classified information, telling a reporter that the CIA waterboarded an al Qaeda detainee named Abu Zubaydah. His lawyer, Jesselyn Radack, said she emailed with Kiriakou this past week after the Senate report came out. John's reaction was that this is a cruel irony that the only person in jail - the only CIA agent in jail related to the torture program is the man who blew the whistle on it.

MARTIN: John Kiriakou is due to be released from prison in September of next year.[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: We incorrectly say that John Kiriakou was imprisoned for telling a reporter that the CIA waterboarded an al-Qaida detainee named Abu Zubaydah. In fact, Kiriakou was convicted of revealing the name of a CIA operative, which was classified information.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: December 16, 2014 at 12:00 AM EST
We incorrectly say that John Kiriakou was imprisoned for telling a reporter that the CIA waterboarded an al-Qaida detainee named Abu Zubaydah. In fact, Kiriakou was convicted of revealing the name of a CIA operative, which was classified information.