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The 8 biggest lies the CIA told about torture

The 8 biggest lies the CIA told about torture

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The newly released Senate report has already drawn attention for its harrowing view of the details of US torture, but it also comes at the end of a long and frightening effort to keep those details secret. As the new report makes clear, CIA officials lied to Congress over and over in defense of the program, whether it was to make torture seem more effective, less brutal, or more legally sanctioned than it really was, making it impossible for the legislature to provide effective oversight. Here are the eight biggest lies, noted with frustration over and over again throughout the report. It's an incomplete list, but an important one to keep in mind if there's ever going to be a meaningful check on the power of US intelligence agencies.

Lie: There are no detention sites

The Senate first started asking questions about CIA detention sites after 9/11, when rumors started circulating about plans for an unorthodox interrogation program. In the first briefing, on November 13, 2001, Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt "assured the [Senate Intelligence] Committee that it would be informed of each individual who entered CIA custody." Pavitt also disavowed the use of torture. The following April, the CIA told the committee on the record that the agency "has no current plans to develop a detention facility." In fact, the CIA was already holding Abu Zubaydah at a detention site in a still-undisclosed location.

Lie: Fewer than 100 people are held by the CIA

After the House voted to limit CIA interrogations to only previously authorized techniques in February of 2008, Hayden told the committee that the CIA had detained fewer than 100 people. The report now names 119 people detained from 2002 to 2008.

Lie: The CIA does not videotape interrogations

The most damning piece of evidence against torture was the videotapes of early CIA interrogations, made to establish a record for any subsequent prosecution. The CIA destroyed the tapes on November 8th, 2005, to prevent them from falling into the hands of an independent investigatory commission that had been proposed by Senator Carl Levin. Asked about the tapes at a briefing a year later, CIA officials testified that "the CIA did not videotape interrogations," striking any mention of the tapes.

Lie: The program was cleared with leaders in Congress

In a 2007 statement, CIA director Michael Hayden told Congress that "[a]s CIA's efforts to implement [new interrogation] authorities got underway in 2002, the majority and minority leaders of the Senate, the speaker and the minority leader of the House, and the chairs and ranking members of the intelligence committees were fully briefed on the interrogation program." As Marcy Wheeler has pointed out, then-Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt were never briefed on the program. House speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate minority leader Trent Lott weren’t briefed until 2005 and 2006, respectively.

Lie: Only the best specialists are used as interrogators

In the same statement, Hayden said the CIA interrogators were "carefully chosen and screened for demonstrated professional judgment and maturity," and that "they must complete more than 250 hours of specialized training before they are allowed to come face-to-face with a terrorist." Based on the committee’s findings, that’s just not true: several interrogators had histories of inappropriate questioning tactics, anger management issues, and sexual assault. "The CIA used poorly trained and non-vetted personnel," Feinstein told reporters today. "It’s a clear fact that the CIA deployed officers who had histories of personal, ethical and professional problems of a serious nature."

Lie: Starvation is not an interrogation tactic

On November 16th, 2006, CIA director Hayden told the committee that detainees were never provided fewer than 1,000 calories per day. In fact, calorie requirements weren't instituted until March of 2004, a full two years into the program, and previous documents suggest withholding food for 1-2 days as an acceptable "adjunct to interrogation."

Lie: Sleep deprivation stops before it becomes medically damaging

In the same briefing, an unnamed official testified that standing sleep deprivation was discontinued whenever swelling or any abnormality appeared. But in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, standing sleep deprivation continued through the outbreak of edema on his feet as well as abrasions on his ankles, shins, wrists and the back of his head. CIA director Hayden also testified that "mental conditions that would be of normal concern do not present themselves until a person has experienced more than 100 hours of sleep deprivation." At least three detainees experienced hallucinations after less than 96 hours of sleep deprivation over the course of the CIA's program.

Lie: Interrogations have stopped plots in progress

In February 2003, the CIA briefed Senator Pat Roberts on the interrogation program, looking to gain his support:

[The briefing] described in great detail the importance of the information provided by [Abu] Zubayda[h] and [*Abd al-Rahim al-] Nashiri, both of whom had information of on-going terrorist operations, information that might well have saved American lives, the difficulty of getting that information from them, and the importance of the enhanced techniques in getting that information.According to the committee, those claims don't hold up: "Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri did not provide actionable intelligence on ongoing plotting." Similar briefings took place over and over, and similar distortions were made, inflating Zubaydah's stature within Al Qaeda or concocting to a "second wave" of terrorist attacks that were stopped thanks to intelligence from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. In each case, the committee says the CIA's characterizations were inaccurate, relying on exaggerations to protect the program. The result was a skewed view of the CIA's effectiveness and a general ignorance of the program's worst excesses, many of which are only now being brought to light.