Torture Memos Used "Overstated" "Exaggerated" Information From CIA

09/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Arguments used by Bush administration lawyers in their memos authorizing waterboarding and other forms of torture were based on "appreciably overstated" and "exaggerated" data provided by the CIA, according to a 2004 CIA Inspector General's report released on Monday.

In late 2001, the CIA's Office of Technical Services (OTS) authored a study of how information was obtained from interrogations and what kind of "long-term psychological effects" measures like waterboarding had on detainees. The OTS based its findings on the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training given to Navy Seals to bolster their immunity to torture.

But the OTS report -- which was later used by Bush Justice Department lawyers to provide the legal framework for the interrogation of suspected terrorists -- was incomplete at best and misleading at worst.

The CIA's own medical personnel was "neither consulted nor involved in the initial analysis of the risk and benefits" of the techniques described in the study, according to the 2004 CIA Inspector General report. Nor were medical personnel shown the OTS report before it was given to the Bush administration's Office of Legal Counsel -- where lawyers Jay Bybee and John Yoo put together the infamous "torture memos."

"In retrospect, based on the OLC extracts of the OTS report, OMS [the CIA's Office of Medical Services] contends that the reported sophistication of the preliminary EIT review was probably exaggerated, at least as it related to the waterboard, and that the power of this EIT was appreciably overstated in the report," reads a footnote on page 21 of the Inspector General report.

"Furthermore, OMS contends that the expertise of the SERE psychologist/interrogators on the waterboard was probably misrepresented at the time, as the SERE waterboard experience is so different from the subsequent Agency usage as to make it almost irrelevant. Consequently, according to OMS, there was no a priori reason to believe that applying the waterboard with the frequency and intensity with which it was used by the psychologist/interrogators was either efficacious or medically safe."

The IG report makes it clear that even by the Justice Department's standards, waterboarding was misused on several occasions.

According to the report, at one point a review was conducted on the use of waterboard on Khalid Shaykh Muhammad. It was concluded that it had been administered "in a manner inconsistent with the SERE application... and the description of the waterboard in the DoJ OLC opinion, in that the technique was used on Khalid Shaykh Muhammad a large number of times."

A review of videotapes of the interrogations of terrorist suspects, meanwhile, showed similar misuse. "The difference was in the manner in which the detainee's breathing was obstructed," the report reads. "At the SERE School and in the DoJ opinion, the subject's airflow is disrupted by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the Agency interrogator continuously applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee's mouth and nose. One of the psychologists/interrogators acknowledged that the Agency's use of the technique differed from that used in SERE training and explained that the Agency's technique is different because it is 'for real' and is more poignant and convincing."

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