POLITICS
12/09/2014 11:24 pm ET Updated Dec 29, 2014

What The CIA Said It Learned Through Torture, But Didn't

WASHINGTON -- The Senate Intelligence Committee's bombshell torture report reveals multiple CIA misrepresentations about the effectiveness of its post-9/11 torture program to justify mistreatment of detainees.

Below are some of the most egregious CIA claims that "enhanced interrogation techniques" produced new and viable information when, in fact, they did not, according to the summary of the committee's report released Tuesday.

The Capture Of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

Despite Bush administration assertions that enhanced interrogation helped lead to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, his seizure was actually the result of a conventional human intelligence relationship -- a relationship that the CIA did everything it could to bungle and nearly destroy.

President George W. Bush indicated in a Sept. 6, 2006, speech that information from the torture of Abu Zubaydah identified and led to the capture of 9/11 conspirator Ramzi bin al-Shibh, which ultimately led to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (often referred to as KSM). In the speech, Bush described the CIA's enhanced interrogation procedures as "safe and lawful and necessary."

"Zubaydah was questioned using these procedures, and soon he began to provide information on key al Qaeda operatives, including information that helped us find and capture more of those responsible for the attacks on September the 11th," said Bush.

But the summary of the Senate report says, "Contrary to CIA representations, there are no CIA records to support the assertion that Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, or any other CIA detainee played any role in the 'the planning and execution of the operation that captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.'" It was a CIA informant, referred to in the report as Asset X, who provided the information. In the report, the CIA officer who handled Asset X says it "was a [human intelligence operation] pretty much from start to finish."

In its response to the torture report, the CIA describes the Senate's version of the account as an "incorrect repetition of an error made by a CIA officer in a cable in 2003." The CIA says the Senate report "fails to note that detainees gave us the critical information on KSM."

The Capture Of Majid Kahn

The CIA claimed that intelligence gathered by using enhanced interrogation methods on KSM led to the capture of Majid Khan. But that's "inaccurate," the summary of the Senate report says. "There is no indication in CIA records that reporting from KSM -- or any other CIA detainee -- played any role in the identification and capture of Majid Khan,” the report says.

Khan is a Pakistani citizen who was living in Maryland at the time of the 9/11 attacks. He later returned to Pakistan to work for KSM. In interviews with the CIA Office of Inspector General, agency officers claimed the use of these interrogation methods on KSM led them to Khan. “KSM gave us Majid Khan,” one officer is quoted as telling the inspector general's office. The report says CIA leaders made this claim in a presentation to senior White House officials on July 29, 2003, and repeated it in a briefing to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith. The claim was included in a May 2004 CIA Inspector General report on detention and interrogation activities.

On the contrary, the Senate committee found, the CIA knew more than a month before KSM was even captured where Khan was. On Jan. 10, 2003, the FBI field office in Baltimore opened an international terrorism investigation into the email account "BobDesi@hotmail.com” after it had been linked to a known al Qaeda email account that the CIA was already tracking, according to the report summary. On Jan. 16, the FBI linked that email to Khan’s personal website via “open source research.” Through February 2003, investigators tracked Khan’s Internet activity and were “confident he was located at his brother's house in Karachi, Pakistan.” On March 5, 2003, Pakistani officers raided his brother's house, and captured Khan there.

According to the Senate report summary, it wasn’t until after that -- on March 17, 2003 -- that CIA officials showed KSM a photograph of Khan and discussed him for the first time.

In its response to the Senate report, the CIA acknowledges it “mistakenly provided incorrect information to the Inspector General that led to a onetime misrepresentation of this case” in the 2004 report. But the CIA denies it did so repeatedly and in other venues.

The Identification, Capture And Arrest of Sajid Badat

The CIA repeatedly told Congress and the Bush Justice Department that waterboarding KSM led to the arrest of the so-called second shoe bomber, Sajid Badat. He was associated with Richard Reid, the man who actually tried to blow up an airliner using a shoe bomb in 2001 -- but Badat backed out of the plot on his own before he was arrested in November of that year.

Nevertheless, in the 2000s, Bush administration officials presented Badat as an active terror plotter and a signature success of enhanced interrogation tactics.

On April 15, 2005, the CIA sent the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel an eight-page document justifying the value of its interrogations. The CIA's document claimed that leads provided by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after waterboarding "led directly to the arrest" of Sajid Badat in November 2003.

"These representations were inaccurate," the Senate report summary says. The summary says U.K. authorities had already identified Badat on their own, and that Mohammed's eventual identification of Badat was of no original value.

After KSM was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003, he "inaccurately identified Richard Reid's U.K. associate as 'Talha.'" In August he "did not recognize" Badat in a picture the CIA presented to him. CIA officers noted Mohammed's failure to identify Badat in the picture and said themselves that he "might be lying." Months after waterboarding ended, on Aug. 10, Mohammed identified the picture as "Issa al-Britani," a pseudonym for Badat. He never identified Badat by name.

All along, U.K. authorities were conducting their own intelligence operation on Badat. They already had a picture of him and phone records that placed him near Reid, underscoring how little the value Mohammed's ambiguous identification of Badat would have been. "U.K. domestic investigative efforts, reporting from foreign intelligence services, international law enforcement efforts, and U.S. military reporting" led to Sajid Badat's arrest, according to the Senate report summary. U.K. authorities arrested him on Nov. 27, 2003.

Thwarting Of The Heathrow Airport And Canary Wharf Plotting

In a September 2006 speech, Bush said information from CIA detainees had helped stop an al Qaeda plot to fly airplanes into London's Heathrow Airport and its Canary Wharf commercial district.

"They helped stop a plot," said Bush. The plot against Heathrow was cited by former CIA Director Porter Goss in a December 2005 letter to other Bush administration officials as proof that the agency's brutal tactics had "allowed the U.S. to save hundreds, if not thousands, of lives."

But those plots were already disrupted by the time the CIA had detained the likes of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ammar al-Baluchi and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- because at the time, the plot existed only in their heads.

"While each of these four detainees provided information on the plotting during their detentions, none of this information played any role in the disruption of the plot," says the report summary. "No operatives were informed of the plot, no pilots were ever identified by al-Qa'ida for the attacks, and only schedules of potential flights were collected for review."

In its June 2013 response to the Senate study, the CIA significantly downgraded its claim that "enhanced interrogation saved thousands of lives." Rather than actually disrupting the plot, the CIA acknowledged, the methods allowed the agency to "conclude (the plot) had been disrupted."

So Bush was wrong. And by the CIA's own accounting, "enhanced interrogation" at most gave the government peace of mind that no attack would ever come, because all the plotters had already been captured.

CIA Detainees Subjected To Enhanced Interrogation Help Validate CIA Sources

In June 2004, the CIA received information from a source that there was a plot to attack the U.S. before the upcoming presidential election. The source claimed a man named Janat Gul knew all about it.

Unfortunately for Gul, he knew nothing of the plot. It turned out that the Election Day attack plot didn't exist, and that the CIA had received faulty intelligence.

But Gul's interrogators tortured him to give up information, which caused Gul to become disoriented and tell CIA officers that he saw "his wife and children in the mirror and had heard their voices in the white noise." The interrogation continued. According to a CIA cable, Gul "asked to die or just be killed."

After the interrogations, CIA personnel were convinced he knew nothing about a pre-election plot. The investigators wrote that the "team does not believe [Gul] is withholding imminent threat information" and that he "may not possess all that [the CIA] believes him to know."

But CIA headquarters demanded that the interrogations continue. And continue they did, with a 47-hour session of standing sleep deprivation during which Gul wore a diaper. Still, no information about an alleged attack surfaced.

That's because it was entirely made up by the CIA's original source, who admitted he "fabricated the information" in October 2004. Gul was transferred to a "foreign government" and was released. While Gul never provided information about an attack and the CIA finally acknowledged the pre-election plot was fake, the agency remained steadfast in its suspicion of Gul, calling him "a known terrorist facilitator."

The Identification And Arrest of Saleh al-Marri

The CIA repeatedly used a subsection of a 2004 CIA Inspector General report titled “Effectiveness” as evidence that enhanced interrogation methods were effective. In that section, the CIA claimed that using the techniques on Kahlid Sheikh Mohammed led to the arrests of multiple terrorists, including that of New York sleeper operative Saleh al-Marri.

It turns out that’s not true. According to the report summary, al-Marri was arrested more than two years before KSM was captured in 2003, so whatever information KSM provided to the CIA couldn't possibly have led to the arrest of al-Marri.

After the release of the inspector general's 2004 report, the CIA maintained that the agency had “no concrete information” on al-Marri prior to the interrogation of KSM. But that position is “incongruent with CIA records,” the Senate’s report summary states. The CIA actually “possessed significant information” on al-Marri including knowledge that he had “suspicious information” on his computer when he was arrested in 2001, that his brother had travelled to Afghanistan the same year to join the anti-U.S. jihad, and that al-Marri was “directly associated” with KSM, as well as Mustafa al-Hawsawi, an al Qaeda member and suspected 9/11 facilitator.

The FBI also had extensive records on al-Marri. A year before any information from the KSM interrogation was released by the CIA, the FBI provided the Senate committee with “biographical and derogatory” information on al-Marri including connections to other extremists as well as some of the information the CIA had on al-Marri, the summary notes.

In June 2013, the CIA responded to the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel about the inaccurate information, saying it was a "one-time misrepresentation" not "repeatedly represented" or "frequently cited" as evidence that the CIA torture program was effective. The CIA also acknowledged that the information it obtained was "fragmentary" and that both the FBI and CIA "lacked detailed reporting to confirm suspicions" that al-Marri had links to al Qaeda or a "nefarious" objective.

However, the Senate committee found that, "in addition to the multiple representations to the CIA OIG, the inaccurate information in the final OIG Special Review was, as noted above, provided by the CIA to the Department of Justice to support the Department's analysis of the lawfulness of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques ... was also relied upon by the Blue Ribbon Panel evaluating the effectiveness of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques, and later was cited in multiple open source articles and books, often in the context of the 'effectiveness' of the CIA program."

The Collection Of Critical Tactical Intelligence On Shkai, Pakistan

The Senate committee also looked at information obtained from detainee Hassan Ghul in January 2004. The report summary notes that a CIA memo on the “Effectiveness of the CIA Counterterrorist Interrogation Techniques” from March 2005 states that the “interrogation of Hassan Ghul provided detailed tactical intelligence showing that Shkai, Pakistan was a major Al-Qa’ida hub in the tribal areas.” (The Senate report spells his name “Ghul,” while the CIA’s response spells it “Gul.”)

Ghul was captured in January 2004 in the Iraqi Kurdistan region and rendered to detention at the CIA’s Detention Site Cobalt, where he spent two days, according to the Senate report summary. He provided valuable information about Shkai, including details about al Qaeda senior leaders’ locations, movements and operational security and training, according to the Senate report summary. He also provided phone numbers and email addresses that were associated with operatives based in Shkai.

According to the summary, it was not until Ghul was transferred two days later to Detention Site Black that he was “immediately, and for the first time, subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.” The summary, citing a CIA cable, says Ghul “provided no new information during this period and was immediately placed in standing sleep deprivation with his hands above his head, with plans to lower his hands after two hours.”

The most valuable information from Ghul came before he was subject to these tactics, the summary says. It notes a Jan. 31, 2004, cable that it says “referenced nine cables describing Hassan Ghul’s reporting prior to the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, and no cables describing Ghul’s reporting after the use of the techniques.”

In its response to the Senate report, the CIA stated that it “continues to assess that the information derived from Hassan Gul after the commencement of enhanced techniques provided new and unique insight into al-Qa'ida's presence and operations in Shkai, Pakistan.”

“We never represented that Shkai was previously unknown to us or that Gul only told us about it after he was subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques,” wrote the CIA. “We said that after these techniques were used, Gul provided ‘detailed tactical intelligence.’”

Ryan J. Reilly, Matt Sledge and Donte Stallworth contributed reporting.

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