WASHINGTON -- Even while the CIA was trampling the legal boundaries of its post-9/11 enhanced interrogation program, a new Senate report says, the agency was selectively deaf to internal critiques of its own interrogators and program, continuing undeterred down a dark path that even the agency admits contradicted American values.
In a highly anticipated report on the CIA's enhanced interrogation program released Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee details several instances of agency members criticizing certain aggressive interrogators and warning the CIA against continuing the rogue operation. Those warnings, the report says, went unheeded for years.
At times, the objections of CIA personnel were so deeply felt that they felt they could not remain in their jobs. In one episode, the agency’s chief of interrogations emailed colleagues to make them aware he had tendered his resignation, saying that he “no longer wanted to be associated in any way with the interrogation program due to serious reservation[s] [he had] about the current state of affairs.”
He continued: “This is a train wreck waiting to happen, and I intend to get the hell off the train before it happens.”
That email came in 2003. Yet the program continued until roughly 2005, when the Detainee Treatment Act ended -- at least in theory -- the use of the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
A separate incident took place at a secret interrogation facility in Afghanistan, referred to in the Senate study as Detention Site Cobalt. The Cobalt site, as detailed in the report, was the source of scores of gross abuses, including subjecting detainees to total darkness and loud music, conducting mock assassinations and hanging detainees by their hands from bars, with their toes just barely touching the ground for hours on end.
In the episode recounted in the Senate report, the CIA officer in charge of Cobalt was a junior officer on his first overseas assignment. Before the officer was put in charge of the facility, a supervisor had issued an internal warning that the amateur agent shouldn’t be left to his own devices, saying he had “issues with judgement and maturity” and that he “might not listen to his chief of station when in the field.”
But the officer was given the position anyway. On his watch, one detainee died while a number of others were, according to the report, "exposed to unauthorized techniques.”
That junior officer was just one example out of many detailed in the Senate study, which describes the agency's selective ignorance about the capabilities of the interrogators who were carrying out torture. The study outlines a number of instances in which supervisory officers strongly recommended against an officer’s placement at a detention facility. In most cases, the officer was sent anyway.
Despite advice from supervisors and even from its own legal counsel, the CIA frequently sought out interrogators who had admitted anger issues, had previously been involved in inappropriate interrogations (one allegedly played “Russian Roulette” with a detainee) and had even reportedly committed sexual assault.
One supervising officer objected to a certain officer being sent to an interrogation site for the simple reason that the officer in question hadn’t gone through interrogation training. Rumors also abounded that the candidate had anger and “security” issues. But he was sent to the detention facility nonetheless.
The study also notes that the CIA gave internal approval to interrogation techniques that both field officers and legal advisors warned would likely get the agency in hot water.
In one case, agency headquarters approved the extended use of enhanced interrogation techniques on a detainee who had already been subject to dietary manipulation, nudity, water dousing and physical slapping. Despite a warning from the CIA's counsel that the techniques should not be extended because the detainee was at a breaking point, agency headquarters approved the extension.
This is a developing story and will be updated.