The CIA IG Report on the Inefficacy of Torture

Much of the focus on the now-delayed but upcoming release of the CIA IG Report on torture has been on whether the six page section on "Effectiveness"–the section that most challenges Dick Cheney’s claims–would be released.

What people seem to be oblivious to, however, is that much of this section has already been released–in two of the Bradbury Memos declassified in April. I first reported on the IG Report’s comments about efficacy here and a week later, McClatchy did effectively the same report. I’ve replicated the section describing the page-by-page contents, as revealed by the Bradbury memos, below. But here’s basically what the IG Report appears to have concluded about torture’s inefficacy.

  • It could not be conclusively determined whether or not torture had prevented any attacks
  • There is limited data on whether torture is effective or not
  • Torture leads to an increased number of intelligence reports–it’s not clear whether the IG Report comments on the quality of those reports
  • But you can’t learn everything form one detainee–even someone like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; the information from more minor figures is important to challenge High Value Detainees
  • The CIA waterboarded Abu Zubaydah and KSM a whole bunch of times

Note that last bullet: the report on the sheer number of times AZ and KSM were waterboarded shows up in the section on efficacy–suggesting that the number itself says something about the inefficacy of the technique.

So that’s it–that’s much what the Effectiveness section will show. And given the stinginess of the CIA of late, I expect we might just get exactly what was revealed in the Bradbury memos, and nothing more, once the IG Report is actually released.

I’m actually more interested in some other sections of the IG Report–which we also know of thanks to Steven Bradbury. But I’ll explain those in a follow-up post.

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Al-Nashiri’s Swollen Nerves, the CIA’s Apology to Abu Zubaydah

As MadDog pointed out, the latest redactions of the CSRT transcripts are up at ACLU.

Transcript of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad’s CSRT (27 page PDF).

Transcript of Al Nashiri’s CSRT (39 page PDF).

Transcript of Abu Zubaydah’s CSRT (30 page PDF)

Transcript of Majid Khan’s CSRT (50 page PDF)

I say "latest redactions" because they really haven’t declassified that much–just single lines here and there.

The biggest piece of news, IMO, is Rahim al-Nashiri’s description of his swollen nerves.

Before I was arrested I used to be able to run about ten kilometers. Now, I cannot walk for more than ten minutes. My nerves are now swollen in my body. Swollen too.

We’ve been trying to understand why they only waterboarded al-Nashiri twice–and don’t claim it worked with him. These swollen nerves may be a clue. They don’t t rule out that he suffered other problems–such as a tracheotomy pursuant to some accident during waterboarding–but it does explain one effect his torture had on him.

Otherwise, the biggest news is that our government is now willing to admit they have admitted to being totally wrong about who Abu Zubaydah was.

They told me sorry we discover that you are not number three, not a partner even not a fighter.

Golly. If only they had read his diary or asked Noor al-Deen, they could have figured that out without waterboarding him 83 times.

If nothing else, though, the re-release of these may get more people to read them. They are fascinating and nauseating narratives, all four of them, so if you haven’t already read one or more of them, please take a look.

[Updated and changed time stamp]

Why Doesn’t the CIA’s Vaughn Index Match the CIA’s Vaughn Index?

Bear with me, because this is going to be weedy, even for me.

The CIA has produced two different Vaughn Index descriptions of four cables recording Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation: the cables from August 1, 2002 (page 1-2; page 24), August 7, 2002 (page 21; page 25), August 11, 2002 (page 12 or 14; page 26), and August 16, 2002 (page 23; page 27).

Basically, what happened is that the government produced a Vaughn Index for the first half of August 2002 back on May 1, but then got ordered to produce a Vaughn Index that covered a wider range of dates, which was released two days ago. The two Vaughn Indices both include these four dates (as well as the interrogation log dated August 4, 2002), which means we’ve got two versions of the index descriptions of the cable for those dates. To avoid confusing dates of cables with dates of indices, I’m going to call the first Vaughn Index–dated May 1, 2009–Vaughn A, and the second Vaughn Index–dated June 8, 2009–Vaughn B.

The series are worth comparing generally, but by comparing these same-day descriptions, we learn a few things.

Somebody (the FBI?) Left the Interrogation Site after August 6, 2002

Yesterday, I pointed out that Leon Panetta admitted that there were contractors on site whose identities could not be revealed because it’d be an unwarranted invasion of their privacy. That manifests itself as an Exemption b(6) for every single cable in Vaughn B.

Vaughn A makes different Exemption claims for the persons present. The Vaughn A August 1, 2002 description includes the same Exemption b(6) claimed in the Vaughn B August 1 description. But it also includes another person-based exemption:

Exemption b(7)(C) – This document contains the names and other personal information of law enforcement officials acting in their official duties. The disclosure of this information could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy and for which there is no public interest in the disclosure. Therefore the information is protected from disclosure by Exemption b(7)(C). [my emphasis; note this strikes me as a really bogus use of this exemption]

In other words, Vaughn A claims there were personnel involved in counterterrorism operations and claims there were law enforcement personnel on site on August 1, 2002.

But Vaughn A stops making both those exemption claims after August 6. It appears someone left the interrogation site after August 6. Given that the Index claims a law enforcement exemption, I wonder if this was an FBI agent, perhaps Ali Soufan’s partner (who was supposed to have left in June)?

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Sheldon Whitehouse: “No Further Actionable Intelligence Was Obtained” from Abu Zubaydah by Waterboarding

Sheldon Whitehouse gave a barnburner of a speech last night, in which he described how egregious Dick Cheney’s lies about torture have been.

The speech goes further than President Obama’s and Russ Feingold’s and Carl Levin’s calls on Cheney’s lies in two ways. First, those other calls focused on whether the documents Cheney wants declassified actually say what he claims they say; Whitehouse focused on whether Cheney’s more basic claims about torture are true. And second, Whitehouse here focuses not on whether we needed waterboarding to get intelligence (Obama, for example, said, "the public reports and the public justifications for these techniques — which is that we got information from these individuals that were subjected to these techniques — doesn’t answer the core question, which is:  Could we have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques?), but whether we actually got any useful intelligence from the methods at all. 

Whitehouse says that no further actionable intelligence was gained through the torture used on Abu Zubaydah after he was turned over to the CIA contractors for good. [Note: this transcript is my own–I found the Congressional Record copy after I did this. I’ve edited in response to Andersonblogs’ comment to take out ellipses and put in emphasis.]

So for a third time he was returned to the FBI and CIA agents, again for professional interrogation, but by now he had been so compromised by the techniques that were applied to him that even they were unsuccessful in getting further information. And as best as I have been able to determine, for the remaining sessions of 83 waterboardings that have been disclosed as being associated with his interrogation, no further actionable intelligence was obtained. And yet the story has been exactly the opposite. The story over and over has been that once you get these guys out of the hands of the FBI and military "amateurs" and into the hands of these "trained CIA professionals" who can use these tougher techniques, that’s when you get the information. In this case at least, the exact opposite was the truth. And this was a case cited by the Vice President by name. 

From that, Whitehouse makes appeals to his colleagues not to believe they’ve been told, just as Bob Graham appealed to his colleagues not to believe what they’d been told about the Iraq intelligence.

I want my colleagues and the American public to know that, measured against the information I’ve been able to gain access to, the story-line that we have been led to believe, the story-line about waterboarding that we have been sold, is false in every one of its dimensions, and I ask that my colleagues be patient and be prepared to listen to the evidence when all is said and done before they wrap themselves in that storyline.

One more point about this. Read more

CIA IG Report: To Be Released on June 19

The detail that Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in a month and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed got into the OLC memo via the CIA IG Report released May 2004. So, too, did the reports that CIA interrogators exceeded the guidelines laid out in the Bybee Two memo. And the conclusion that the torture couldn’t be said to have stopped any attacks? That was in the CIA IG Report, too.

Which is why the IG Report’s reported release–on June 19–might be big news.

Or, it might be 400 pages of mostly redacted content. 

In new responses to lawsuits, the C.I.A. has agreed to release information from two previously secret sources: statements by high-level members of Al Qaeda who say they have been mistreated, and a 2004 report by the agency’s inspector general questioning both the legality and the effectiveness of coercive interrogations.

The Qaeda prisoners’ statements, made at tribunals at the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, were previously excised from transcripts of the proceedings, but they will be at least partly disclosed by this Friday, according to a court filing. The report by the inspector general, whose secret findings in April 2004 led to a suspension of the C.I.A. interrogation program, will be released by June 19, the Justice Department said in a letter to a federal judge in New York.

Precisely how much the agency will disclose, however, remains to be determined, as the administration is clearly struggling to decide where to draw the line. In both cases, which involve separate Freedom of Information Act lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the documents are likely to be redacted to withhold information the C.I.A. still considers especially delicate.

Me? I’ll be pleasantly surprised (though not satisfied) if they release pages 85 though 91, which talk about the (in)efficacy of the program. It was in response to these six pages that at least some of Dick Cheney’s CYA documents were written.

And the detainee statements from their CSRTs? Maybe we’ll finally learn why Rahim al-Nashiri was only waterboarded two times.

Gravely Damaging Intelligence Gaps

Just two or three more bits on this Panetta declaration and the related Vaughn Index (Part One, Part Two).

Before he insisted in his declaration, implausibly, that he wasn’t trying to hide embarrassing information that might show legal wrong-doing, Leon Panetta gave this general explanation for why he couldn’t release this information:

I want to emphasize to the Court that the operational documents currently at issue contained detailed intelligence information, to include: intelligence provided by captured terrorists; intelligence requirements that CIA prioritized at specific points in time; what the intelligence community did not know about enemies in certain time frames, i.e., intelligence gaps;


Much information in the documents is intelligence that was being provided to the field and intelligence that was being gathered from the interrogations. This sensitive intelligence provides important insight into what the CIA knew–and did not know, i.e. intelligence gaps–at specific points in time on specific matters of intelligence interest. I have determined that the disclosure of intelligence about al Qai’da reasonably could be expected to result in exceptionally grave damage to the national security by informing our enemies of what we knew about them, and when, and in some instances, how we obtained the intelligence we possessed.

Remember, earlier this year the ACLU and CIA agreed that the Agency could exclude raw intelligence cables from this FOIA response.

In response to earlier orders, the CIA originally identified appropximately 3,000 documents potentially responsive to paragraph 3 of the Court’s April 20, 2009 Order. Those 3,000 records included "contemporaneous records," which were created at the time of the interrogations or at the time the videotapes were viewed, "intelligence records," which do not describe the interrogations but contain raw intelligence collected from the interrogations, "derivative records," which summarize information contained within the contemporaneous records, and documents related to the location of the interrogations that, upon further review by the CIA, were determined not to relate to the interrogations or to the destroyed videotapes.

With respect to paragraph 3 of the April 20, 2009 Order, the parties jointly propose that the Government address the contemporaneous and derivative records, but not the intelligence records or the other records that ultimately proved to be unrelated to the interrogations or the videotapes. [my empahsis]

Nevertheless, even before Panetta says he can’t turn over this material because it would reveal the identities of our counterintelligence officers and the location at which we conducted these interrogations, he says he can’t turn over this material because it’ll reveal the intelligence that went into and came out of the interrogations, even though this is not the primary record of intelligence gathered in the interrogations.

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The CIA’s Cherry Pick, Two

Update, July 21: As this post describes, the CIA explains that the timelines and outlines are derivative records, and therefore permissibly withheld from the Vaughn Index.

In my last post, I noted that the CIA’s selection of materials for the Vaughn Index (Part One, Part Two) just happened to avoid any deliberative discussions from April and May, when interrogators were reportedly getting approval for techniques on a regular basis.

In this post, I will look at what the CIA has included and excluded from the later part of its Vaughn Index–the materials in which the torture tapes and their destruction were discussed. I’ve taken the timelines I did in this post and added in what we learn from the Vaughn Index–the additions are bolded.

Once again, the CIA’s selection of materials for Hellerstein’s reviews appear very careful. While the materials include specific details on waterboarding, they appear to exclude the main investigative records surrounding both the torture and the destruction of the tapes.

The IG Report materials

One chunk of material pertains to the IG Report on interrogation eventually published in 2004. The materials in the index include:

January 9, 2003: Review of Interrogation Videotapes. A 5-page memorandum for the record written by a CIA attorney. The document contains information relating to the contents of the destroyed videotapes, pre-decisional information pertaining to policy and legal guidance, confidential communications between the attorney and CIA personnel, and attorney work-product.
February 3, 2003: Interview report
February 10, 2003: Interview report
May 9, 2003: Notes from Tape Review. A 47-page handwritten document of notes from a review of the videotapes that was written in the field with a one-page email enclosed. The notes and email include information concerning the destroyed videotapes that was incorporated into a final report.
May 22, 2003: Trip Report. A 4-page memorandum for the record written by a CIA employee. The document contains information regarding the destroyed videotapes, and recommendations and opinions of CIA employees.
June 17, 2003: Notes of CIA Attorney Discussion. A 6-page record of handwritten notes from a CIA employee discussing the interrogation videotapes with a CIA attorney. The notes include details concerning the destroyed videotapes, communications between the attorney and Agency management, and attorney work-product.
June 18, 2003: Email
June 18, 2003: Interview report

A few interesting details about these materials. Read more

The CIA’s Cherry-Pick

Update, July 20: As this post explains, the CIA claims that the gaps in production come from the presence of "derivative" cables that were permissibly withheld from the Vaughn Index.

In footnote 2 of his declaration, Leon Panetta explains that eight of the documents included in the Vaughn Index (Part One, Part Two) he turned over to Judge Hellerstein represent deliberative process, so can’t be turned over.

 As described in the attached Vaughn index, documents 28, 54, 56, 57, and 59-62 contain deliberative process privileged information; and documents 59 and 60 contain attorney-client communications and attorney work product.

Given the report that interrogators were cabling HQ on a daily basis for approvals for interrogation techniques, I was interested in which of the cables included in the index of all torture tape related documents the CIA previously identified would be labeled "deliberative process"–it’s a way to identify which of the cables included actual discussion about techniques. I was particularly interested in whether any of the more remarkable cables–the 28-page cable from Field to HQ written on May 6, 2002, or the 4-page cable from HQ to Field sent on May 28, 2002–were included among these deliberative documents.

Those two cables–which, I have speculated, might be key cables in the early decision-making on torture–were not included among the selection of all the documents that CIA identified "for review for potential release." In fact, the only deliberative cable included among those that Judge Hellerstein will now review is one dated August 20, 2002, long after the CIA got formal approval to use torture techniques. (In addition, the first of the two interrogation logs–the one dated April 13, 2002–is considered to include deliberative records, though the second one–dated August 4, 2002–does not.)

But I don’t think that was an accident.

The CIA was, as I understand it, ordered to give over a selection of these. Sometimes, agencies are ordered to give over every tenth document out of a total collection, but I don’t believe they were here. Sometimes, agencies will simply pull every 10th document, and explain if they deviate from that pattern. But the CIA appears to have submitted a more random selection (though, they supplied a greater percentage of the later documents talking about the torture tape destruction). By comparing the total index with the Vaughn index, though, we can get a sense of what the CIA did include. For most of the series of cables reporting to and from the field, the CIA submitted fairly regular cables–every 10, 11, or 12 cables. From June 22, 2002 through August 20, 2002, they appear to have submitted every 10 document, like clockwork (in addition to the handwritten log dated August 4). (It’s impossible to exactly identify a pattern from after that because so many of the cables are the same length, though it is possible that it sticks pretty close to the every tenth cable pattern.)

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1000 Words

The very last item in the Vaughn Index the CIA submitted to Judge Hellerstein in an attempt to keep all this information secret is a photograph of Abu Zubaydah dated October 11, 2002.

A photograph.

We can’t have that either, the CIA says, because it’ll expose sources and methods. More specifically, they say we can’t have it because of:

Exemption b(1) – This document contains information relating to intelligence activities (including special activities), intelligence sources, intelligence methods, and foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States, including confidential sources that is properly classified pursuant to section 1.4(c) and 1.4(d) of Executive Order 12958, as amended, and is thus protected from disclosure by Exemption b(1).

Exemption b(3) – This document contains information relating to intelligence sources and intelligence methods that is specifically exempted from disclosure by section 102A(i)(1) of the National Security Act of 1947, as amended, 50 USCA 403-1(i)(1) (West Supp. 2008) and section 6 of the Central Intelligence Act of 1949, as amended, 50 USCA 403g (West Supp. 2008), and thus is protected from disclosure by Exemption b(3). This document also contains information relating to the organization, functions, and names of persons employed by the CIA that is specifically exempted from disclosure by section 6 of the Central Intelligence Act of 1949, as amended, 50 USCA 403g (West Supp. 2008), and thus is protected from disclosure by Exemption b(3).

A picture, apparently taken two months after the waterboarding, and they won’t release it because, they say, it’ll reveal sources and methods. 

What was apparent in a photo of Abu Zubaydah from October 2002 that it would reveal sources and methods?

12 to 16 Bottles, Not 5

A number of you were discussing the report–from Lawrence Wilkerson and Robert Windrem–that we used water bottles when waterboarding.

In administering the Bush White House’s most infamous “enhanced interrogation” procedure, waterboarding, CIA questioners employed a civilized tool for a brutal task—bottled water, sometimes straight from the fridge.


A leading Bush administration official, retired Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff  to Secretary of State Colin Powell, says that the numbers associated with CIA waterboarding sessions—such as 183 times for 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and 83 times for al Qaeda training camp commander Abu Zubaydah—may even reflect the number of water bottles expended.

Windrem did a bit of fast math to figure out how many water bottles would have been used.

A one-pint water bottle takes about seven seconds to empty, so four or five bottles would take empty in 30 or 40 seconds, the time prescribed by the Justice Department memo approving the process. (Larger two-liter bottles might have been more efficient. Each takes a full 30 seconds to empty.)

At the risk being pedantic, I wanted to suggest this might not be the correct math. Windrem’s using the description of waterboarding included in the Bybee Two memo. But we know from the May 30, 2005 memo that waterboarding, in practice, used more water than described in the Bybee Two memo.

"[T]he waterboard technique  … was different from the technique described in the DoJ opinion and used in the SERE training. The difference was the manner in which the detainee’s breathing was obstructed. 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 …  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 is different from that used in SERE training because it is "for real–and is more poignant and convincing.") [my emphasis] 

And a document submitted by JPRA in support of the Bybee Two memo (and described in the SASC report) gave a description of waterboarding that more closely resembled waterboarding as it was eventually practiced than it did the SERE technique it purportedly described (or the description that got into the Bybee Memo). Read more