May, 2004: Top Secret CIA Inspector General Report Re: Detention & Interrogation

In January 2003, after CIA personnel expressed concern about human rights abuses at CIA facilities, the CIA Inspector General initiated an investigation to CIA interrogation practices. It’s Report, “Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation (Sept. 2001 – Oct. 2003) issued May 7, 2004, is devastating critique of the agency’s detention and interrogation activities. It raises doubts about the efficacy, ethics and legality of CIA’s harsh methods which it notes, are expressly forbidden and banned by federal law.

The report describes in detail gross deviations in practice from the Justice Department “approved” methods stating: “Unauthorized, improvised, inhumane, and undocumented detention and interrogation techniques were used.”  The report describes some of these in detail for example, threatening suspects with a revolver and a power drill; applying pressure to a prisoner’s carotid artery until he begins to pass out; staging mock executions, threatening sexual abuse of a suspect’s mother; and threatening “We’re going to kill your children.” However, the most explicit damaging pages are completely redacted (pp. 36 – 68; 80 – 102; 106 — 112), including the Inspector General’s Recommendations (pp. 106 – 109). The IG report notes the existence of 92 videotapes of Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation (p. 36); and the death of an individual at Asadabad Base in June 2003, while under interrogation by an Agency contractor. (p. 103)

This report pulled the plug from the “legal shield” that the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel had crafted at the behest of the White House, and from the claimed rationale, that torture was effective in preventing a “ticking time bomb” and that the information obtained “saved lives.” The Inspector General concluded that there was no evidence that any terrorist attacks had been averted. Furthermore, the report concluded that the effectiveness of coercive methods as opposed to traditional legal methods “cannot be so easily measured.”  The entire report was withheld from the public for five years.

In 2004, the United Nations Inspection Manual provided a long list of torture methods, stating: “the distinction between physical and psychological methods is artificial.” Many of the methods listed had been authorized by the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and inflicted on suspected terrorists by the CIA and U.S. military. The UN Manual states:

“One of the central aims of torture is to reduce an individual to a position of extreme helplessness and distress that can lead to a deterioration of cognitive, emotional and behavioural functions. Thus, torture is a means of attacking an individual’s fundamental modes of psychological and social functioning. Under such circumstances, the torturer strives not only to incapacitate a victim physically but also to disintegrate the individual’s personality.” (p. 45)

In her article in The New Yorker, in August, 2004, Jane Mayer reported that an F.B.I. agent who visited Guantánamo sent an e-mail to his superiors describing the extreme deprivation and degradation that prisoners were subjected to.

“On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18 to 24 hours or more.”

The agent related that he had also visited an “almost unconscious” prisoner in a room where the temperature was “probably well above 100 degrees.” There was a “pile of hair next to him.” (He seemed to have pulled out his own hair.)

Other FBI agents reported that after being subjected to intense isolation of more than three months, a detainee was “evidencing behavior consistent with extreme psychological trauma (talking to non-existent people, reporting hearing voices, crouching in a corner of the cell covered with a sheet for hours on end).” (The Experiment, 2005)

In her book, The Dark Side, Jane Mayer reported that CIA Inspector General John Helgerson had concluded that the interrogation program was illegal and that it raised serious war crimes issues. That was also the conclusion of the Red Cross and most legal authorities. The FBI agents’ assessments corroborated extreme abuse. However, Helgerson, whose job as Inspector General is supposed to be as an independent watchdog, was summoned repeatedly to meet privately with Vice President Cheney, who is considered to be “the man who provided the impetus for the program.” As a result, the voluminous IG report was shelved until highly redacted versions were released in 2008 and 2009. Mayer notes that Helgerson had also investigated several alleged homicides involving CIA detainees, which remain secret.

In Dec. 2004, a CIA FAX to Daniel Levin at Justice Departments’ Office of Legal Counsel stated: “the goal of interrogation is to create a sense of learned helplessness and dependence.” In 2009, that goal was confirmed in a report by Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility which stated: “the express goal of the CIA interrogation program was to induce a state of ‘learned helplessness.’” (Report: Investigation into the Office of Legal Counsel’s Memoranda, 2009)

So, inducing learned helplessness — the breakdown of human will — rather than intelligence information gathering was the real goal of the government’s torture program.