Monday, January 28, 2008

Torturing the CIA

A new online-only investigative journalism site called the Washington Independent has officially launched today. (They've already done some really great stuff, including this piece on today's veterans conducting their own Winter Soldier hearings.) They have a great article up today by Spencer Ackerman on how the CIA, hard to believe as it may be, was relatively untested when it came to interrogation. After 9/11, Bush mandated that the CIA begin conducting torture, and as we've seen in recent months, the result is disasterous.

"Very, very few interrogations were done in CIA," said John Sullivan, who performed an estimated 5,000 polygraph tests in the unit during a 31-year career. "Most of what we did was elicitation. Interrogation involves people who don’t want to give you information. In my case, about 20 percent of my tests involved some form of interrogation." None of those interrogations involved anything physical or psychological pressure. "I was never aware of any agency employee being involved in torture. Never. And I spent four years in Vietnam," Sullivan said. "I was disgusted by Abu Ghraib. It broke my heart."

But 9/11 changed all that. Despite having nearly no off-the-shelf experience, the CIA was tasked by President Bush to come up with a robust interrogation program for the most important al-Qaeda captives. So the agency turned to its partners for assistance in designing its interrogation regimen: Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia—all countries cited by the State Department for using torture—among others. Additionally, as Mark Benjamin has reported for Salon, two psychologists named Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, who worked as contractors for CIA, helped the agency "reverse-engineer" the military and CIA training on resisting torture for use on detainees. Suddenly, waterboarding, an illegal practice of simulating or in some cases inducing drowning, became an American-administered practice.

Interestingly, one place that the CIA didn’t look for help was the place where interrogations have been performed, lawfully, for decades: the Federal Bureau of Investigation. "In terms of actual interrogations, when you have a suspect in custody, the FBI does that hundreds of times a day, 365 days a year, for 90 years," said Mike Rolince, who spent over three years as Special Agent in Charge of counterterrorism at the FBI’s Washington field office before retiring in October 2005. "The FBI brought serious credibility and a track record to the table. That said, the U.S. government decided to go about [interrogations] in a different way. The results speak for themselves. I don’t think we need to be where we are."

The article is great, and you may want to check out a crib sheet we ran a couple of months ago on waterboarding and torture. The Washington Independent has also hired Future Majority's Mike Connery to write on the youth and their impact on the primary season. I look forward to more stuff from them.

Cross-posted on

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