- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The CIA hit back angrily against the findings of the long-awaited “torture report” by Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday by claiming that the techniques used on terror suspects after 9/11 yielded “valuable and unique intelligence” that helped disrupt future attacks and directly aided in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Against the report’s charges that tactics such as waterboarding, weeks of sleep deprivation and rectal feedings were useless in collecting intelligence to thwart terrorist activity, the CIA for the first time produced specific intelligence claiming the techniques saved American lives and contributed to finding the elusive al Qaeda leader.

The assertions, which the CIA initially made in a classified response to Senate investigators last year but only revealed publicly Tuesday — stand in stark contrast to the essential findings of the nearly five-year probe conducted by the Intelligence Committee’s Democrats.

While the 6,000-page committee report remains classified, a roughly 500-page executive summary released Tuesday accused the CIA of intentionally and routinely misleading Congress about the enhanced interrogation program — specifically by making “inaccurate” claims about the “effectiveness” of torture inflicted on detainees.

The document, seen widely as the most comprehensive public accounting to date by Congress of the CIA’s handling of terror suspects at so-called “black site” secret prisons in Eastern Europe and Asia after 9/11, also said the agency lied about the program’s scope, including about the number of suspects who were detained and the number subjected to such techniques as waterboarding.

President Obama banned waterboarding, which involves pouring water over a cloth covering the nose and mouth of a detainee to create the sensation of drowning, in 2009. But Tuesday’s report went into sobering detail about the CIA’s use of it under the program created by the agency in the initial years of the global war on terrorism.

The report even outlines how some CIA officials told to waterboard alleged al Qaeda member Abu Zubaydah in August 2002 were so horrified by the graphic nature of the process that they pushed back against its use but were ignored. The document cites an internal CIA communication that said: “Several on the team profoundly affected some to the point of tears and choking up.”

Noting that video recordings of at least two waterboarding sessions on Zubaydah had gone “missing,” the report broadly describes a chaotic environment with almost no oversight of detainee treatment during the years immediately after al Qaeda terrorists killed more than 3,000 Americans by slamming hijacked airplanes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

The document shows that the overall scope of the program was relatively small, stating that just 39 detainees were subjected to harsh interrogation techniques.

But it cites evidence that waterboarding was used on more than three detainees, contrary to what CIA officials had previously told Justice Department investigators.

There were also at least five suspects subjected to a practice known as “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration.” While the Senate report said there was no evidence that the detainees were in any medical need of being given food in that manner, it maintains that the CIA’s chief of interrogations saw the technique as a way to exert total control over a detainee.

The document also describes the death of a detainee held at a secret site known as “COBALT.”

“In November 2002 a detainee who had been held partially nude and chained to a concrete floor died from suspected hypothermia at the facility,” it states, adding that CIA officials participating in interrogations “placed detainees in ice water ‘baths.’”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and the chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, released the document Tuesday after a yearlong battle with the CIA, and at times the Obama White House, over whether the declassification would damage America’s image and/or trigger anti-U.S. demonstrations in Muslim nations.

The battle was divisive for Republicans.

Some, such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona — himself a victim of torture during Vietnam — stood lock-step with Mrs. Feinstein on Tuesday, while others, such as outgoing House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers of Michigan, have sided with the CIA and called for the Senate probe to remain classified.

Republicans on the Intelligence Committee, who withdrew from the process early in Mrs. Feinstein’s probe, published their own “minority view” Tuesday, claiming the Democrats’ final report was “flawed.”

It “has cost the American taxpayer more than 40 million dollars and diverted countless CIA analytic and support resources,” the Republicans said, adding that Democrats never interviewed certain “key witnesses,” resulting in “significant analytical and factual errors.”

The most sweeping claim in the report — and the one now at the center of the dispute between senators and the CIA — is that throughout the agency intentionally misled the Bush White House, as well as the CIA Office of Inspector General and Congress by claiming harsh interrogation techniques were effective.

The Intelligence Committee “reviewed 20 of the most frequent and prominent examples of purported counterterrorism successes that the CIA has attributed to the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques, and found them to be wrong in fundamental respects,” the document states.

CIA Director John O. Brennan shot back at that specific claim in a statement Tuesday, saying that the agency’s own “review indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom [enhanced interrogation techniques] were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives.”

The CIA’s office of media relations, meanwhile, sought to counter specific claims in the report by highlighting cases in which the agency maintains it pulled vital intelligence from detainees — most notably information that helped the hunt for bin Laden.

“As an example, Ammar al-Baluchi, after undergoing [enhanced interrogation techniques], was the first detainee to reveal that Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti served as a courier for messages from Bin Ladin after Bin Laden had departed Afghanistan,” states the previously classified response that the CIA provided to Senate investigators last year but circulated to reporters for the first time Tuesday.

The agency made similar counterclaims about other high-profile terrorism suspects including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was captured in 2003 in Pakistan; Hambali, an al Qaeda-linked Indonesian implicated in the October 2002 bombings of a Bali nightclub; and Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen arrested in Chicago in 2002 on suspicion of plotting a so-called radioactive “dirty bomb” attack and since convicted in U.S. court of aiding terrorists.

With regard to Mohammed, the CIA said harsh interrogation techniques in 2003 were integral to gleaning information about a plot to hijack multiple airplanes leaving from London’s Heathrow Airport. But the Senate report said the CIA was aware of the plot before any information was gleaned from Mohammed and other detainees.

In the Hambali case, the CIA said enhanced interrogation techniques used on Mohammed led to the “first” information about a money transfer that led to the capture of Hambali. The agency said Mohammed told them about a Baltimore man’s role in sending $50,000 to Hambali.

The man, Majid Khan, admitted that he gave the money to someone named Zubair after the CIA confronted him with Mohammed’s admission and details about a January 2003 intercepted email.

This led to the CIA’s capture of Zubair in June 2003. Zubair’s capture led the CIA to an operative named Lilie, who was giving Hambali forged passports. Lilie identified where Hambali was hiding in Thailand and Hambali was arrested Aug. 11, 2003.

The Senate report tells a slightly different story. While it asserts that Hambali’s capture in Thailand was the result of an intercepted email, a CIA source and Thai investigators, no mention is made of information gleaned during Mohammed’s interrogation.

In the Padilla case, the CIA said harsh interrogation of Abu Zubayda and first identified the U.S. citizen as a threat. But the Senate report maintains that the agency first received reporting on the Padilla threat from a foreign government and that Zubayda told FBI agents about the dirty bomb plot — without divulging any names — some four months before the CIA began using the harsh techniques on him.

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