Interrogation Programme Helped Mission to Get Bin Laden, Says CIA
WASHINGTON: The CIA attempted to hit back yesterday (Wednesday) after a US senate report accused the agency of deliberately misleading Congress and the American public over how "enhanced interrogation techniques" were essential in finding the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The director of the CIA and three former directors rebutted the 480-page report into the CIA's torture programme as "marred by errors of facts and interpretation" and totally failing to take into account the febrile "ticking time bomb" atmosphere after the September 11 attacks.
"It represents the single worst example of Congressional oversight in our many years of government service," wrote the former CIA directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden in a long editorial page article in the Wall Street Journal.
Their intervention came after the agency's current director, John Brennan, issued a statement admitting that the CIA had made "mistakes" but maintaining that "harsh" interrogations "did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives".
Their campaign came as Mark Udall, a senior Democrat senator who was instrumental in the release of the report, called on Mr Brennan to resign. "Director Brennan and the CIA are continuing to wilfully provide inaccurate information and misrepresent the efficacy of torture... in other words, the CIA is lying," he said in the Senate.
The White House backed Mr Brennan yesterday, describing him as a "decorated professional and a patriot", but tried to avoid the deepening row over whether torture was needed to find bin Laden.
Former CIA officers also launched a website - www.ciasavedlives.com - to publish documents that they said would refute the Senate report's conclusions.
The most serious dispute is over whether the use of torture - graphically detailed in the report - was an essential component of the intelligence trail that led the CIA to bin Laden's compound in Abottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011.
The former CIA chiefs contend that the interrogations were necessary: "There is no doubt that information provided by the totality of detainees in CIA custody, those who were subjected to interrogation and those who were not, was essential to bringing bin Laden to justice."
However, the report, written by the Democrat majority on the Senate intelligence committee, claims that much of the information that led to bin Laden was already in the CIA's possession before it began its torture programme. "The vast majority of the intelligence acquired on Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti [the bin Laden courier who led the CIA to the al-Qaeda leader] was originally acquired from sources unrelated to the CIA's detention and interrogation programme," it says.
Even more contentiously, the Senate report also accuses senior CIA leaders of deliberately using the killing of bin Laden as a way to justify retrospectively the torture programme.
The report says that in the days after Bin Laden's death, senior CIA officers, including the then director Leon Panetta, briefed senators and claimed that the harsh interrogation programme had played a "substantial role" in the operation.
However, the Senate report determines that the CIA leaders' claims contained "significant inaccurate information" and were "not fully congruent with CIA records".
The report concludes that by summer 2002 the CIA had obtained an email address, a phone number and details of Kuwaiti's physical appearance, family and connection to bin Laden from detainees held by foreign governments, before the CIA began torturing its high-value detainees.
However the former CIA directors flatly disputed the Senate's conclusions, arguing that "information developed in the interrogation programme piqued the CIA's interest in the courier, placing him at the top of the list of leads to bin Laden".
They also disputed Senate claims that members of the intelligence committee objected when they learned what the CIA was doing at its interrogation sites, including waterboarding, shackling people for days with their arms above their heads and extreme sleep deprivation.
"The briefings were detailed and graphic and drew reactions that ranged from approval to no objection. The briefings held nothing back," the CIA directors said.
This was directly contradicted by the Senate report, which says that several senators, including the Republican senator John McCain, who was tortured in Vietnam, had objected to the programme, saying waterboarding and sleep deprivation were torture.
"Nonetheless, the CIA informed the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel in classified settings that no senators had objected to the enhanced interrogation techniques that the CIA then sought to use against detainees," the report says.
The findings also undercut the narrative of Zero Dark Thirty, the Hollywood blockbuster about the bin Laden raid which was made with extensive cooperation from the CIA and helped to build the popular conception that torture was effective.
Senior officials allowed Kathryn Bigelow, the film's director, to interview commandos who took part in the raid and visit "The Vault", a CIA building where the mission was planned.
Ms Bigelow's film went on to echo and reinforce the CIA's preferred narrative of the raid, presenting the torture of a detainee as critical to getting information that eventually led to bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.
Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic senator who championed the release of the torture report, condemned the film in 2012 as "grossly inaccurate and misleading" in its presentation of the information that led to bin Laden.
Ms Bigelow appeared on The Daily Show hours after the report was released on Tuesday and said she "applauded" transparency in government, but that the question of whether torture led to bin Laden was "complicated".