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Terrorism & Security

Did CIA 'enhanced interrogation techniques' work or not?

Forget whether or not the 'torture' tactics on Al Qaeda suspects were justifiable. Debate now rages as to whether they were effective.

By / April 26, 2009



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Controversy over the recently released torture memos is escalating as new information indicates that the Central Intelligence Agency may have used harsh interrogation techniques for seven years without officially evaluating their efficacy.

As early as 2003, several prominent intelligence officials expressed concern that the agency was using these methods without examining what results they yielded. That year John Helgerson, the inspector general of the CIA, issued a draft of a report calling for analysis by outside investigators to research the effectiveness of water boarding and other methods to evaluate how well they worked.

While then-CIA Director George Tenet stopped the use of waterboarding due to Mr. Helgerson's report and the CIA never used the method after 2003, a comprehensive analysis of the interrogation methods was never conducted.

Gardner Peckham and John Hamre, former security advisers, would later conduct a favorable evaluation of the methods, but the two have been criticized for having no background in interrogation, reports The Chicago Tribune.

"Nobody with expertise or experience in interrogation ever took a rigorous, systematic review of the various techniques – enhanced or otherwise – to see what resulted in the best information," a senior US intelligence official involved in overseeing the program told The Tribune. The official added that no one figured out "what you could do without the use of enhanced techniques."

The interrogation of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, a senior Al Qaeda operative, has become one of the most scrutinized cases since the release of the memos. The Washington Post reports that in his first four weeks of detention he was beaten, repeatedly thrown against a plywood wall, given a forced enema, put in stress positions, deprived of sleep, and waterboarded 183 times.

While critics point out that traditional, less violent interrogation methods weren't tried before escalating to "enhanced" methods, US officials who support the harsh tactics say that Mr. Mohammed went on to provide information that helped stop potential Al Qaeda attacks.

"The detainee-supplied data permitted us to round them up as they were being trained, rather than just before they came ashore. … Not headline stuff, but the bread and butter of successful counterterrorism. And something that few people understand," a former intelligence official speaking anonymously told the Post.

Meanwhile, an article in the Los Angeles Times reports that there was a "stark contrast" between the amount of resources the CIA expended trying to determine whether the methods were effective and trying to show that the methods were legal. When it came to proving the legality of methods such as sleep deprivation, the agency sought multiple legal opinions, but showed less interest in reconsidering many of the policies made shortly after 9/11.

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