CIA's harsh interrogation techniques: three key memos now online

The most detailed documents describing the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret interrogation, rendition, and detention program are now online in the American Civil Liberties Union’s new Torture Database. Here are three of the most important memos (links included) of the 5,000-plus that the ACLU obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and legal challenges going back to 2003, according to Alexander Abdo, staff attorney for the ACLU’s National Security Project.

“For the first eight months, the government refused to even process our requests. They argued that it was too time-consuming,” Mr. Abdo says. “The federal courts ultimately rejected this argument, ruling that we are a government of laws and FOIA is one of those laws.” 

1. Special review by the CIA Inspector General’s Office – May 7, 2004

This is a description of the CIA’s rendition, detention, and interrogation program, and it's “perhaps the most significant document to come out of the FOIA,” says Abdo. “It’s a fascinating and morbid document to read.”

It is also the document that Attorney General Eric Holder read twice before deciding to initiate a criminal investigation into CIA interrogators who ignored US laws prohibiting torture. “Unfortunately, the investigation focused narrowly on this, rather than the architects of the torture program,” Abdo says. 

The memo cites “CIA interrogators who far exceeded the guidance they were given,” Abdo says – including one interrogator who threatened a prisoner with a handgun and a power drill and forced him to smoke cigarettes until he vomited.

The review was initiated in part because CIA officers were concerned that they were committing human rights violations as part of the program, Abdo notes. It concluded that “in the end they couldn’t even say that the program was effective,” he says.

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