The CIA released the documents today that former Vice President Dick Cheney requested earlier this year in an attempt to prove his assertion that using enhanced interrogation techniques on terror detainees saved U.S. lives.
The documents back up the Bush administration’s claims that intelligence gleaned from captured terror suspects had thwarted terrorist attacks, but the visible portions of the heavily redacted reports do not indicate whether such information was obtained as a result of controversial interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding.
Detainee reporting has helped thwart a number of al-Qaeda plots to attack targets in the West and elsewhere. Not only have detainees reported on potential targets and techniques that al-Qaeda operational planners have considered but arrests also have disrupted attack plans in progress,” the report said.
It describes how interrogations of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed yielded information about al-Qaeda’s attempts to obtain anthrax and crash commercial airplanes into London’s Heathrow Airport. It says that other detainees, when confronted with information learned from Mohammed, revealed more about the plots and members of al-Qaeda.
One of the documents on Mohammed titled “Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: Preeminent Source on al-Qaeda,” noted that he was the most valuable source of information on the terror network. The report notes that the planner of 9/11 was forced to rethink second-wave attacks he envisioned after 9/11 because of increased security efforts in the United States. “KSM stated that he had planned a second wave of hijacking attacks even before September 2001 but shifted his aim from the United States to the United Kingdom because of the United States post-11 September security posture and the British government’s strong support for Washington’s global war on terror,” the report noted.
The CIA report states that Mohammed “dramatically expanded our universe of knowledge on al-Qaeda plots & [and] leads that assisted directly in the capture of other terrorists including Jemaah Islamiyah leader Hambali.”
What the documents don’t say, at least not the redacted versions that have been released, is what information was obtained by means of techniques such as waterboarding and what information was obtained by traditional interrogation methods. Since it was Cheney contention that the documents would prove that waterboarding and other torture methods were essential in the fight against al Qaeda, it’s fairly clear that today’s release does not support his claim by any stretch of the imagination.
Moreover, as Stuart Ackerman at The Washington Independent points out, the fact that the CIA used the terms “interrogator” and “debriefer” interchangeably, it’s impossible to tell what methods actually worked in obtaining crucial information:
Because of the joint relationship of “interrogators” and “debriefers,” it’s extraordinarily difficult to distinguish between what approaches worked and what didn’t for the purposes of the report. (Even factoring out moral and legal considerations.) That lack of disaggregation may be what contributed to the documents that Cheney wanted the CIA to declassify showing the alleged utility of torture.”
But don’t just take my word for it, or Ackerman, check out the documents yourself: