Debra J. Saunders

By Debra J. Saunders
Updated 10:11 am, Saturday, December 20, 2014

The needle already was in the haystack. That essentially is the message embedded in the Democrats’ Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on CIA interrogations and detentions, approved without a single Republican vote and released by committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Three former CIA directors contend that enhanced interrogation techniques, approved under President George W. Bush and prohibited by President Obama, yielded key information that saved lives and led to Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. These claims go against Democratic rhetoric about what Obama calls “the false choice between our security and our ideals.” Democrats need to believe that what Feinstein calls “torture” doesn’t actually yield information. So in 2009, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to study CIA interrogations.

Feinstein has urged critics to read the report. I read the 500-page executive summary, and finished with more questions than answers. It was like reading a bureaucratic version of Mad magazine’s onetime cartoon “Spy vs. Spy.” Clearly there are rifts in the intelligence community. There was the FBI versus the CIA — part turf war, part mission divide. Within the CIA, there were officers who believed in rapport-building and officers who believed that shows of force deliver the goods. My guess is that both methods work, although one can be faster. Each side of that divide thinks its approach teased out the information that led to bin Laden.

The committee, to its discredit, chose to tarnish the tough guys. The CIA, the report notes, “determined from its own experience with coercive interrogations that such techniques ‘do not produce intelligence,’ ‘will probably result in false answers,’ and had historically proven to be ineffective. Yet these conclusions were ignored.” If information was gleaned without the now-banned techniques, and later a detainee offered it up during or after a harsh interrogation, the report deliberately ignored the harsh-sourced tidbit. The committee waded through 6.3 million documents. You could see how a CIA officer working in a warehouse of data might not see a phone number’s significance until a detainee lied in a way that signaled its import. The committee deliberately ignored any breakthrough revelations.

The summary dismisses enhanced interrogation techniques because detainees subjected to them were known to provide fabricated information. Hello, Republicans counter: Detainees not subject to harsh measures also fabricate answers. The CIA mocked the committee’s credulity in generally accepting “at face value detainees’ accounts that they lied under enhanced techniques and told the truth” afterward.

The GOP minority report slams the committee’s failure to interview anyone at the CIA. The committee blames an Obama Department of Justice investigation of the CIA, expanded in 2009, for allowing brass to not require that staff be interviewed. No worries, quoth the committee: “The CIA’s own documents provided a robust, contemporaneous, and firsthand record of the EIT program.”

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