Competing claims of torture effectiveness

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA program that included torturing al-Qaida detainees provides eight “primary” examples in which the CIA said it obtained good intelligence as a result of what it called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and the Senate panel’s conclusions that the information was available elsewhere and without resorting to brutal interrogations.

A look at those examples of the CIA’s claims and the Senate’s counterclaims, according to the Senate report:


THE CIA SAID U.S. citizen Jose Padilla was implicated in the so-called Dirty Bomb/Tall Buildings plotting. Terror leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammad tasked Padilla in 2002 with conducting an operation using natural gas to explode tall buildings in the United States, later known as the “Tall Buildings Plot.” Over the next few years, the CIA cited the capture of Padilla before he could pull off such a plot as a prime example of how “key intelligence collected from (High Value Detainee) interrogations after applying interrogation techniques” had “enabled CIA to disrupt terrorist plots” and “capture additional terrorists.” It also said the information was otherwise unavailable and saved lives.

THE SENATE REPORT SAYS the CIA first received reporting on the threat posed by Padilla from a foreign government. Eight days later, al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah gave the FBI information on the plot without names, four months before the CIA began using its harsh interrogation techniques on Zubaydah, and after the intelligence community had concluded that Padilla’s plots were infeasible.



THE CIA SAID in November 2007 talking points to the CIA director that it disrupted the so-called Karachi Plot, a plan to conduct attacks against the U.S. consulate and other U.S. interests in Pakistan “after applying the waterboard along with other interrogation techniques.” It said the plot was uncovered during the initial interrogations of Khallad Bin Attash and Ammar al-Baluchi and later confirmed by Mohammad. A CIA briefing prepared for Vice President Dick Cheney in March 2005 under the heading “Interrogation Results” also said “use of DOJ-authorized enhanced interrogation techniques … has enabled us to disrupt terrorist plots, capture additional terrorists (including) the Karachi Plot.” In its written response to the Senate’s report on Tuesday, the CIA said it should have said it “revealed ongoing attack plotting against the U.S. official presence in Karachi that prompted the consulate to take further steps to protect its officers.”

THE SENATE REPORT SAYS the Karachi Plot was disrupted with the confiscation of explosives and the arrests of al-Baluchi and bin Attash in April 2003. The operation and arrests were conducted unilaterally by Pakistani authorities, and were unrelated to any reporting from the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. At the time of their arrest, the plot leaders were far from being ready to carry out the attack.



THE CIA SAID the brutal interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad identified an Ohio truck driver, Iyman Faris, who later pleaded guilty to terrorism charges. A 2009 report to Congress by CIA Director Leon Panetta described Faris as one of the “key captures” resulting from the CIA interrogation program. The CIA has since clarified that, “In a few cases, we incorrectly stated or implied that (Mohammad’s) information led to the investigation of Faris, but we should have stated that his reporting informed and focused the investigation.”

THE SENATE REPORT SAYS Faris, a Pakistani who moved to the U.S. in 1994 and became a citizen in 1999, had already been on the FBI’s radar screen even before the 9/11 attacks. He resurfaced after Pakistani authorities arrested Majid Khan during a visit there, when someone close to Khan called Faris in Ohio and informed him about Khan’s arrest. The National Security Agency monitored the call. Khan described Faris as a close associated of Khan’s uncle, Maqsood Khan, a known senior al Qaida operative. Days later, during a separate interrogation with Mohammad, Mohammad recognized photos of Faris and Majid Khan and said he had asked Faris to find equipment to loosen the nuts and bolts of suspension bridges in the United States. Faris told him he wasn’t able to find the tools.



THE CIA SAID waterboarding helped it confirm that Sajid Badat, a British citizen, was the terrorist assigned to carry out the shoe-bombing attack against a commercial flight from Paris to Miami with Richard Reid in December 2001.

THE SENATE REPORT SAYS Badat was identified by British domestic investigative efforts, reports from foreign intelligence services and the U.S. military and efforts by international law enforcement. Badat told al Qaida leaders he backed out of the plot. The FBI said it became aware that Reid had a partner who backed out as early as January 2002, phone-calling cards used by Reid were linked to Badat and a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay in September 2003 identified Badat as a “shoe bomber.” Badat was arrested in November and confirmed his role in the shoe bomb operation; he was sentenced to 13 years in prison but has been released in exchange for cooperating with authorities.



THE CIA SAID interrogations of two brothers led to the discovery in 2003 of a joint effort by al-Qaida and Jemaah Islamiyah to fly hijacked planes into the tallest buildings on America’s West Coast. For years, the CIA cited the “discovery” and “thwarting” of this “second wave” terror plot as evidence of the effectiveness of its enhanced interrogation techniques.

THE SENATE REPORT SAYS a review of CIA records shows that one of the brothers, in the custody of a foreign government, didn’t identify a cell of operatives sent to Karachi for an operation, as the agency claimed. Instead, he identified a group of Malaysian and Indonesian students in Karachi who knew he was a member of Jemaah Islamiyah. CIA officers on site cited other intelligence indicating Mohammad planned to use Malaysians in a “next wave of attacks” and linked the brother’s answer to that information. When the second brother was given enhanced interrogation and confronted with questions about the supposed terror “cell,” he said Mohammad asked for as many pilots as possible. Months later, he told a debriefer he made it up to “reduce pressure on himself” by giving an account consistent with what questioners wanted to hear. The CIA assessed his admission of a fabrication as credible. The detainee then consistently described the al-Ghuraba organization as a development camp for future terror operatives and leaders, not a cell or terror operation beyond Southeast Asia. These descriptions corroborated other intelligence reporting, which indicated that the group wasn’t tasked with any aspect of “second wave” terror plotting.



THE CIA SAID enhanced interrogations helped capture Dhiren Barot, also known as Issa al-Hindi, in 2004 and thwart a series of terrorist attacks in Britain. It said Mohammad first provided reporting on a U.K.-based “Issa.” In a document prepared for the president, it highlighted the particular effectiveness of waterboarding in leading to the disruption of the cell.

THE SENATE REPORT SAYS identification of Issa came from a British investigation. It says Mohammad didn’t provide the first reporting on him, nor is there evidence showing CIA interrogations led to Barot’s arrest. After Barot was apprehended, the report said, CIA officers prepared a document for British authorities stating that while Mohammad tasked al-Hindi to go to the U.S. to study targets, he was unaware how far Barot’s planning progressed, who Issa’s co-conspirators were or that Issa’s planning focused on Britain.



THE CIA SAID after it captured Mohammad in 2003, it learned that Mohammad wanted to target the U.K. by hijacking multiple airplanes leaving from Heathrow, then turn them around and crash them into the airport. This would have killed thousands of people, the CIA said. The agency said that after repeated use of enhanced interrogation in 2003, Mohammad stopped lying and admitted that a picture of a beam in his notebook was a target drawn for a fellow al-Qaida operative. Mohammad wanted planes to target the tallest building at the time in Canary Wharf, London’s business district. He identified two potential operatives. In its June response to the Senate report, the CIA said that it was Mohammad’s arrest that “most disrupted” the Heathrow plot. “At a minimum the lawful use of EIT’s on Mohammad provided us with critical information that alerted us to these threats,” the CIA told its inspector general in 2004.

THE SENATE REPORT SAYS the Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf plot had not been fully hatched beyond initial planning stages when Mohammad and others were detained. The CIA was aware of the plot before any information was gleaned from the detainees. In October 2002, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who, at the time, had not been subjected to enhanced interrogation tactics, identified two potential Heathrow operatives who had been sent to the U.K. by Mohammad. The CIA knew no pilots had been selected and the plot was not imminent. The CIA also said that intelligence acquired after enhanced interrogations allowed the CIA to conclude this plot had been disrupted.



THE CIA SAID enhanced interrogation techniques used on Mohammad led to the “first” information about a money transfer that led to the capture of Hambali, also known as Riduan bin Isomuddin. Hambali was a member of a terror group in Southeast Asia called Jemaah Islamiyah, which had ties to al-Qaida. Hambali was implicated in the October 2002 Bali bombings. Mohammad was captured on March 1, 2003, and he was interrogated with enhanced techniques starting on March 6, 2003. The CIA said Mohammad told them about a Baltimore, Maryland, man’s role in sending $50,000 to Hambali. That man, Majid Khan, admitted that he gave the money to someone named Zubair after the CIA confronted Khan with Mohammad’s admission and details about a January 2003 intercepted email. This led to the CIA’s capture of Zubair in June 2003. Zubair’s capture led the CIA to an operative named Lilie, who was giving Hambali forged passports. Lilie identified where Hambali was hiding in Thailand and Hambali was arrested August 11, 2003.

THE SENATE REPORT SAYS Hambali’s capture in Thailand was a result of an intercepted email, a CIA source and Thai investigators. After the Bali bombings in 2002, it was being openly reported that funding for the bombings flowed through Hambali from al-Qaida leadership in Pakistan, including Mohammad. One report said a Malaysian named Zubair was one of three people sought for the bombings. In January 2003, the CIA intercepted an email between a known al-Qaida account and Khan. The email said that Khan went to Thailand in December 2002 and was in contact with Zubair. On March 6, 2003, Khan told the CIA about delivering the money to Zubair for al-Qaida. On March 10, information about Zubair was shared with the Thai government. On March 11 and 17, Mohammad confirmed he gave $50,000 to Hambali and that Khan was involved in the transfer. In May 2003, a CIA source connected the CIA with Zubair. Thai investigators detained Zubair in June, and when they questioned him, he admitted he tried to get documents for Hambali. Thai investigators contacted someone at the business Zubair was working with. This led to the arrest of Lilie, who led them to Hambali.

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