2002 military memo: CIA tactics "torture," ineffective

A document prepared by the agency that helped train interrogators in methods like waterboarding warned of "unreliable information" as a result.

Published April 24, 2009 11:45PM (EDT)

On Friday night, the Washington Post published an interesting follow-up on the recent Senate Armed Services Committee report on the treatment of detainees during the Bush administration: A document that reveals at least one part of the military was calling the tactics used by the CIA and others "torture" as far back as July of 2002.

The paper obtained a memo prepared by the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, which runs the SERE program that trains U.S. military personnel to resist torture and also helped train interrogators in the methods that were used on terror suspects under former President Bush. In the document, the JPRA bluntly calls the techniques then under discussion torture and dismisses them as ineffective.

An excerpt from the full document, which can be downloaded here

The requirement to obtain information from an uncooperative source as quickly as possible -- in time to prevent, for example, an impending terrorist attack that could result in loss of life -- has been forwarded as a compelling argument for the use of torture. Conceptually, proponents envision the application of torture as a means to expedite the exploitation process. In essence, physical and/or psychological duress are viewed as an alternative to the more time consuming conventional interrogation process. The error inherent in this line of thinking is the assumption that, through torture, the interrogator can extract reliable and accurate intelligence. History and a consideration of human behavior would appear to refute this assumption. (NOTE: The application of physical and or psychological duress will likely result in physical compliance. Additionally, prisoners may answer and/or comply as a result of threats of torture. However, the reliability and accuracy information must be questioned.)

This is, by itself, not that big of a story, as it confirms what we already knew about torture and about most interrogators' views on its use. But it is interesting to see the agency with the most knowledge about it coming out this strongly against it -- and using the word "torture" -- during the Bush administration.

The question is whether any key administration officials knew about this memo or its conclusions, and the Post doesn't have an answer for that. But one unnamed former administration official who had been involved in discussions on the issue says that when it came to the National Security Council, the CIA didn't provide any caveats. "That information was not brought to the attention of the principals," the former official told the Post. "That would have been relevant. The CIA did not present with pros and cons, or points or concern. They said this was safe and effective, and there was no alternative."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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