More Questions for Gina Haspel—The Record of False CIA Claims about Torture’s “Efficacy”

Recently Katherine Hawkins published a comprehensive set of questions that Gina Haspel, nominee to head the CIA, should be asked during her confirmation hearings (“What the Senate Should Ask Gina Haspel,” Just Security, April 17).

This extraordinary litany of 40 crucial questions (more if you consider subsidiary questions about numerous individual detainees) cover Haspel’s role in torture, renditions and the destruction of evidence among other issues.  Every one of those questions requires a rock solid, public response before senators vote on Haspel’s confirmation.

But as comprehensive as Hawkins’ article is on questions concerning Haspel’s role on these issues, it does not list all of the crucial questions Haspel needs to be asked.  Among other things Haspel also needs to explain what role she played in misleading the Congress, the President and the American people about the results of the CIA torture program.

The CIA routinely claimed that hundreds if not thousands of lives had been saved because torture produced otherwise unobtainable information. For example, “without the use of [Enhanced Interrogation Techniques], we and our allies would [have] suffered major terrorist attacks involving hundreds, if not thousands, of casualties.”[1] The Senate Torture Report meticulously unpacks these claims and debunks them, demonstrating over and over again that the critical information came from other sources, that CIA detainees subjected to torture revealed key pieces of information only after plots had been broken up, that many of the claimed “successes” related to completely infeasible plots that would never have been carried out and that most of the CIA claims of success were in fact attributable to Pakistani, UK and other intelligence services, or CIA activities outside of the interrogation program.

The Senate Torture Report repeatedly cites CIA officials from other parts of the Agency questioning claims of “success” and even arguing that the facts demonstrate conclusively that the interrogation program failed to obtain information possessed by detainees.[2]  In at least one case (Jose Padilla’s supposed “dirty bomb” plot) others in the CIA essentially ridicule the claims of success.[3]  The report demonstrates that plots had often been broken up before detainees were even subjected to the enhanced interrogation techniques.

All of this is relevant to Haspel’s nomination because as someone who ran a black site and served as Chief of Staff to the architect of the program it is nearly inconceivable that Haspel was uninvolved in developing and spreading these claims.  It is also relevant because these false claims undermine her reliance on the Department of Justice legal opinions, which say with stunning repetition that if the facts provided to DOJ by the CIA are incorrect their legal opinions cannot be relied upon.[4]  My former Research Assistant, Rachel Craig, identified 200 times in four Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memoranda where OLC noted that information cited in the memo had been provided by the CIA, including 108 times in which OLC specifically noted that a conclusion in the memo was relied upon to reach a legal conclusion.[5] The OLC memoranda were the product of an interactive process with the CIA.  As the colloquial expression goes, “garbage in, garbage out.”  Whatever one thinks of the DOJ legal memoranda as products of legal reasoning, by their own terms they cannot be relied upon if the information on which they were premised is faulty, let alone fraudulent.

In short, before senators vote on Haspel’s nomination, they and the American people have a right to know what role she played in developing and disseminating the numerous misrepresentations made by the CIA about the “successes” of the CIA interrogation program. The nomination hearing and any written questions and answers that follow will provide the most significant opportunities for obtaining this information.

Senators should, at a minimum, ask Haspel the following questions:

General Questions About Haspel’s Role in Making Claims of Effectiveness

1. Were you ever involved in helping to create, edit or assist in any other way in the creation of documents that were provided to Congress, other parts of the Executive Branch or the leadership of the CIA setting forth claims about the effectiveness of the CIA Interrogation program and the importance of the intelligence obtained from detainees through the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques?

2. The Senate Report identifies 20 specific documents (Section III.F pp. 181-183 at footnotes 1278-1297) that contain misleading or inaccurate claims about intelligence successes resulting from the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques. These documents collectively make at least eight major claims of success (listed on p. 184 at footnote 1300) that were among the most frequently cited examples of plots allegedly “thwarted” and terrorists allegedly captured through the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.

What role, if any, did you have in the creation, editing or distribution of each of these 20 documents, including providing information that was incorporated in the documents or assisting in gathering information that was put into them?

3. Is there any respect in which you today would disagree with any of the claims or assertions made in any of those documents? The Senate Report quotes numerous examples of CIA officials raising questions and concerns about these claims. Did you raise any such concerns at any time?

The Jose Padilla “Dirty Bomb” and “Tall Buildings” Claims

4. Concerning the alleged thwarting of the so-called “Dirty Bomb” plot, is it your opinion, contrary to the widely held view within the intelligence community, that this was a viable plot? Do you agree that the so-called “Dirty Bomb” plot was based on a satirical article found by Jose Padilla on the internet and having no scientific basis whatsoever? Did you read or were you aware of the criticism directed at claims that this “plot” could ever have been carried out by CIA experts in the field of radiological weapons?

5. Concerning the so-called “Tall Buildings” plot, is it your opinion, contrary to the consensus view within the intelligence community, that this was a viable plot?

6. Concerning both the Dirty Bomb and Tall Buildings plot, is it your opinion that Jose Padilla had the capability of carrying out these plots if they were, in fact, in any sense viable? Are you aware that CIA officials considered to be credible Jose Padilla’s claims that he invented the Dirty Bomb plot simply as a means of obtaining funds to return to the United States?

7. Are you aware of any disagreement within the CIA as to whether or not these were viable plots?

If so, were those disagreements incorporated into the materials the CIA prepared on those plots?  Was the Congress made aware of the disagreements within the CIA about the viability of these plots or about whether Jose Padilla had any intention of carrying out such plots?

8. The July 20, 2007 Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel memorandum contained the claim that it was the use of enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that led to the arrest of “two al-Qaeda operatives already in the United States and planning to destroy a high rise apartment building and to detonate a radiological bomb in Washington, D.C.” Did you play any role in providing this information to the Office of Legal Counsel, either directly or indirectly through the CIA General Counsel’s Office or through others in the CIA?

Did you see these claims in CIA materials at any point in time?  Did you ever disagree with these claims or suggest that they were not accurate?

9. Do you agree that prior to the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques on Abu Zubaydah the CIA had already received sufficient information from other sources to identify Jose Padilla as a terrorist threat and to disrupt any terrorist planning by him?

Specifically, do you agree or disagree that prior to the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques Abu Zubaydah provided to FBI agents in April 2002 descriptions of two men, including an American citizen, who were planning a “dirty bomb” attack in the United States?

Do you agree or disagree that this is the key information obtained from Abu Zubaydah concerning Jose Padilla and that it was obtained without the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques and, in fact, long before Abu Zubaydah was subjected to Enhanced Interrogation Techniques?

10. Do you agree or disagree that the United States obtained much more specific information about Jose Padilla from sources other than Abu Zubaydah?

11. Do you agree or disagree that Jose Padilla was in fact already in U.S. custody prior to the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques on Abu Zubaydah?

12. Are you aware of objections raised within the CIA as to the accuracy of claims both that information from Abu Zubaydah was crucial in connection with Jose Padilla and that the alleged plots he was supposedly contemplating were not viable?

Claims Concerning the “Karachi Plot”

13. Were you involved in any manner, direct or indirect, in preparing (drafting, editing, reviewing, providing information for, helping to disseminate, among other things) any materials which were provided to the Congress, other parts of the Executive Branch, including the White House, or the public, which alleged that the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques played a role in thwarting the so-called “Karachi Plot”?

If so, in what way were you involved?

14. Are you aware of a document prepared for the CIA Director to help prepare for a meeting with President Bush in November 2007 that claimed the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques had “enabled CIA to disrupt terrorist plots,” citing the use of the waterboard specifically in connection with disrupting the “Karachi Plot”?

Are you aware of other documents prepared by the CIA making that same claim?

In what way did the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques help to “disrupt” this plot?

15. Do you agree that the “Karachi Plot” had already been thwarted through means completely unrelated to any information obtained through the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques at the time that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM) provided information about it? If not, why not?

16. Do you agree that KSM had information about the “Karachi Plot” during the entire time that he was being subjected to the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques?

Do you agree that during that period he nonetheless provided no information about the plot?

Do you agree that KSM provided confirmation of the plot after it had already been completely thwarted?

17. Are you aware that others within the CIA argued that the fact that KSM had information about the Karachi Plot and did not provide it even after he had been subjected to the full set of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques demonstrates that waterboarding and the other techniques was deeply troubling, implying that it indicated that the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques had in fact did not worked and that KSM was not “compliant”?

What is your response to the assertion that the Karachi Plot demonstrates the failure of the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, not their success?

How do you explain the CIA claiming the Karachi Plot as an example of a success story for the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, including waterboarding, when no information about the plot was obtained from KSM until after the plot had been thwarted?

18. Did you ever at any time or in any manner object to the claims advanced by the CIA that the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques played a role in actually disrupting or preventing the Karachi Plot were inaccurate or exaggerated?

Claims Concerning the “Second Wave” plot and the “Guraba Cell”

19. Were you involved in any manner, direct or indirect, in preparing (drafting, editing, reviewing, providing information for, helping to disseminate, among other things) any materials which were provided to the Congress, other parts of the Executive Branch, including the White House, or the public, which alleged that the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques played a role in thwarting the so-called “Second Wave” plot and/or the so-called Guraba Cell?

If so, what role did you play?

20. Do you agree that initial planning for a “Second Wave” attack involved the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui and the identification of Faruq al-Tunisi and that neither of these events were in any way related to the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques?

21. Do you agree that the plotting for a “Second Wave” attack was disrupted by the arrest of cell leader, Masran bin Arshad, and that this arrest was in no way the result of the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques?

22. Do you agree that Masran bin Arshad provided information about the “Second Wave” plot through interrogation by a foreign government?

Do you agree that this interrogation consisted fundamentally of what are generally described as rapport-building techniques?

23. Do you agree that KSM did not provide information about the “Second Wave” plot during the period in which he was being subjected to Enhanced Interrogation Techniques?

Do you agree that KSM only provided information about this plot after he had been told — accurately — that Masran bin Arshad had been arrested?

24. Do you agree that the Ghuraba group was not tasked to carry out “Second Wave” attacks?

Specifically do you agree that claims that Hambali provided this information after the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques is contradicted by this subsequent claim that he fabricated this supposed information due to the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques?

Are you aware that his subsequent report of having fabricated the report concerning the Gharaba group was deemed to be credible by CIA personnel?

25. Taken together, in what way did the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques “thwart” a “Second Wave” attack?

Claims Concerning the “UK Urban Targets Plot”

26. Were you involved in any manner, direct or indirect, in preparing (drafting, editing, reviewing, providing information for, helping to disseminate, among other things) any materials which were provided to the Congress, other parts of the Executive Branch, including the White House, or the public, which alleged that the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques played a role in capturing Issa al-Hindi (Dhiren Barot) and disrupting the so-called UK Urban Targets Plot?

If so, in what way were you involved in preparing these materials?

27. Do you agree or disagree that by mid-2002—well before KSM was captured— UK authorities were already aware of intelligence reports concerning a person named “Issa” in connection with possible attacks against UK targets?

28. Do you agree or disagree that KSM provided a great deal of conflicting information about a person named Issa, much of which KSM subsequently retracted, but which the CIA either considered credible at the time or could not effectively evaluate?

In particular, is it correct that the CIA considered sufficiently credible to require investigation the fabrication that KSM had sent Issa al-Hindi to recruit African American Muslims in Montana?

29. Do you agree or disagree with the view of UK authorities and others that the overwhelming amount of critical information that led to the arrest of Issa al-Hindi and the disruption of this plot came from sources other than the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques?

30. Do you agree with the FBI assessment that the UK Urban Targets plot was “far-fetched” and unlikely to have been successful?

Do you agree or disagree with the assessments provided in UK court proceedings that the UK Urban Targets plot was “amateurish,” “defective” and unlikely to succeed?

Claims Concerning the Arrest if Iyman Faris and the Suspension Bridge Plot

31. Were you involved in any manner, direct or indirect, in preparing (drafting, editing, reviewing, providing information for, helping to disseminate, among other things) any materials which were provided to the Congress, other parts of the Executive Branch, including the White House, or the public, which alleged that the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques played a role in the identification, capture and arrest of Iyman Faris?

If so, in what way were you involved in preparing these materials?

32. Do you agree or disagree that Iyman Faris was already known to U.S. officials and that an FBI investigation had already been opened in his case due to the arrest of Majid Khan in Pakistan and other factors and before KSM mentioned him?

33. Do you agree or disagree that Iyman Faris voluntarily provided information to authorities when questioned concerning the Brooklyn Bridge/suspension bridge plot?

34. In what way was the arrest of Iyman Faris in any way dependent upon information obtained from KSM?

35. Do you agree or disagree with the Interagency Intelligence Committee on Terrorism assessment that the suspension bridges plot was “unrealistic”?

Claims Concerning the Arrest of Sajid Badat (the “Second Shoe Bomber”)

36. Were you involved in any manner, direct or indirect, in preparing (drafting, editing, reviewing, providing information for, helping to disseminate, among other things) any materials which were provided to the Congress, other parts of the Executive Branch, including the White House, or the public, which alleged that the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques played a role in the identification, capture and arrest of Sajid Badat?

If so, in what way were you involved in preparing these materials?

37. Do you agree or disagree that long before KSM was apprehended authorities were aware of a connection between Richard Reid and Sajid Badat who had used phone cards captured with Reid to call a known terrorist?

38. Do you agree or disagree that before KSM identified Sajid Badat UK authorities had already been told by a “secret and reliable” source that Sajid Badat was the second shoe bomber?

Do you agree or disagree that before KSM identified Sajid Badat a detainee in U.S. military custody at Guantanamo had identified a photo of Sajid Badat as “Abu Issa” the “shoe bomber”?

39. Do you agree or disagree that upon his arrest by British authorities Sajid Badat was voluntarily cooperative and that no information obtained from KSM was necessary to obtain his capture or prosecution?

40. Do you agree or disagree that Sajid Badat had withdrawn from participating in terrorist activities and that there is no reason to believe that he would have engaged in future attacks?

Claims Concerning the Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf Plotting

41. Were you involved in any manner, direct or indirect, in preparing (drafting, editing, reviewing, providing information for, helping to disseminate, among other things) any materials which were provided to the Congress, other parts of the Executive Branch, including the White House, or the public, which alleged that the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques played a role in thwarting the Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf Plotting?

If so, in what way were you involved in preparing these materials?

42. Do you agree or disagree that these plots were fundamentally disrupted by the arrest of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, KSM, Ammar-al-Baluchi and Khallad bin Attash?

Do you agree that the detention of these individuals was unrelated to any use of the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques?

Claims Concerning the Arrest of Hambali

43. Were you involved in any manner, direct or indirect, in preparing (drafting, editing, reviewing, providing information for, helping to disseminate, among other things) any materials which were provided to the Congress, other parts of the Executive Branch, including the White House, or the public, which alleged that the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques played a role in the capture of Hambali?

If so, in what way were you involved in preparing these materials?

44. Do you agree or disagree that KSM did not provide the first information that led authorities to Majid Khan or revealed that Majid Khan had helped deliver money to Hambali?

In fact, is it not true that KSM only confirmed the information that had already been provided to authorities by Majid Khan?

45. In what way was information obtained through using Enhanced Interrogation Techniques on KSM essential to the capture of Hambali?

Claims Concerning Other Issues

46. Were you involved in any manner, direct or indirect, in preparing (drafting, editing, reviewing, providing information for, helping to disseminate, among other things) any materials which were provided to the Congress, other parts of the Executive Branch, including the White House, or the public, which alleged that the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques played a key role in any of the following events or claims for the success of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques? (Discussed in the Senate Torture Report beginning at p. 233 at footnote 1744.)

If so, in what way were you involved in preparing these materials?

● The identification of KSM as the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks
● The identification of KSM’s “Mukhtar” alias
● The capture of Ramzi bin-al-Shibh
● The capture of KSM
● The capture of Majid Khan
● The thwarting of the Camp Lemonier Plotting
● The assertion that enhanced interrogation techniques help validate sources
● The identification and arrests of Uzhair and Saifullah Paracha
● Critical intelligence alerting the CIA to Jaffar al-Tayyar
● The identification and arrest of Saleh al-Marri
● The collection of critical tactical intelligence on Shkai, Pakistan
● Obtaining information on the facilitator that led to the Osama bin Ladin operation

 

[1] The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture (the Senate Torture Report), p. 165 at footnote 1139 (page numbers refer to the Melville House version – nearest footnotes are noted to assist locating text in different published versions and formats).

[2] “We were disappointed to see that KSM only made these new admissions of planned attacks in Pakistan after seeing the capture photographs of Ammar al-Baluchi and Khallad.  We consider KSM’s longstanding omission of [this] information to be a serious concern…. Simply put, KSM has had every opportunity to come clean on this threat and, from our optic, he deliberately withheld the information until he was confronted with evidence that we already knew about it….” Senate Torture Report, p. 195, at footnote 1390.

[3] “In October 2005, the chief of CTC’s CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear) Group wrote, under the heading, “Don’t Put All Your Uranium in One Bucket”:  “Jose Padilla:  we’ll never be able to successfully expunge Padilla and the ‘dirty bomb’ plot from the lore of disruption, but once again I’d like to go on the record that Padilla admitted that the only reason he came up with the so-called ‘dirty bomb’ was that he wated to get out of Afghanistan and figured that if he came up with something spectacular, they’d finance him.  Even KSM says Padilla had a screw loose…. Anyone who believes you can build a [nuclear device] by ‘putting uranium in buckets and spinning them clockwise over your head to separate the uranium’ is not going to advance al-Qaida’s nuclear capabilities.”

[4] “Our advice is based upon the following facts, which you have provided to us.  We also understand that you do not have any facts in your possession contrary to the facts outlined here, and this opinion is limited to these facts.  If these facts were to change, this advice would not necessarily apply.”  Bybee Memo to John Rizzo, August 1, 2002.

[5] August 1, 2002 Memorandum (50 CIA factual representations relied upon for 21 specific conclusions); May 10, 2005 Memorandum (97 CIA factual representations relied upon for 47 specific conclusions); May 10, 2005 Memorandum (combined techniques memo) (30 CIA factual representations relied upon for 24 specific conclusions); May 30, 2005 Memorandum (Article 16 memo) (23 CIA factual representations relied upon for 16 specific conclusions). 

About the Author(s)

Stephen Rickard

Executive Director of the Open Society Policy Center. Follow him on Twitter @SteveRickardOSF.