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Context of 'August 24, 2009: White House Announces Creation of ‘High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group’'

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The CIA’s Office of Inspector General begins an investigation of the agency’s torture and interrogation practices. The investigation is spurred by three stimuli: notification of a controversial incident in November 2002 (see Shortly After November 20, 2002); concerns over the interrogation of high-value detainee Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see January 2003); and other concerns about human rights abuses at a black site (see (January 2003)). The investigation will cover the period between September 2001 and mid-October 2003. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 2 pdf file] The inspector general, John Helgerson, will issue his office’s final, classified report on the investigation in May 2004 (see May 7, 2004).

Entity Tags: John Helgerson, Office of the Inspector General (CIA), Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The CIA starts a course for officers it calls “debriefers,” who are to participate in detainee interrogations. (In the CIA’s terminology of this time, an “interrogator” is someone who applies the agency’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” whereas a debriefer does not apply the techniques, but merely asks a detainee questions after an interrogator has designated a detainee as “compliant.”) The purpose of the course is to train the debriefers to collect actionable intelligence from high-value detainees in CIA custody. It is intended to familiarize them with key aspects of the CIA’s interrogation program, including its goals and legal authorities, the interrogation guidelines, and the roles and responsibilities of all who interact with high value detainees. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 38 pdf file] The agency began a course for interrogators the previous year (see November 2002).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The White House announces the formation of a new unit to question “high-value” terrorism suspects. The unit is called the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG). It operates out of the FBI, but is overseen by the National Security Council; this structure removes the CIA as the primary interrogators of high-level detainees and gives the White House direct oversight. According to author and reporter David Ignatius, the HIG will be composed of small groups of “special interrogation experts” sent out to interrogate certain detainees. [PBS, 8/24/2009] Administration officials say all interrogations overseen by the HIG will comply with guidelines contained in the Army Field Manual, which prohibits the use of physical force. The group will study other interrogation methods, however, and may add additional noncoercive methods in the future. Tom Malinkowski of the organization Human Rights Watch says the new interrogation policy represents a significant step toward more humane treatment, though he wants stricter limits on rendition (see August 24, 2009]). Overall, Malinkowski says the Obama administration’s approach to counterterrorism issues is strong, noting that the government has now adopted “some of the most transparent rules against abuse of any democratic country.” [New York Times, 8/25/2009]
De-Emphasizing CIA's Role in Interrogations - Author and reporter Jane Mayer observes: “[T]o to some extent, this is bringing the CIA back to its earlier role traditionally, before 9/11, but still it’s taking authority away from the CIA. It’s also—the new rules for interrogation are going to make the CIA use only techniques that are allowed for the military. They’re not going to have any special dispensation to do enhanced interrogation techniques, so you’re basically seeing them kind of knocked down to just having to act like everybody else.” Ignatius adds: “My conversations today with the people who know the CIA tells me that the feeling out there is kind of, ‘Let this cup pass from our lips.’ You know, they are sick of this interrogation issue. They were in many cases reluctant to get into it in the first place. This has been a nightmare for them. Careers have been destroyed. Officers feel like their lives have been wrecked. And I think the career people there say, ‘Fine, you know, if the FBI wants to do this, let them have it.‘… [T]he only thing that worries me is putting it so directly under the White House, having the White House running interrogation programs, that seems a little odd to me.” [PBS, 8/24/2009] CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano says that the agency will continue to be involved in interrogations. “The CIA took active part in the work of the task force, and the agency’s strong counterterrorism knowledge will be key to the conduct of future debriefings,” he says. “That won’t change.” [New York Times, 8/25/2009]
Worries that Obama Administration May be Taking Too Much Power for Itself - MSNBC’s Alison Stewart says the decision “might cause involuntary eyebrow-raising among people who thought the Bush administration gave itself too much power in these matters.” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) supports the decision, saying that “it brings for the first time… a very rigorous and serious overview to our interrogation of high-value detainees. If you set aside all of the spin and all of the nonsense that you heard out of the top layers of the Bush administration, what you really saw was—for a lot of these high-value detainees, you saw very amateurish investigation by people who knew nothing about al-Qaeda, who knew nothing about interrogation, who had familiarity with antique techniques that were used by brutal tyrant regimes for propaganda purposes not for intelligence gathering purposes, and were put for reasons that are still not adequately explained into high value interrogations. We know from testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that at least one very productive investigation was interrupted and probably ruined by the intervention of these amateurish and brutal techniques into an investigation—an interrogation that was generating absolutely first-class interrogation for our country.” Whitehouse does not identify the subject of that “productive interrogation,” but he could be referring to the interrogation of Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). [MSNBC, 8/25/2009]

Entity Tags: Alison Stewart, High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, David Ignatius, Tom Malinkowski, Sheldon Whitehouse, Jane Mayer, National Security Council, Paul Gimigliano, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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