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Profile: John Helgerson
John Helgerson was a participant or observer in the following events:
The CIA comes up with a list of 10 “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” that it will allow to be used on captured high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees. In 2005, ABC News will reveal six of the techniques on the list and describe them as follows:
The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.
The Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.
The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.
Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.
The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.
Waterboarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised, and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt. [ABC News, 11/18/2005]
The New York Times will later reveal that there are actually four more techniques on the list, but will not detail what they are. [New York Times, 11/9/2005]
Waterboarding Most Controversial Technique - Waterboarding will be the most controversial technique used. In centuries past, it was considered by some to be the most extreme form of torture, more so than thumbscrews or use of the rack. [Harper's, 12/15/2007] “The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law,” says John Sifton of Human Rights Watch. CIA officials who allowed themselves to be waterboarded lasted, on average, 14 seconds before caving in. In addition, such confessions are dubious at best. “This is the problem with using the waterboard. They get so desperate that they begin telling you what they think you want to hear,” says one of the CIA sources. [ABC News, 11/18/2005]
List Compiled with Help from Egypt, Saudi Arabia - The list is secretly drawn up by a team including senior CIA officials, and officials from the Justice Department and the National Security Council. The CIA got help in making the list from governments like Egypt and Saudi Arabia that are notorious for their widespread use of torture (see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002). [New York Times, 11/9/2005] Apparently, “only a handful” of CIA interrogators are trained and authorized to use these techniques. Later this month, al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida will be captured and the CIA will begin using all of these techniques on him (see March 28, 2002). However, the White House will not give the CIA clear legal authority to do so until months after the CIA starts using these techniques on Zubaida (see March 28-August 1, 2002).
Techniques 'Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading' under Treaty - In 2004, CIA Inspector General John Helgerson will determine in a classified report that these techniques appear to constitute cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment under the Convention Against Torture, an international treaty signed by the US (see October 21, 1994 and May 7, 2004). Former CIA officer Robert Baer calls the use of such techniques “bad interrogation,” and notes, “[Y]ou can get anyone to confess to anything if the torture’s bad enough.” [ABC News, 11/18/2005]
The CIA’s Deputy Director for Operations, James Pavitt, informs the agency’s inspector general, John Helgerson, that the CIA Counterterrorist Center has established a program to detain and interrogate terrorists at foreign sites. At the same time, Pavitt also informs Helgerson that he has just learned of an apparently controversial incident and sent a team to investigate it. It appears that the incident triggered the notification to the inspector general about the program. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 1 ] The incident is the killing of detainee Gul Rahman at the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan (see After October 2001 and November 20, 2002). [Associated Press, 3/28/2010] The detention and interrogation program has been in operation since March at the latest, as high-value detainee Abu Zubaida was arrested and then taken to a CIA black site at that time (see March 28, 2002 and April - June 2002). However, it is unclear whether Helgerson was aware of the program prior to being informed by Pavitt.
The CIA’s Office of the Inspector General, headed by John Helgerson, receives information that some CIA employees are concerned about the agency’s interrogation program. Specifically, they are worried that certain covert CIA activities at an overseas black site where detainees are held may involve violations of human rights. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 2 ] The identity of the CIA black site and the type of abuse is not publicly known. However, around this time, some new officers arrive at a CIA black site in Poland and report abuse there to the agency’s management (see January 2003).
The CIA’s Deputy Director for Operations, James Pavitt, asks the agency’s office of inspector general, headed by John Helgerson, to investigate allegations that a high-value detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, has been abused. Apparently, Pavitt has just learned of the abuse of al-Nashiri, who was captured in October or November the previous year (see Early October 2002). [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 1-2 ] The abuse took place at a black site in Poland and was apparently carried out by a CIA officer known only as “Albert,” with the approval of his superior, “Mike.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 1-2 ; Associated Press, 9/7/2010] The inspector general will issue a report on the incidents later in the year (see October 29, 2003).
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 ] The inspector general, John Helgerson, will issue his office’s final, classified report on the investigation in May 2004 (see May 7, 2004).
The CIA’s inspector general, John Helgerson, issues a report on the use of a handgun and power drill to intimidate al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri during an interrogation. A CIA officer known only as “Albert” threatened al-Nashiri with the gun and drill at a CIA black site in Poland around late 2002 (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003). [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 42 ; Associated Press, 9/7/2010] The incidents have already been referred to the Justice Department, which has declined to prosecute (see September 11, 2003). What conclusions Helgerson comes to in the report are unknown. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 42 ]
The CIA’s inspector general, John Helgerson, releases a highly classified report from his office that examines allegations of torture from the time period between September 2001 (after the 9/11 attacks, when the CIA first began detaining suspected terrorists and informants) and October 2003. In the report, Helgerson warns that some aggressive interrogation techniques approved for use by the CIA since early 2002 (see Mid-March 2002) might violate some provisions of the international Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994). The report doubts the Bush administration position that the techniques do not violate the treaty because the interrogations take place overseas on non-US citizens. It will be released, in heavily redacted form, to the public in August 2009 (see August 24, 2009). From what becomes known of the report’s contents, the CIA engaged in a number of illegal and ethically questionable tactics on the part of its interrogators. Some of these tactics include the use of handguns, power drills, threats, smoke, and mock executions. Many of the techniques used against detainees were carried out without authorization from higher officials. The report says that the CIA’s efforts to provide “systematic, clear, and timely guidance” to interrogators were “inadequate at first” and that that failure largely coincided with the most significant incidents involving the unauthorized coercion of detainees, but as guidelines from the Justice Department accumulated over several years, oversight “improved considerably.” The report does not conclude that the techniques reviewed constitute torture, but it does find that they appear to constitute cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment under the Convention. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004 ; New York Times, 11/9/2005; MSNBC, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/24/2009]
Physical Abuse - The report defines torture as an act “intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain and suffering.” It then begins detailing such acts. Incidents of physical abuse include:
One incident caused the death of an Afghani detainee. According to the report: “An agency independent contractor who was a paramilitary officer is alleged to have severely beaten the detainee with a large metal flashlight and kicked him during interrogation sessions. The detainee died in custody.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004 ; New York Times, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009] In a 2009 statement, Helgerson will write: “In one extreme case, improvisation took a disastrous turn when an agency contractor in rural Afghanistan—acting wholly outside the approved program and with no authorization or training—took it upon himself to interrogate a detainee. This officer beat the detainee and caused his death. Following an investigation of the incident, this contract employee was convicted of assault and is now in prison.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004 ; Washington Post, 8/24/2009]
Waterboarding was routinely used, in a manner far exceeding previously issued guidelines. Interrogators “continuously applied large volumes of water,” and later explained that they needed to make the experience “more poignant and convincing.” The CIA interrogators’ waterboarding technique was far more aggressive than anything used in military survival training such as the SERE program (see December 2001). Eventually, the agency’s Office of Medical Services criticized the waterboarding technique, saying that the “frequency and intensity” with which it was used could not be certified as “efficacious or medically safe.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004 ; New York Times, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/24/2009] The report refers in particular to the treatment of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), who was reportedly waterboarded more than once (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003). Waterboarding is considered torture and is illegal in the US. The report also raises concern that the use of these techniques could eventually cause legal troubles for the CIA officers who used them. [New York Times, 11/9/2005]
Helgerson will write: “We found that waterboarding had been utilized in a manner that was inconsistent with the understanding between CIA and the Department of Justice. The department had provided the agency a written legal opinion based on an agency assurance that although some techniques would be used more than once, repetition would ‘not be substantial.’ My view was that, whatever methodology was used to count applications of the waterboard, the very large number of applications to which some detainees were subjected led to the inescapable conclusion that the agency was abusing this technique.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004 ; Washington Post, 8/24/2009]
In July 2002, a CIA officer used a “pressure point” technique “with both of his hands on the detainee’s neck, the officer manipulated his finger to restrict the detainee’s carotid artery.” The carotid artery supplies the brain with oxygenated blood; such “manipulat[ion]” could lead to unconsciousness or even death. A second officer “reportedly watched his eyes to the point that the detainee would nod and start to pass out. Then the officer shook the detainee to wake him. This process was repeated for a total of three applications on the detainee.”
A technique routinely used by CIA interrogators was the “hard takedown,” which involves an interrogator grabbing a detainee and slamming him to the floor before having the detainee moved to a sleep-deprivation cell. One detainee was hauled off his feet by his arms while they were bound behind his back with a belt, causing him severe pain.
Another routinely used technique is “water dousing,” apparently a variant of waterboarding, in which a detainee is laid on a plastic sheet and subjected to having water sluiced over him for 10 to 15 minutes. The report says that at least one interrogator believed the technique to be useful, and sent a cable back to CIA headquarters requesting guidelines. A return cable explained that a detainee “must be placed on a towel or sheet, may not be placed naked on the bare cement floor, and the air temperature must exceed 65 degrees if the detainee will not be dried immediately.”
- - Detainee Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, suspected of plotting the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), was repeatedly “bathed” with hard-bristled scrub brushes in order to inflict pain. The brushes caused abrasions and bleeding. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004 ; New York Times, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009]
Helgerson will write: “Agency officers who were authorized to detain and interrogate terrorists sometimes failed in their responsibilities. In a few cases, agency officers used unauthorized, threatening interrogation techniques. The primary, common problem was that management controls and operational procedures were not in place to avoid the serious problems that arose, jeopardizing agency employees and detainees alike.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004 ; Washington Post, 8/24/2009]
Mental Abuse - Numerous instances of mental and emotional abuse were also documented.
In 2002, interrogators staged a mock execution to intimidate a detainee. CIA officers began screaming outside the room where the detainee was being interrogated. When leaving the room, he “passed a guard who was dressed as a hooded detainee, lying motionless on the ground, and made to appear as if he had been shot to death.” The report says that after witnessing this performance, the detainee “sang like a bird.”
Handguns and power drills were used to threaten detainees with severe bodily harm or death. One such instance involved al-Nashiri. An American, whose name is not released but who is identified as not being a trained interrogator and lacking authorization to use “enhanced methods,” used a gun and a power drill to frighten him. The American pointed the gun at al-Nashiri’s head and “racked” a round in the chamber. The American also held a power drill near al-Nashiri and revved it, while al-Nashiri stood naked and hooded. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004 ; New York Times, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009]
In 2009, reporter David Ignatius will say he finds the “image of a CIA interrogator standing with a power drill next to somebody he’s interrogating… particularly horrific, because that’s a technique that’s been used in torturing people in Iraq.” [PBS, 8/24/2009]
A CIA interrogator told al-Nashiri that if he did not cooperate with his captors, “we could get your mother in here” and “we can bring your family in here.” The report says that the interrogator wanted al-Nashiri to infer for “psychological” reasons that his female relatives might be sexually abused. The interrogator has denied actually threatening to sexually abuse al-Nashiri’s mother or other relatives.
An interrogator threatened the lives of one detainee’s children. According to the report, an “interrogator said to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed that if anything else happens in the United States, quote, ‘we’re going to kill your children.’” According to the report, the debriefer was trying to exploit a belief in the Middle East that interrogation techniques included sexually abusing female relatives in front of the detainees. It was during these same interrogation sessions that Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in a single month (see April 16, 2009). [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004 ; New York Times, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009]
Fear of Recriminations - According to the report, there was concern throughout the agency over the potential legal consequences for agency officers. Officers “expressed unsolicited concern about the possibility of recrimination or legal action” and said “they feared that the agency would not stand behind them,” according to the report. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004 ; New York Times, 8/24/2009] According to the report, CIA personnel “are concerned that public revelation” of the program will “seriously damage” personal reputations as well as “the reputation and effectiveness of the agency itself.” One officer is quoted as saying he could imagine CIA agents ending up before the World Court on war crimes charges. “Ten years from now, we’re going to be sorry we’re doing this,” another officer said. But “it has to be done.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004 ; Washington Post, 8/24/2009] Helgerson will write: “This review of the agency’s early detention and interrogation activities was undertaken in part because of expressions of concern by agency employees that the actions in which they were involved, or of which they were aware, would be determined by judicial authorities in the US or abroad to be illegal. Many expressed to me personally their feelings that what the agency was doing was fundamentally inconsistent with long established US government policy and with American values, and was based on strained legal reasoning. We reported these concerns.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004 ; Washington Post, 8/24/2009]
Recommendations - The report lists 10 recommendations for changes in the treatment of detainees, but it will not be reported what these are. Eight of the recommendations are apparently later adopted. Former CIA assistant general counsel John Radsan will later comment, “The ambiguity in the law must cause nightmares for intelligence officers who are engaged in aggressive interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects and other terrorism suspects.” [New York Times, 11/9/2005]
Approval, Contradictory Statements by Attorney General - The report says that Attorney General John Ashcroft approved all of these actions: “According to the CIA general counsel, the attorney general acknowledged he is fully aware of the repetitive use of the waterboard and that CIA is well within the scope of the DOJ opinion that the authority given to CIA by that opinion. The attorney general was informed the waterboard had been used 119 times on a single individual.” In 2009, reporter Michael Isikoff will say that the contents of the report “conflict… with the public statements that have been made over the years by Bush administration officials and CIA directors.” In 2007, then-CIA Director Michael Hayden will tell the Council on Foreign Relations that the agency’s detention and interrogation program was “very carefully controlled and lawfully conducted—has been carefully controlled and lawfully conducted.” Isikoff will say, “It’s kind of hard to square that with… what was in the CIA inspector general report that had been presented five years ago in 2004.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004 ; MSNBC, 8/25/2009]
Questions of Effectiveness - The report does document that some interrogations obtained critical information to identify terrorists and stop potential plots, and finds that some imprisoned terrorists provided more information after being exposed to brutal treatment (see August 24, 2009). It finds that “there is no doubt” that the detention and interrogation program itself prevented further terrorist activity, provided information that led to the apprehension of other terrorists, warned authorities of future plots, and helped analysts complete an intelligence picture for senior policymakers and military leaders. But whether the harsh techniques were effective in this regard “is a more subjective process and not without some concern,” the report continues. It specifically addresses waterboarding as an illegal tactic that is not shown to have provided useful information. “This review identified concerns about the use of the waterboard, specifically whether the risks of its use were justified by the results, whether it has been unnecessarily used in some instances,” the report reads, and notes that in many instances, the frequency and volume of water poured over prisoners’ mouths and noses may have exceeded the Justice Department’s legal authorization. In the instance of detainee Abu Zubaida, the report finds, “It is not possible to say definitively that the waterboard is the reason for Abu [Zubaida]‘s increased production [of intelligence information], or if another factor, such as the length of detention, was the catalyst.” In 2009, Isikoff will note that the effectiveness of torture is not clarified by the report. “As you know, Vice President [Dick] Cheney and others who had defended this program have insisted time and again that valuable intelligence was gotten out of this program. You could read passages of this report and conclude that that is the case, that they did get—some passages say important intelligence was gotten. But then others are far more nuanced and measured, saying we don’t really know the full story, whether alternative techniques could have been used.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004 ; New York Times, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009]
Cheney Blocked Report's Completion - Reporter Jane Mayer later learns that Cheney intervened to block Helgerson from completing his investigation. Mayer will write that as early as 2004, “the vice president’s office was fully aware that there were allegations of serious wrongdoing in the [interrogation] program.” Helgerson met repeatedly and privately with Cheney before, in Mayer’s words, the investigation was “stopped in its tracks.” She will call the meetings “highly unusual.” In October 2007, CIA Director Michael Hayden will order an investigation of Helgerson’s office, alleging that Helgerson was on “a crusade against those who have participated in controversial detention programs.” [Public Record, 3/6/2009]
Entity Tags: Office of Medical Services (CIA), International Criminal Court, Jane Mayer, John Helgerson, David Ignatius, John Radsan, John Ashcroft, Convention Against Torture, Abu Zubaida, Bush administration (43), US Department of Justice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Hayden, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Michael Isikoff
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
Details of an internal CIA report (see June-November 2004) investigating the CIA’s failure to stop the 9/11 attacks are leaked to the New York Times. The report by John Helgerson, the CIA’s inspector general, was completed in June 2004 but remains classified (see June-November 2004). It sharply criticizes former CIA Director George Tenet, as well as former Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt. It says these two and others failed to meet an acceptable standard of performance, and recommends that an internal review board review their conduct for possible disciplinary action. Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center at the time of 9/11, is also criticized. However, the New York Times notes that, “It is not clear whether either the agency or the White House has the appetite to reprimand Mr. Tenet, Mr. Pavitt or others.… particularly since President Bush awarded a Medal of Freedom to Mr. Tenet last month.” It is unclear if any reprimands will occur, or even if the final version of the report will point blame at specific individuals. [New York Times, 1/7/2005] In late October 2004, the new CIA Director, Porter Goss, had asked Helgerson to modify the report to avoid drawing conclusions about whether individual CIA officers should be held accountable. [New York Times, 11/2/2004] Helgerson “appears to have accepted [Goss’s] recommendation” and will defer any final judgments to a CIA Accountability Review Board. The final version of the report is said to be completed within weeks. [New York Times, 1/7/2005] However, months pass, and in October 2005, Goss will announce that he is not going to release the report, and also will not convene an accountability board to hold anyone responsible (see October 10, 2005), although an executive summary will be released in 2007 (see August 21, 2007).
Jim Lehrer interviews Richard Kerr and Ray McGovern about the firing of CIA official Mary McCarthy. [Source: PBS]In an interview on PBS, two former CIA officials agree that fired CIA official Mary McCarthy should have been relieved of her duties by the agency (see April 21, 2006 and April 24, 2006), but have very different opinions on the context of the firing. News anchor Jim Lehrer interviews Richard Kerr, a former deputy director of the CIA under President George H. W. Bush, and veteran CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who is an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s intelligence policies.
Moral and Legal Responsibility to Disclose War Crimes - McGovern says that McCarthy “was cognizant of war crimes [committed by the Bush adminsitration]. She needed to do something about that, from a moral and a legal perspective. And she chose this way to do it, because the other ways were blocked for her.” Kerr disagrees, saying “[i]t’s not at all clear to me that his description of the activity is fitting.” Either way, Kerr says, as a junior officer, McCarthy had no right to take her concerns public in any manner. “There’s all kinds of ways to go through the organization to make your feelings known, to give your views of it,” Kerr says, “[a]nd I think going out independently, with that kind of discipline, no intelligence organization can work that way.” McGovern agrees in principle, but says that McCarthy’s case is “exceptional.” McCarthy knew that the CIA was torturing prisoners in secret prisons around the globe (see November 2-18, 2005), and had no other means to alert the public to the war crimes being committed by the agency at the behest of the White House. McGovern says that her boss, CIA Inspector General John Helgerson, is “a creature of the director,” Porter Goss, who joined with Vice President Dick Cheney to push for authorization of torture, so she had no recourse by going through internal channels. Going to Congress would be pointless, McGovern says, because “the oversight committees—I hate to say this, but it’s a joke. She can’t get any redress from [Senator] Pat Roberts [(R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee]. I call him Patsy Roberts, because he’s a patsy for the administration.” She would fare no better in the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Peter Hoekstra (R-MI). She had no other option, McGovern believes. “I knew Mary pretty well,” he says. “She’s got a lot of integrity. And, you know, you can argue that she has a moral responsibility and a legal responsibility.… [I]f she’s in the chain of command and she sees these kinds of crimes being perpetrated, under Nuremberg and other international law, she is required… to do something.” Kerr’s rejoinder: the nation is locked in “a different kind of war than we’ve been in before. We are going to take actions and be proactive in a way we’ve never done before. One of the real questions is: Do we operate within the values, the traditional values of the American culture, or do we stretch those and become very proactive? I don’t think it’s at all certain that we can operate the way we have in the past.”
Going through Channels and/or Resigning - Kerr disagrees with McGovern’s characterization of the situation and of Helgerson, saying, “[I]t may not be as easy to do that today as it was in the past, but I never found a time in 32 years where I couldn’t march up the organization and talk to people about concerns I had.” Kerr believes McCarthy should have resigned and then “argued against the policy” without revealing classified information. McGovern agrees, but continues to argue that the secret CIA prisons violate the War Crimes Act and therefore, “[t]his is not American. This is not the country that we serve. And when we see this happening, somebody has to speak out.” Resigning would not have made any difference, McGovern says, because McCarthy would still be bound by her secrecy agreement and therefore could not have spoken out in any meaningful sense. Kerr’s “is a specious argument,” McGovern says.
Making an Example - McGovern says McCarthy was fired for one simple reason: to make an example of her to deter other potential CIA leakers. “It’s sort of a deterrent sort of intimidation technique,” he says. “They’re running polygraph exams for everyone now. In our day, we got one every five years. Now they’re polygraphing everyone, so it’s part of this intimidation technique. But she took that risk. And I admire her for that.” Kerr says that while he sympathizes with McCarthy’s position, the agency must maintain internal discipline above all other concerns: “And one way to do that is to begin working leaks.” [PBS, 4/24/2006]
CIA Director Michael Hayden orders an unusual internal investigation of the agency’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the press will later learn. The OIG, led by Inspector General John Helgerson, has conducted aggressive investigations of the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs (see May 7, 2004). Current and former government officials say that Hayden’s probe has created anxiety and anger in the OIG, and has sparked questions in Congress of possible conflicts of interest. The review is focusing on complaints that the OIG has not been, as the New York Times reports, a “fair and impartial judge of agency operations,” but instead has “begun a crusade against those who have participated in controversial detention programs.” Some current and former officials say that such a probe threatens to undermine the independence of the office. Former CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz, who served from 1990 through 1998, says any move by Hayden to conduct a probe into the OIG would “not be proper.” Hitz calls it “a terrible idea,” and adds: “Under the statute, the inspector general has the right to investigate the director. How can you do that and have the director turn around and investigate the IG?” A CIA spokesman says Hayden’s only motive is “to help this office, like any office at the agency, do its vital work even better.” The investigation is being overseen by Robert Deitz, a trusted aide to Hayden who served with him when he ran the National Security Agency. Another member of the investigating group is Associate Deputy Director Michael Morrell. Under the law, the proper procedure for Hayden would be to file complaints with the Integrity Committee of the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, which oversees all the inspectors general, or to go directly to the White House. For an internal inquiry to be launched against an agency’s OIG by the agency head violates the independence and the position of the OIG. Critics say that the timing of Hayden’s investigation is more than coincidental, as Helgerson’s office is readying a number of reports on CIA detention, interrogation, and rendition practices. [New York Times, 10/11/2007]
Kenneth Wainstein. [Source: White House]The Justice Department attempts to delay probes by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees into the destruction of CIA tapes showing detainee interrogations, saying the administration cannot provide the witnesses or documents the committees want, as this may jeopardize its own investigations. Kenneth Wainstein, assistant attorney general for national security, and CIA Inspector General John Helgerson write to congressional intelligence committee leaders saying, “We fully appreciate the committee’s oversight interest in this matter, but want to advise you of concerns that actions responsive to your request would represent significant risk to our preliminary inquiry.” However, Wainstein and Helgerson are unable to say when they will have results. Attorney General Michael Mukasey also rejects a request for details about the Justice Department-CIA inquiry (see December 14, 2007). [Washington Post, 12/15/2007; New York Times, 12/15/2007] House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) and Vice Chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) threaten to issue subpoenas and respond in a joint statement: “We are stunned that the Justice Department would move to block our investigation… Parallel investigations occur all of the time, and there is no basis upon which the Attorney General can stand in the way of our work.” [Washington Post, 12/15/2007] They add: “It’s clear that there’s more to this story than we have been told, and it is unfortunate that we are being prevented from learning the facts. The executive branch can’t be trusted to oversee itself.” [Associated Press, 12/15/2007] The New York Times comments, “The inquiry by the House committee had been shaping up as the most aggressive investigation into the destruction of the tapes.” The intelligence committee inquiries are similar to those of the Justice Department and CIA Inspector General, but also aim to determine whether anyone in the executive branch had sought to have the tapes destroyed to eliminate possible evidence that CIA officers had used banned interrogation techniques. [New York Times, 12/15/2007] A CIA spokesman says, “Director Hayden has said the Agency will cooperate fully with both the preliminary inquiry conducted by [Justice Department] and CIA’s Office of Inspector General, and with the Congress. That has been, and certainly still is, the case.” [Washington Post, 12/15/2007] However, the CIA fails to provide documents the House committee has requested. [New York Times, 12/15/2007] Commentator Scott Horton will call this “a conscious decision to shield criminal conduct from exposure before the watchdog appointed by the Constitution: Congress.” [Harpers, 12/15/2007]
In response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the CIA turns over unredacted pages of a classified internal agency report that concluded the techniques used on two prisoners “appeared to constitute cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, as defined by the International Convention Against Torture” (see October 21, 1994). The CIA also turns over evidence showing that videotapes of the two prisoners being tortured were destroyed (see March 6, 2009). The pages are from a 2004 report compiled by then-CIA Inspector General John Helgerson. The document reads in part: “In January 2003, OIG [Office of Inspector General] initiated a special review of the CIA terrorist detention and interrogation program. This review was intended to evaluate CIA detention and interrogation activities, and was not initiated in response to an allegation of wrongdoing. During the course of the special review, OIG was notified of the existence of videotapes of the interrogations of detainees. OIG arranged with the NCS [National Clandestine Service, the covert arm of the CIA] to review the videotapes at the overseas location where they were stored. OIG reviewed the videotapes at an overseas covert NCS facility in May 2003. After reviewing the videotapes, OIG did not take custody of the videotapes and they remained in the custody of NCS. Nor did OIG make or retain a copy of the videotapes for its files. At the conclusion of the special review in May 2004, OIG notified [the Justice Department] and other relevant oversight authorities of the review’s findings.” The report has never been made public, but information concerning it was revealed by the New York Times in 2005 (see May 7, 2004). [Public Record, 3/6/2009]
Cover of CIA OIG report, with redactions. [Source: CIA / New York Times]A 2004 report by the CIA’s inspector general (IG) on torture (see May 7, 2004) is released to the public, after months of speculation as to its contents. The CIA opposed the release of the report for years, arguing that the release would demoralize its personnel and make it more difficult for the agency to do its job. The report’s release is triggered by a federal judge’s ruling in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The report, authored by former Inspector General John Helgerson, is heavily redacted, but the portions released to the public include a number of illegal and ethically questionable tactics used by US interrogators against detainees. Some of those tactics include the use of handguns, power drills, threats, smoke, and mock executions. Many of the techniques used against detainees were carried out without authorization from higher officials, and the Justice Department is reopening investigations into a number of the most serious allegations (see First Half of August 2009). The report says that the CIA’s efforts to provide “systematic, clear, and timely guidance” to interrogators were “inadequate at first” and that that failure largely coincided with the most significant incidents involving the unauthorized coercion of detainees, but as guidelines from the Justice Department accumulated over several years, oversight “improved considerably.” In the words of the Washington Post, “the report pointed to ongoing tensions between interrogators in the field and officials at the CIA Counterterrorism Center as to when detainees were compliant and when the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ was appropriate.” [MSNBC, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/24/2009] In a statement, Helgerson says, “The most important findings of the review related to basic systemic issues: had management controls been established; were necessary laws, regulations, and guidelines in place and understood; had staff officers and contractors been adequately trained; and had they discharged their responsibilities properly?” [Washington Post, 8/24/2009] Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff says that the “report was generated at the beginning by agency officials within themselves who had deep concerns about what was going on. I was struck. One officer is quoted in this report saying that he’s concerned that he might one day—agency officers might one day end up on some ‘wanted list’ to appear before the world court for war crimes stemming from these activities. It was agents—it was the concerns about this came from within the agency. That’s what generated this report.”
Recommendations Redacted - Isikoff notes that at least half of the report is redacted, including the IG’s recommendations, and says, “I’m told the worst stuff is in those blacked out passages, which means we still don’t know the full story of this program.” [MSNBC, 8/25/2009] The report contains 10 recommendations for action on the CIA’s part, but all of them are redacted. [McClatchy, 8/24/2009] Helgerson states his regret that so much of the report is redacted. “The essence of the report is expressed in the Conclusions and Recommendations,” he says. “I am disappointed that the government did not release even a redacted version of the Recommendations, which described a number of corrective actions that needed to be taken.” [Washington Post, 8/24/2009] Isikoff’s Newsweek colleague, Mark Hosenball, says he believes much of the redacted information has to do with “renditions”: detainees transferred to foreign countries “and abused there.” [PBS, 8/24/2009]
Detailing 'Crime Scene[s]' - Author and reporter Jane Mayer says she believes the report, “in essence, [details] a crime scene. It’s very hard to get away from the fact that things like death threats and mock executions are specifically identified as torture under the Convention Against Torture and, therefore, are illegal, and they’re considered very major crimes. So the problem for the Obama administration, which inherited this report and the question about what to do about it, is that it’s a red flag to any prosecutor. It’s very hard to ignore this, when you’ve taken an oath of office that says you’re going to execute the laws and uphold the Constitution. So they’ve got to somehow do something with this. I was interviewing Larry [Laurence] Tribe, a law professor, who said, you know, it’s hard to do nothing about this when you see it.” Reporter David Ignatius notes that an earlier review by Justice Department prosecutors found that no one at the CIA could be prosecuted for crimes based on the findings of the report. However, that may no longer be true. “[I]t is interesting and troubling to people at the CIA that something that was already decided not prosecutable is now maybe prosecutable,” he says. Mayer notes that during the Bush administration, possible prosecutions were short-circuited by political appointees such as then-US Attorney Paul McNulty, “who was very much a political player, who actually wound up having to resign later in the Bush administration for other political problems.” [PBS, 8/24/2009]
Federal Prosecutor Appointed - In part as a result of reviewing the CIA report, Attorney General Eric Holder names a special prosecutor to determine if the CIA or its hired contractors broke any laws in interrogating detainees (see August 24, 2009).
Reactions - CIA Director Leon Panetta issues a statement that supports the agency’s efforts while avoiding defending torture or abuse. In his statement, Panetta writes that he is not “eager to enter the debate, already politicized, over the ultimate utility of the agency’s past detention and interrogation effort.” He says the program produced crucial intelligence but adds that use of the harsh methods “will remain a legitimate area of dispute.” Overall, Panetta says, the agency is committed to “moving forward” and not spending large amounts of time reflecting on past practices. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) calls the report, and the concurrent appointment of special prosecutor John Durham to investigate torture allegations (see August 24, 2009), “a great relief, a great moment for America as a country.” He continues: “We’ve finally seen the rule of law brought forward in a way that it is clear and direct on this situation, which has been so sort of poisoned with personalities and politics and propaganda. It’s a first kind of clear, bright light, and I couldn’t be happier, couldn’t be more relieved.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; Central Intelligence Agency, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009] The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer says, “The report underscores the need for a comprehensive criminal investigation that reaches not just the interrogators who exceeded authority but the senior officials who authorized torture and the Justice Department lawyers who facilitated it.” [Washington Post, 8/24/2009] Joanne Mariner, the terrorism and counterterrorism program director at Human Rights Watch, says: “The CIA inspector general’s report provides compelling official confirmation that the CIA committed serious crimes. A full criminal investigation into these crimes, and who authorized them, is absolutely necessary.” [Human Rights Watch, 8/24/2009]
Entity Tags: Jane Mayer, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John Durham, David Ignatius, Jameel Jaffer, Joanne Mariner, Eric Holder, US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Paul J. McNulty, Sheldon Whitehouse, Laurence Tribe, John Helgerson, Mark Hosenball, Leon Panetta, National Counterterrorism Center, Obama administration, Michael Isikoff
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
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