Ex-CIA Official: Agency Brass Lied to Congress About Interrogations

Friday, 15 May 2009 10:59 By Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Report | name.

Ex-CIA Official: Agency Brass Lied to Congress About Interrogations
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden. (Photo: AP)

    "A CIA employee of two decades, McCarthy became convinced that 'CIA people had lied' in that briefing, as one of her friends said later, not only because the agency had conducted abusive interrogations but also because its policies authorized treatment that she considered cruel, inhumane or degrading."

    Last month, former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey sharply criticized President Obama's decision to release four "torture" memos, writing in an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal that the "disclosure of the techniques is likely to be met by faux outrage, and is perfectly packaged for media consumption."

    Buried in their column was the claim that the methods the CIA used against "high-value" detainees, such as waterboarding, beatings and stress positions "were disclosed repeatedly in more than 30 congressional briefings and hearings beginning in 2002, and open to all members of the Intelligence Committees of both Houses of Congress beginning in September 2006."

    "Any protestation of ignorance of those details, particularly by members of those committees, is pretense," the former Bush officials wrote.

    Several prominent Republicans, including Rep. John Boehner, (R- Ohio) and Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Michigan), the ranking Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, have echoed Hayden's claims in an attempt to show Democrats were complicit because they did not protest when they were briefed about the "enhanced interrogation" program and the techniques CIA interrogators intended to use.

    "It was not necessary to release details of the enhanced interrogation techniques, because members of Congress from both parties have been fully aware of them since the program began in 2002," Hoekstra wrote in an op-ed also published in The Wall Street Journal last month. "We believed it was something that had to be done in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to keep our nation safe. After many long and contentious debates, Congress repeatedly approved and funded this program on a bipartisan basis in both Republican and Democratic Congresses."

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had been the ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee, vehemently denied that she was told the CIA planned on waterboarding detainees or intended to use other brutal techniques to try and extract information from "war on terror" prisoners.

    "My colleague [Porter Goss], the chairman of the committee, has said 'if they say that it's legal you have to know they are going to use them,'" Pelosi said last month. "Well, his experience is that he was a member of the CIA, later went on to head the CIA and maybe his experience is that if they tell you one thing they may mean something else. My experience is that they did not tell us they were using that. Flat out. And any - any contention to the contrary is simply not true.

    "They told us they had opinions from the [Justice Department's] Office of Legal Counsel that they could, but not that they were using enhanced techniques, and that if and when they were used, they would brief Congress at that time. As a member of Intelligence, I thought I was being briefed. I realized that was not true when I became ranking member."

    On Thursday, Pelosi held a news conference and accused the CIA of lying to Congress.

    The CIA "mislead us all the time," Pelosi said. "They misrepresented every step of the way, and they don't want that focus on them, so they try to turn the focus on us."

    Questions about what the Democrats knew about the CIA's torture program were raised two years ago when it was revealed that the CIA had destroyed 92 interrogation videotapes in November 2005 and that the agency had informed Democratic lawmakers about its plans.

    Following that disclosure, Representative Harman's office released a February 2003 letter she wrote to the CIA advising the agency against destroying the videotapes. The CIA declassified Harman's letter at the congresswoman's request.

    "You discussed the fact that there is videotape of [high-level al-Qaeda operative] Abu Zubaydah following his capture that will be destroyed after the Inspector General finishes his inquiry," Harman wrote. "I would urge the Agency to reconsider that plan. Even if the videotape does not constitute an official record that must be preserved under the law, the videotape would be the best proof that the written record is accurate, if such record is called into question in the future. The fact of destruction would reflect badly on the Agency."

    Harman's letter raised concerns about the CIA's use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" and questioned whether President Bush had authorized the methods. In her letter, she advised the agency against destroying the videotapes out of concern the footage CIA agents captured "would be the best proof that the written record is accurate, if such record is called into question in the future."

    Still, claims that Democrats were fully briefed on the Bush administration's torture program have been leveled as recently as last December by Vice President Dick Cheney and in books by former Bush officials such as John Yoo, the former deputy assistant attorney general at the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), who helped draft one of the four memos released last week.

    But the veracity of those assertions have been called into question by former CIA official Mary O. McCarthy, who said senior agency officials lied to members of Congress during an intelligence briefing in 2005 when they said the agency did not violate treaties that bar, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of detainees during interrogations, according to a May 14, 2006, front-page story in The Washington Post.

    "A CIA employee of two decades, McCarthy became convinced that 'CIA people had lied' in that briefing, as one of her friends said later, not only because the agency had conducted abusive interrogations but also because its policies authorized treatment that she considered cruel, inhumane or degrading," The Washington Post reported.

    "In addition to CIA misrepresentations at the session last summer, McCarthy told the friends, a senior agency official failed to provide a full account of the CIA's detainee-treatment policy at a closed hearing of the House intelligence committee in February 2005, under questioning by Rep. Jane Harman (California), the senior Democrat," The Washington Post reported.

    "McCarthy also told others she was offended that the CIA's general counsel had worked to secure a secret Justice Department opinion in 2004 authorizing the agency's creation of "ghost detainees" - prisoners removed from Iraq for secret interrogations without notice to the International Committee of the Red Cross - because the Geneva Conventions prohibit such practices."

    In 2004, McCarthy was tapped by the CIA's Inspector General John Helgerson to assist him with internal investigations about the agency's interrogation methods. The report Helgerson prepared remains classified, but the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to have it released publicly.

    "McCarthy was not an ideologue, her friends say, but at some point fell into a camp of CIA officers who felt that the Bush administration's venture into Iraq had dangerously diverted US counterterrorism policy. After seeing - in e-mails, cable traffic, interview transcripts and field reports - some of the secret fruits of the Iraq intervention, McCarthy became disenchanted, three of her friends say," the Post reported.

    In May 2005, just a few months after the CIA briefed Congress on interrogation methods, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, requested "to see over a hundred documents referred to in [Helgerson's] report on detention inside the black prison sites," New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer wrote in her book, "The Dark Side." "Among the items Rockefeller specifically sought was a legal analysis of the CIA's interrogation videotapes.

    "Rockefeller wanted to know if the intelligence agency's top lawyer believed that the waterboarding of [alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu] Zubaydah and [alleged 9/11 mastermind] Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, as captured on the secret videotapes, was entirely legal. The CIA refused to provide the requested documents to Rockefeller.

    "But the Democratic senator's mention of the videotapes undoubtedly sent a shiver through the Agency, as did a second request he made for these documents to [former CIA Director Porter] Goss in September 2005."

    The May 2005, request from Rockefeller took place during the same month that Steven Bradbury, the former head of the OLC, wrote three legal opinions reinstating the torture techniques his predecessor, Jack Goldsmith, had withdrawn.

    Bradbury's memos, released last Thursday, included several footnotes to Helgerson's report, one of which stated that the CIA used waterboarding "with far greater frequency than initially indicated" and used "large volumes of water" as opposed to the smaller amount the CIA said it intended to use. In fact, Bradbury's memos, while authorizing brutal techniques, also disputed the conclusions of Helgerson's still classified report that the interrogation techniques violated the Convention Against Torture.

    According to a November 9, 2005, story in The New York Times published the same month, 92 interrogation videotapes were destroyed. Helgerson's report "raised concern about whether the use of the techniques could expose agency officers to legal liability."

    "They said the report expressed skepticism about the Bush administration view that any ban on cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment under the treaty does not apply to CIA interrogations because they take place overseas on people who are not citizens of the United States," the Times reported. "The officials who described the report said it discussed particular techniques used by the CIA against particular prisoners, including about three dozen terror suspects being held by the agency in secret locations around the world."

    Mayer reported that Helgerson's report "known as a 'special review,' was tens of thousands of pages long and as thick as two Manhattan phone books. It contained information, according to one source, that was simply 'sickening.'"

    "The behavior it described, another knowledgeable source said, raised concerns not just about the detainees but also about the Americans who had inflicted the abuse, one of whom seemed to have become frighteningly dehumanized. The source said, 'You couldn't read the documents without wondering, 'Why didn't someone say, "Stop!'""

    Mayer wrote that Vice President Dick Cheney stopped Helgerson from fully completing his investigation. That proves, Mayer contends, 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 was summoned repeatedly to meet privately with Vice President Cheney" before his investigation was "stopped in its tracks." Mayer said that Cheney's interaction with Helgerson was "highly unusual."

    As a result, McCarthy "worried that neither Helgerson nor the [CIA's] Congressional overseers would fully examine what happened or why," according to the Post report.

    McCarthy told a friend, according to the Post's account, "She had the impression that this stuff has been pretty well buried. In McCarthy's view and that of many colleagues, friends say, torture was not only wrong but also misguided, because it rarely produced useful results."

    In April 2006, ten days before she was due to retire, McCarthy was fired from the CIA for allegedly leaking classified information to the media, a CIA spokeswoman told reporters at the time.

    In October 2007, Hayden ordered an investigation into Helgerson's office, focusing on internal complaints that the inspector general was on "a crusade against those who have participated in controversial detention programs."

    The CIA said McCarthy had spoken with numerous journalists, including The Washington Post's Dana Priest, who, in November 2005, exposed the CIA's secret prison sites, where, in 2002, the CIA videotaped its agents interrogating a so-called high-level detainee, Abu Zubaydah.

    Following news reports of her dismissal from the CIA, McCarthy, through her attorney Ty Cobb, vehemently denied leaking classified information to the media. McCarthy, who is now in private practice as an attorney, did not return calls for comment.

    The CIA said she failed a polygraph test after the agency launched an internal investigation in late 2005. The agency said the investigation was an attempt to find out who provided The Washington Post and The New York Times with information about its covert activities, including domestic surveillance, and it promptly fired her.

    After Hayden launched an investigation into Helgerson's work, The Washington Post reported, citing unnamed sources, that in 2002, Pelosi, Sen. Bob Graham (D-Florida), Rep. Jane Harman (D-California), and a handful of Republican lawmakers, were "given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make the prisoners talk."

    "Among the techniques described [to the lawmakers], said two officials present, was water-boarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill," the Post reported. "But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two US officials said."

    The Post story also made identical claims that Hayden and Mukasey leveled in their Wall Street Journal column: that Pelosi and other Democratic leaders were privately briefed at least 30 times. Those briefings, according to the Post, "included descriptions of [waterboarding] and other harsh interrogations methods."

    But Graham disputed claims that he and other members of Congress were briefed about the interrogation program.

    "Speaking for myself as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee from mid-2001 to the end of 2002, I was not briefed on these interrogation techniques," Graham told National Public Radio on Thursday . "[I] am frankly very frustrated that there are these allegations made that everybody knew about it. I think the policy of the Bush administration was to try to bring as many people into the net when they were going to engage in some questionable activity in order to give them cover. In this case, I was not in the net."

    A declassified narrative released on Wednesday by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said, about the politics of the Bush administration's torture program, Intelligence Committee chairs in both Houses were briefed about the interrogation program in 2002 and 2003. What they were told, however, remains a mystery.

    In an interview with Newsweek last month, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who now chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and has launched a "review" and "study" of the CIA's interrogation methods, said, "I now know we were not fully and completely briefed on the CIA program."

    Feinstein was reacting to a secret report by the International Committee of the Red Cross that was leaked, which described, in shocking detail, the techniques used to interrogate 14 "high-value" detainees.

    Interestingly, the magazine quoted an unnamed "US Official" who disputed the charge, and claimed, in language nearly identical to what Hayden wrote in The Wall Street Journal and what was leaked to The Washington Post, "that members of Congress received more than 30 briefings over the life of the CIA program and that Congressional intel panels had seen the Red Cross report."

    Whether that unnamed official was Hayden is unknown. A representative for the former CIA chief did not return calls for comment.

Last modified on Friday, 15 May 2009 16:57