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April 01, 2014

Senate Intelligence Committee CIA Torture Report Media Telebriefing

Featuring: Former General Counsel of the Navy Alberto Mora, Former Senior Intelligence Officer with U.S. Air Force Col. Steve Kleinmen, and Human Rights First’s Senior Counsel for Defense & Intelligence Raha Wala

Raha Wala:      

Thank you very much and thanks, everyone, for joining us. Really I appreciate you taking the time out and we’re happy to share our thoughts with you. So, my name is Raha Wala. I’m the Senior Counsel for Defense and Intelligence here at Human Rights First. I’m very privileged to have on the line with us Alberto Mora and Steve Kleinman. I won’t go through their impressive bios which you already have but I will say that these men are our personal heroes and mine. Alberto Mora is a Former General Counsel of the Navy, led an effort to reject the misguided legal theories that ultimately ended up serving as justifications for torture and other forms of official cruelty after 9/11. Colonel Steve Kleinman is widely recognized as one of our nation’s most experienced and qualified experts in human intelligence and interrogation, and having witnessed abusive interrogations in Iraq as an advisor there, went public and testified before congress with his opposition to so-called enhanced interrogation.

So, before I turn the call over to Alberto and Steve, I’m just going to provide a little bit of background on the subject that we’re talking about today the Senate Intelligence Committee report and also just note that the recent allegations both from the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee are really serious and they should be fully investigated. However, during today’s call we’re not going to speculate on the substance or accuracy of either side’s claims. What I will say is that whether we’re talking about refusal to provide the committee with access to documents including the so-called Panetta Review, removal of committee access to documents or involvement in the process by CIA personnel who have played a central role in the interrogation’s program that’s the subject of the committee’s investigation. I think there’s that minimum of clear impression of conflict of interest on the part of the CIA with respect to declassifying the reports in substance. So, it’s our view that if and when that this report is submitted for the president for declassification, the White House really must take on the lead in declassifying the report consulting with the CIA only as needed.

Just a little bit of background on the report itself. So, the report is the product of over a five-year investigation by the Intelligence Committee. It began when members of that committee found out that the CIA had destroyed video tapes of brutal interrogation sessions and upon digging further also discovered that critical information that had been provided to the committee and the public regarding the program was misleading or inaccurate. The investigation resulted in the 6,000-plus page report that was adopted by the committee in December of 2012 and has since been finalized after the CIA provided an official response to the committee report. So, what does the report say? Well, obviously, I haven’t read it because it’s still classified but according to Senator Feinstein and other members of the Intelligence Committee, the report documents that the CIA’s interrogation program was far more harsh than has been described publicly or to members of Congress and much less effective at gathering actionable intelligence to stop terrorist plots than proponents of so-called “enhanced interrogations” claim.

If this is true, then the public record for quite some time has been materially and substantially distorted on one of the most controversial and important post-9/11 issues. It’s also worth noting that support for release of the SSCI report is widespread, bi-partisan and growing. Those who support releasing the report include current and former members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, dozens of high ranking retired generals and admirals, professional interrogators and intelligence officials, religious leaders, key Obama administration officials including the President and the Vice President and even John Rizzo, the former top CIA lawyer in the Bush administration, one of the key architects of the so-called “enhanced interrogation” program. I think with that, I’ll probably stop having provided that background and really encourage Alberto Mora to dive in a little bit deeper and share some of his experiences with this issue and how that relates to the Intelligence Committee’s report. Alberto, do you want to take it from here?

Alberto Mora:  

Thank you, Raha. Yes, let me start by saying that the main issue of course is the Intelligence Committee report itself. As important as the controversy between Senator Feinstein and the CIA concerning the degree which the committee was allowed to exercise full oversight authority over the CIA, the major issue is really the contents of the report, the findings, factual findings of the committee and then their analysis concerning the acts that were taken under our name. Despite the fact that this issue has been a controversy for almost 12 years, the American people don’t really, or the world for that matter, don’t quite really know what happened yet. This is likely to be the authoritative investigation and analysis of those findings because the committee had full subpoena authority and had full access to all the participants, all the players, all the stakeholders involved in the program. So, the 6,300 pages of the report and the footnotes and so forth are likely to be authoritative for going forward. So, that’s important. That’s important to stay focused on that.

What’s also important is that the president really declared himself in favor of the release of their report and I think he had it exactly right when he said that it’s important to declassify the report as you put it so the American people can understand what happened in the past and that can help guide us as we move forward. So, it’s a binary factor here but looking backwards, understanding the past but also helping guide us forward. The American people, strangely to my view, are just somewhat divided on this issue. All the poll indicates is that almost half of the American public supports the use of torture or cruelty if that could help make us safer and that’s a fundamental issue about American democracy. Whether United States will now or in the future resort to cruelty is fundamental because it violates our values and it violates our constitutional principles of course. So, the fact that the American public has moved on this is a matter of just the greatest important to the future of our country in our constitutional structure. So, it’s very much important we take a look at the study and learn the lessons from that.

One last comment before turning it over to Steve Kleinman. This refers back to the point that Raha made about the facts and key evidence has been destroyed in the course of this investigation. This has been the destruction of the waterboarding tapes by the CIA. It is what underlies – I understand it’s under the Feinstein’s concern a suspicion about CIA cooperation with their report and the damage done by that active destruction to the ability of the committee to get to the bottom of this is significant because as we learned in Abu Ghraib, sometimes it’s the photographic evidence that is the best evidence of what actually happened. One can write about waterboarding all one wants but the words don’t actually capture the violence and the brutality of the practice. The video images would have captured that. Those images would rather exculpate that the individuals involved in applying the waterboarding as they claimed that they were not engaged in torture. Well, the destruction of the evidence seems kind of strange if in fact that would’ve established the defense to the accusation that torture was applied. On the other hand, I think the reason of suspicion now given the destruction of the evidence is that the brutality of the waterboarding was much more severe than has been described in print and in fact that would’ve been conclusive concerning the degree of brutality that was applied to the victims. Anyway I’ll leave you with that and turn it over back to Raha or to Steve Kleinman.

Raha Wala:      

Thank you, Alberto. That’s a really important point to reiterate that. A lot of the ongoing dispute has to do with the degree to which the Intelligence Committee has actually been provided with access to the relevant information conducted inquiry and that’s an ongoing issue obviously. So, let’s turn it over to Colonel Steve Kleinman, as I mentioned, a nationally recognized expert on human intelligence and interrogation who I think has some very interesting thoughts to share with us about this issue. Steve?

Steve Kleinman:          

Thank you, Raha. Thank you very much for Human Rights First for orchestrating this and it’s an honor as always to appear anywhere with Alberto. He’s one of my heroes as well. I’d like to begin with a question. The first question we must ask about the use of torture as a tool of interrogation is what are the strategic consequences? Even if such practices were an effective means of gathering useful information, and I think I can offer strong operational and science based arguments that they are not, how valuable that information have to be in order to balance out the long range effects that are produced by the association of our government, our country with the systematic use of torture? Not only does it serve to create more threats to our national interest, but also creates deep divisions among allies. There is arguably no more uniquely dramatic act that we could take than to show our commitment to the rule of law, to show our willingness to identifying and correct grave errors in both judgment and action and to show our courage to do what it is right than to release a report that details what actually occurred under the guys of the Enhanced Interrogation Program.

So from a strategic perspective, let’s think of it this way. National security is or at least it must be an evolutionary process and that evolution must take us to a better place, a safer place, and a more engaged place than international community. But there are voices within the national security community within this country that are in favor of the employment of harsh methods and they see them as necessary to obtain vital information. Even maintaining that the Enhanced Interrogation Program kept the nation safe after 9/11, because that allegation is either true or isn’t, but I believe the only way – and I believe it isn’t – but I think the only way we can all come to some rational conclusion is to a careful review of the facts of the case studies to be found in this report.

I’d like to point out that too often and in recent years, there’s no public discussion about the issue of using enhanced interrogation techniques which I refer to as course of model, but unfortunately it certainly has political overtones. There’s a certain self-serving element to it because people have made statements. They’ve taken action to support it and it’s very difficult to back off that. It takes a great deal of courage. I recognize that. Beyond any differences I have, the courage to recognize it wrong is rare and to be honored. So, having conducted and supervised a number of interrogations, hundreds throughout my career dating back to our first war in Panama, I can see what works and what doesn’t work. I’ve also had the chance to work with researchers from around the world literally looking at it from a more controlled, objective perspective.

What I’ve learned is this; that methods that understand behavioral science, that respect the fragility of human memory, that incorporate and lighten cultural finesse have historically proven far more effective than any approach that brings to bear psychological, emotional, or physical pressures. What I’m saying is, and it might seem ironic to many, is both science and operational experience emphatically suggest that interrogation models as respectful of human rights is also the most effective means of listening reliable, accurate, and comprehensive information. So through a greater understanding of where we’ve gone wrong is something that this report will assist us in achieving. We have vital insights that can uniquely inform a more meaningful doctor for interrogation and the treatment of detainees and at the very least is likely to offer graphic warning about potential cost of pursuing that aggressive policy without truly understanding the underlying reality.

Raha Wala:      

Thank you, Steve. I think it’s worth emphasizing that many of the individuals who are out there publicly making claims in support of so-called enhanced interrogation have never actually undertaken an interrogation in their life so I really appreciate hearing the perspective of someone who has such deep knowledge and experience in human intelligence and interrogation. As the human rights guy in this call, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that American leadership on human rights is at stake here and it’s really important that we get our own house in order if we’re going to be able to lead on human rights abroad on the issue of torture and beyond.

Senator Feinstein has said that she’s committed to having a declassification vote by the end of the month and we’re hearing that such a vote could happen as early as Thursday. It may be the way, slightly, to give some members of the Intelligence Committee an opportunity to review the report and the CIA’s response further prior to voting. After a vote, some portion of the report or the entire report itself will be submitted to the White House for classification review and ultimately released to the public. The portion of the report that is being talked about most squarely on this point is the 400-page executive summary and findings and conclusions though that’s likely to be the first tranche. It does not preclude further efforts to release other parts of the nearly 6,500 page reports. So, that’s the process moving forward and with that.

I want to thank everyone for tuning in and in particular, thank Alberto Mora and Colonel Steve Kleinman for sharing their thoughts on this issue. I think it’s safe to say that this Senate Intelligence Committee report is among the most important post-9/11 investigations that have been commissioned, in particular, not only because of how important the issue, the underlying issue itself - the use of torture is, but also because as we all alluded to in our remarks how much misinformation has been out there whether it’s with respect to movies or TV shows or the claims of individuals who in fact authorize torture after 9/11. So, if you would like to speak with any of the panelists further, you can contact Corinne Duffy who I believe is in your inboxes. With that, I think we will close the call and we wish everyone a very good day.

Alberto Mora:  

Thanks, Raha. Thank you, Steve.

Steve Kleinman:          

Thank you. Thank you both.

END