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August 11, 2014

Senate Intelligence Committee CIA Torture Report Media Telebriefing

Below is a shortened transcript of the August 5 media telebriefing featuring retired Generals Joseph Hoar and Paul Eaton, former General Counsel of the Navy Alberto Mora, and Human Rights First’s Michael J. Quigley, senior fellow for national security. The briefing was moderated by Raha Wala, Human Rights First’s senior counsel for defense and intelligence.

Raha Wala:         

My name is Raha Wala.  I’m a Senior Counsel for Defense and Intelligence here at Human Rights First.  Really appreciate you taking some time out to talk with us about the senate intelligence committee report on the post 9/11 CIA detention interrogation program.  We have a really great group of speakers with us today to share their perspectives on the report, its ramifications, and next steps for the administration and congress.  So I’m going to introduce the speakers but before I do that, I just want to provide a little bit of context and background on the process, where we are right now, and where we might be going in the coming days and weeks. 

So I think as everybody knows, the Senate Intelligence Committee has adopted - submitted for declassification a 6,000 plus page report on the post-9/11 CIA detention and interrogation program.  According to those familiar with the report and news reports outlining some of the report’s findings, the report will show that the CIA program was much more widespread and brutal than we previously thought and much less effective at gathering intelligence than  proponents of so-called enhanced interrogation claim.  The White House and the Director of National Intelligence have been coordinating a declassification process of that report and submitted the report back to the committee on Friday.  That portion of the report is the executive summary findings and conclusions, which constitute upwards of 500 pages of the broader 6,700 page report.  It is now reported that the Senate Intelligence Committee has taken issue with the extent of redaction and that there may be an ongoing process in which there will be negotiation between the committee and the executive branch regarding how to resolve that and move forward towards a release of the report in the coming days or weeks.  So that’s where we are right now. 

The report itself was initiated on a bipartisan vote, adopted on a bipartisan vote, and ultimately, submitted for declassification on a bipartisan vote with a support from leaders in the senate such as Senator Feinstein, Levin, and McCain and we are now hearing a lot of pushback from former officials who authorized the program and some individuals in the senate who proposed the investigation in the first place, which we’ll have some discussion of that.  So let me stop there.  I’m just going to introduce quickly the speakers and turn it over. 

We have with us General Joe Hoar, who was the former Commander in Chief of the United States Central Command and is co-chair of a non-partisan group of generals and admirals that have fought for detention policies that are consistent with American values and domestic and international law.  We also have with us Alberto Mora, former General Counsel of the Navy during the Bush Administration and after 9/11.  Alberto had led an effort within the Defense Department to ensure that the Geneva Conventions and other applicable laws were actually applied and governed and limit detention and interrogation policies and have some insight into that process.  We also have General Paul Eaton.  His command in Iraq during the Operation in Iraqi and  was responsible for training Iraqi soldiers and he has some unique insight into how some of our practices had impacted his ability to effectively command in Iraq.  We have Colonel Steve Kleinman with us, who was deployed in Iraq to help train interrogators and who witnessed active abuse and has an interesting perspective on that.  Finally, we have Michael Quigley, who is on staff here at Human Rights First.  He’s formerly a high value detainee interrogator in Guantanamo and interrogator in Iraq and actually served on the Senate Intelligence Committee as a subject matter expert as the investigation that led to this report was ongoing.  So let me just stop there and I’m going to turn it over to General Hoar who will share some of his perspective.  General Hoar?

Gen. Hoar:           

Yes.  Thank you.  I would give you just a few thoughts about our group.  We’ve been together since 2002.  We did some work on the gray problem where you recall there was mistreatment and indeed torture imposed on prisoners at that time.  We have worked with Senator McCain on the Detainee Treatment Act with President Obama on his anti-torture executive order.  As I think you know, military leaders have been concerned about this issue from the beginning because maintaining a strong standing of humane treatment under the Geneva Convention and other applicable laws is essential to winning the fight and ensuring that our captured military men and women are treated humanely due to conflicts.  We intend to continue this work with the administration and congress to seek additional legislation to make sure that EIT programs can never be reinstated, and so that really is what we’re all about.  I would pass it back to you.  Go ahead.

Raha Wala:         

Thank you, General Hoar.  We really appreciate your work on this.  This group of generals and admirals has been essential to this debate, even standing behind President Obama when he signed his anti-torture executive order, and worked with McCain on the detainee treatment act. It is a non-partisan group that really I think has helped shape the debate throughout the years and continues to do that.  Let me now turn it over to Alberto Mora, former General Counsel of the Navy who will share some thoughts.

Alberto Mora:      

Thank you, Raha.  As Raha indicated, I was General Counsel of the Navy from 2001 to 2005 and in addition to my responsibilities being the department’s Chief Legal Officer, I oversaw the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, NCIS.  So from before 9/11 throughout my tenure there NCIS agents and officers would constantly report back to me concerning the issues of treatment and interrogation and the utility or the lack of utility of the cruel interrogation techniques that were adopted during the administration.   So my background is more than a lawyer. It also comprehends problematic oversight of the law enforcement and counter intelligence issues. 

I have a deep interest in this matter of torture because I think this is fundamental to the United States.  In fact, to any other country.  It’s fundamental for a number of reasons.  First of all, because it’s fundamental to the question of rights, individual rights.  Before 9/11, United States adhered strictly to the principle that every individual has the right to be free from cruelty.  It’s a right that’s enshrined in the Constitution and it’s enshrined in our legislation, and the decision to adopt what is euphemistically called as enhanced interrogation techniques does profound damage to that right because of course, the enhanced interrogation techniques, to some degree, as the president indicated this last week again, constitute torture.

There may be some controversy as to whether an individual technique or the  truth been given to the individual detainee constitute as torture but there should really be no criticism - no controversy at all to the proposition that all these individuals who were subjected to the enhanced interrogation techniques were treated in a way that constitutes cruel, inhumane degrading treatment.   I make this point because too often when you talk about torture, we should get at the actual standard of treatment is not to apply cruelty.  Not just simply not to apply torture.  Also, it’s important from a legal perspective because the definitions and the interpretation of the definitions will be applied to these detainees will have consequences in the domestic US legal setting.  The concept of cruelty is also a domestic legal concept, not only an international legal concept.  So whatever definitions we apply, whatever violation we do or violence we do to the concept of individual rights and the treatments, we’ll also have repercussions necessary in the domestic arena, so it’s critically important that we get this right. 

I think the Senate report is a necessary first step in achieving national quality on this issue.  As Raha indicated, we think the report will give us the authoritative interpretation of what actually happened, the degree of brutality, the individuals who were brutalized.  We’re going to understand the facts.  Now, that’ll be important on the legal side.  It’ll be important on the policy side as well because we’ll address supposedly the issue of whether or not these techniques were effective in helping fight the war against terror.  Two issues there.  First of all, the standard, whether we treat people cruelly or not, is an important standard as a matter of rights in itself.  The utility of those interrogation techniques is a separate issue all together.  What we think the report will show is not only these violations of rights, but  also it is not useful in making the country safer against terrorism. 

My view, my personal view based upon what I saw for five years in the Pentagon, was in fact not only were these techniques not make us safer,  they actually made us weaker.  Weakened the defenses of the nation and also weakened the strategic alliance we had crafted to fight the war on terror most effectively.  So it is hard in both ways.  Let me mention one other point, which is I’m heartened that although there is an element of a partisan divide on this issue, in reality, this is turning out to be not a partisan issue.  I say that because with three republican heavyweights like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Susan Collins, they’re on the side of those who are supporting the release of the report and they’ve taken a very clear position that the United States did commit torture against these individuals that we’re seeing a bipartisan foundation for the evaluation and consideration of this report.  Raha, I’ll turn it back to you now.

Raha Wala:         

Thank you, Alberto.  That’s a really important point to emphasize because we’re hearing a lot about an ideologically driven partisan report and I think that’s just not consistent with reality.  All right.  Let’s now turn to General Eaton.  Please go ahead.

Gen. Eaton:          

Raha, thank you very much.  Again, my mission in Iraq was to develop the Iraqi security forces after the fall of Sadam Hussein and a significant part of any soldier development is to develop what the British call the moral component.  In my case, in the case of developing the Iraqi soldiers, was to work very hard at the psychological objective of getting these young men turned around from over 30 years of Sadam’s ill treatment of his own population.  So we very strongly advocated a value approach to training these soldiers.  Frequently Guantanamo would come up and it was a real dilemma for me and my trainers to put that in context, so it was an enduring problem. 

In April of 2004 when Abu Ghraib exploded on 60 minutes and the New Yorker Magazine, my senior Iraqi advisor came to the office and said, “General, you have no idea how badly this is going to play on the Arab Street,” and it did.  It was a huge problem for me personally, for my trainers, for my Iraqi chain of command who were working with us.   It was an enormous problem to try to explain how bad things can happen to good organizations.  The real issue is how do you proceed?  How do you handle the unfortunate bad event?  So from an effort working with my Iraqi allies, we had to address it in a very frontal approach.  It illustrates that you may get tactical gains from a harsh interrogation, but from a strategic perspective in my case, it was a big issue. 

I’d also like to point out how we train American soldiers in the conduct of initial contact with a prisoner.  Point of capture is what we call it.  We drill what we call the 5S - seize, secure, safeguard, segregate by rank, and then speed to the rear echelon for interrogation.  The effort to safeguard soldiers at the point of capture is extraordinarily important because it’s really telegraphing to the rest of the folks you would rather not fight.  That you are going to provide humane treatment.  So this whole torture issue has been a consistent and significant problem to Americans and our allies who have been dedicated to structure development, force development in other countries - Afghanistan and [unintelligible].  Thank you, Raha.                     
Raha Wala:         

Thanks, General Eaton.  So I’m going to turn it now to Colonel Steve Kleinman, who many have called one of our military’s finest interrogators and debriefers.  Colonel Kleinman, how did you come to this issue?  What are your thoughts on next steps?  

Col. Kleinman:   

Thank you, Raha and thank you to the gentlemen that preceded me.  I come to this issue from the perspective of a senior intelligence officer with extensive experience in interrogation that dates back to the mid-1980s.  What we’ve learned is interrogation, even in modern times and certainly with insurgencies and the fight against terrorism is that the interrogation is on equal footing with the tactical means of intelligence collection.  It’s actually vital and irreplaceable and although interrogation can be traced back to antiquity, it can and should be informed by modern legal guidelines, by leading edge science, and most importantly, it must conform to the moral standards that this country claims to embrace. 

I think the entire debate that we’re seeing now demonstrates very clearly/provides graphic evidence to support the claim that we fall short in all three of those areas.  What we know from science, and I’ve had the opportunity in the last 10 years to work with behavioral scientists literally from around the world looking specifically at the underlying dynamics and interrogation process, is that use of force, whether it be physical, emotional, or psychological, does nothing more than to undermine one’s objectives.  It undermines the ability to recall, it undermines executive - what they call executive cognitive functions, and anybody that’s listening in to this discussion or thinking about this topic and interrogation and torture, beyond the morality of it, beyond the legality of it is the operational importance to access somebody's memory.  So if we were purely cold hearted individuals that sought nothing other than useful information, the idea of torture would be a last resort.  In fact, not a resort at all because it would literally undermine somebody’s psychophysical ability to recall, but it’s not just that. 

We have strategic interests and several speakers before me have alluded to this, that the strategic costs to the United States national interests in the future - and I’m talking about generations to come - have been undermined by the awareness, by the clear truth, ground truth that the United States is going to torture people. Then there’s the arrangement, “Well, what is torture?”  Well, certainly, Mr. Mora can address this far more eloquently than I but I am familiar with both international law especially common article three at the Geneva Conventions and certainly the US code and the employment of severe physical and emotional pain is prohibited.  So there’s really no legal support for this.  There’s no moral support for it.  Again, speaking as an intelligence officer, there’s very, very little operational support. 

Now, what we might find in this report when it’s released is that the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques did in fact collect information but to use bits of information - as one of my FBI colleagues once said, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut from time to time,” and so to say that at any time it was effective supports the overall effectiveness is folly and illogical.  So I have seen very, very high quality interrogations conducted by people in various domains.  I’ve also unfortunately been confronted with abuses and what I think is torture and where we’re in the same uniform [unintelligible] have worn.  We’re violating the law and certainly undermining that moral character. 

Speaking again as a military officer along with several on this panel, what the - let’s recall is the fact that we have never expressed allegiance to any political party, political position.  This is non-partisan.  This is all about supporting the Federal Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, and that’s why we’re here.  I’ll turn it back over to you, Raha.   

Raha Wala:         

Thank you, Colonel Kleinman.  Okay.  So our final speaker is Michael Quigley.  He’s on staff here at Human Rights First.  As I had mentioned, former high value detainee interrogator at Guantanamo and also a subject matter expert on the Senate Intelligence Committee working on the inquiry into CI interrogation practices.  Michael, what don’t you share some of your thoughts and experiences?

Michael Quigley:

Thanks, Raha.  Yes.  Thanks to everybody on the call.  So to echo what some of my colleagues have said earlier, speaking as an interrogator, and Steve and I have a similar background in that, what we found that was most useful is rapport building and analyst supported interrogations.  Those were the types of interrogations that yielded the best results, not enhanced interrogation techniques. 

To make a case that there would be a tactical gain from a harsh interrogation fails to recognize that these EITs were applied over a period of time.  In fact, they weren’t even interrogations.  They were argued to have been preparation for interrogations.  So to say that there was a ticking time bomb or that sort of immediacy that you need to get, and that you use a harsher technique to get a result because of an immediate threat doesn’t withstand the scrutiny because it was a prolonged process.  Questions were not being asked during the period and time is ticking.  Now what ends up happening inevitably is that the subject of the interrogation is likely to say whatever he feels is necessary to stop the harsh treatment.  This will lead to red herrings, blind alleys, and a wild goose chase and so now what you’ve got is you’ve got the intelligence community in the military tracking down so-called leads that lead nowhere.  This brings you back to square one and you’re having to de-conflict that intelligence or deception and so forth and it actually prolongs the process and you’re not getting the intelligence you need.  I saw this in practice in Iraq.  I saw this in practice when I was interrogating in Guantanamo and one of the other things that needs to be said here is that Guantanamo, like General Eaton said, Guantanamo comes up a lot and one of the standard lines that we go in on a detainee at Guantanamo was to get their radicalization and recruitment story. 

After they’ve said their bit about America and the great [unintelligible] and all that, once they’ve got all that off their chest, then they start to tell you a very human and very tragic story which usually starts in poverty and oppression and so forth and inevitably, it often brings up the idea of America as taking Muslims to a secret prison, Guantanamo, and torturing and so forth.  This has a very, very real effect on the radicalization story on almost every detainee I spoke with which led to their eventual recruitment.  So to build on what my colleague, Alberto, said earlier where he said that it doesn’t just make us weak - he says it makes us weaker.  I would also say that it makes us weaker but it also makes us more vulnerable because this kind of practice is inviting people to enter into a fight against us, and so we have to be cognizant of that.  Ultimately, from my experience not only as an interrogator but also on the senate intel committee, I have to say that the efficiency argument just isn’t there.  That these techniques did not lead to significant intelligence which led to any real intelligence gains.  In fact like I said earlier, it was only when the analysis teams were brought in that those interrogations were informative and useful.  So that’s all I’ll say for now.

Raha Wala:         

Okay.  Well, I just wanted to thank everyone again for joining the call and taking some time out of your day. For more information on the [unintelligible] important next steps, please visit our website - www.humanrightsfirst.org.  We are following this issue very closely and you can also get in contact with staff here at Human Rights First with information that’s provided on the advisory - contact information that’s provided on the advisory that went out.  Hopefully, as many of you may have seen, we did have an ad campaign in the Washington Post and we’re calling on the Senate Committee to come forward and work with the administration to make public the report or the executive summary of the report and ultimately for congress and the administration to work together to legislate to make sure that this mistake or turn to the dark side if you will never happens again.  So with that, we will close the call and I just want to thank you all one more time for participating.

END