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October 10, 2007

FACT CHECK: Fran Townsend

Fran Townsend, assistant to the president for counter-terrorism and homeland security tries – and fails – to make the case for the Bush Administration’s “enhanced” interrogation program today.

FACT CHECK: Fran Townsend

Townsend: “[T]he Department of Justice has determined that [the CIA interrogation program] fully complies with U.S. law and our international obligations.”
  • FACT: Principled lawyer predicts the Department of Justice would come to be “ashamed” of its opinion on torture. “Mr. Gonzales approved the legal memorandum on “combined effects” over the objections of James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general, who was leaving his job after bruising clashes with the White House. Disagreeing with what he viewed as the opinion’s overreaching legal reasoning, Mr. Comey told colleagues at the department that they would all be “ashamed” when the world eventually learned of it.” (New York Times, 10/4/07)

Townsend: The program is “effective”.

  • FACT: According to real interrogators, torture doesn’t produce good information. “The best and most reliable information comes from people who are relaxed and perceive little threat. ‘Why would you use evasive training tactics to elicit information?’ says Dr. Michael Gelles, former chief psychologist of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. The [harsh interrogation tactics used by the CIA] aren't just morally and legally wrong, critics say; they're tactically wrong. They produce false leads and hazy memories. [Mitchell and Jessen] argue, 'We can make people talk,'" says [Steve] Kleinman [an Air Force Reserve colonel and expert in human-intelligence operations] ‘I have one question. 'About what?'’ As one military member who worked in the [intelligence gathering] community says, ‘Getting somebody to talk and getting someone to give you valid information are two very different things.’" (Vanity Fair, 7/17/07)

  • FACT: No systematic study has ever shown that the infliction of torture or coercion elicits reliable information or actionable intelligence. According to the U.S. Army's own field manual on interrogation, published in September 2006, torture “is a poor technique that yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say what he thinks the [human intelligence] collector wants to hear." As veteran FBI interrogator Joe Navarro put it, "the only thing torture guarantees you is pain.” (Human Rights First, Primetime Torture Project)

Townsend: “Appropriate members of Congress have been fully briefed on the program, both before the director of the CIA sought the authority and after the legal parameters of the program were defined.”

  • FACT: Not according to Members of Congress.

    Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was not briefed. "I find it unfathomable that the committee tasked with oversight of the C.I.A.'s detention and interrogation program would be provided more information by The New York Times than by the Department of Justice," Rockefeller told acting Attorney General Peter Keisler. (New York Times, 10/5/07)

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she has not been briefed. Asked whether she'd been briefed about the secret memos, Pelosi said, "No, not about the secret memos." (FoxNews, 10/7/07)

    Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee in 2005 denies being briefed. "We were not fully briefed. We were told about operational details but not these memos. Jay Rockefeller said the same thing, and I associate myself with his remarks. And we want to see these memos." (thinkprogress.com, 10/7/07)

    Congressman Alcee Hastings, (D-FL), member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence says the briefing process on detainees has been inadequate. “’We talk to the authorities about these detainees, but, of course, they’re not going to come out and tell us that they beat the living daylights out of someone.’ He recalled learning in 2003 that Mohammed had been captured. ‘It was good news,’ he said. ‘So I tried to find out: Where is this guy? And how is he being treated?’ For more than three years, Hastings said, ‘I could never pinpoint anything.’ Finally, he received some classified briefings on the Mohammed interrogation. Hastings said that he ‘can’t go into details’ about what he found out, but, speaking of Mohammed’s treatment, he said that even if it wasn’t torture, as the Administration claims, ‘it ain’t right, either. Something went wrong.’” (“The Black Sites, A rare look inside the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program,” Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, 8/13/07)