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Home / Blog / The CIA Admitted Torture Didn’t Work—Over a Year Ago
February 11, 2016

The CIA Admitted Torture Didn’t Work—Over a Year Ago

Last week a Senate staffer discovered a document in which the CIA acknowledges that several key findings in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s (SSCI) report on the CIA’s interrogation and rendition program were, in fact, true. The SSCI investigated the CIA program, ultimately showing that torture was more brutal than the CIA had claimed and that it was ineffective as an intelligence-gathering tactic.

When the report was released in December 2014, the CIA published a response challenging a number of its crucial findings. The newly discovered document, titled “Note to Readers,” was published on the same day but with significantly less fanfare, allowing it to go unnoticed until now. In it, the CIA admits that many of its objections were incorrect.

For example, the CIA challenged the SSCI report’s conclusion that State Department officials were not aware of every CIA black site. They originally wrote “the record shows that the Secretary of State, Deputy Secretary of State and Ambassadors in detention site host countries were aware of the sites at the time they were operational.” But in the “Note,” the CIA admits that while ambassadors were aware of the detention sites, they could not verify that the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of State knew of every site.

The document also confirms that the CIA misrepresented the facts when it said that “enhanced” interrogation techniques were not used without prior approval—another finding of the committee’s report. The CIA acknowledges that in five cases, enhanced techniques were used without approval, prior to the January 2003 guidance that required approval. In another four cases, “accountability was mitigated” because the techniques weren’t approved until after they were used. Finally, in three cases, officials used unauthorized techniques and those involved were “referred to the Inspector General.” In spite of their best attempts to obscure their actions, the fact remains that CIA officials used unauthorized interrogation techniques on detainees—and the CIA leadership knew it all along.

Perhaps most importantly, this document proves that the CIA misled the public about the effectiveness of torture. One of the major findings in the SSCI report is that the CIA gave inaccurate information when it told government officials that the so-called “enhanced interrogation” of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) led officials to Hambali, the CIA’s “number one target” in Southeast Asia in 2002. The CIA objected, claiming “that ‘after applying’ the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, KSM provided ‘the crucial first link’ that led to the capture of Hambali.” But in the “Note,” the agency acknowledges that detainee Majid Khan had provided all of the information needed to capture Hambali before KSM was interrogated.

Publicly confronting the reality of the U.S. record on torture, though unpleasant, is critical to putting it in the past. When the SSCI report was released in December 2014, a number of lawmakers and government officials criticized it, claiming its findings were inaccurate and politically motivated. But recently even Brigadier General Mark Martins, chief military prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay, publicly stated that the report accurately depicts what the detainees had to endure.

While the CIA admitted its mistakes, it chose to do so as quietly as possible. The debate about torture’s effectiveness, as recently seen in presidential campaigns, has continued as if this admission doesn’t exist. This appears to be yet another case of the CIA intentionally misleading the American public when it comes to torture.