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CIA misled Congress over interrogations: report

Role of harsh tactics in hunt for bin Laden 'overstated'

AFP-JIJI, AP

A damning U.S. Senate report concluded that the CIA misled Congress and the American public by downplaying the severity of its interrogations and overstating intelligence gleaned from the sessions, The Washington Post said Monday.

Several officials familiar with the classified 6,300-page document, years in the making, said it detailed the brutality of an enhanced interrogation program that yielded little actionable intelligence beyond what was already obtained from detainees before they were subjected to the objectionable techniques.

“The CIA described (its program) repeatedly both to the Department of Justice and eventually to Congress as getting unique, otherwise unobtainable intelligence that helped disrupt terrorist plots and save thousands of lives,” a U.S. official briefed on the document told the daily.

“Was that actually true? The answer is no.”

Officials also spoke of the abuses undertaken within the vast system of secret detention sites to which terrorist suspects were taken and interrogated.

The abuse often took place under brutal conditions, including the previously undisclosed method of repeatedly dunking suspects in ice water — until President Barack Obama ordered the system dismantled in 2009.

Classified files reviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigators, who put together the report, showed that CIA employees left the agency’s secret “black site” in Thailand, disturbed by the abuses that were being administered there.

Officials at CIA headquarters ordered the harsh interrogation techniques to continue “even after analysts were convinced that prisoners had no more information to give,” the Post said.

The records were said to make it clear that the CIA obtaining key intelligence against al-Qaida, including information that led to the killing of leader Osama bin Laden in 2011, had little to do with the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.

The most high-profile detainee linked to the bin Laden investigation was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused Sept. 11 mastermind who was waterboarded 183 times. Mohammed, intelligence officials have noted, confirmed after his 2003 capture that he knew an important al-Qaida courier with the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.

The Senate report concludes such information wasn’t critical, according to the aides. Mohammed only discussed al-Kuwaiti months after being waterboarded, while he was under standard interrogation, they said. And Mohammed neither acknowledged al-Kuwaiti’s significance nor provided interrogators with the courier’s real name.

Congressional aides did not address information provided by yet another al-Qaida operative: Hassan Ghul, captured in Iraq in 2004. Intelligence officials have described Ghul as the true linchpin of the bin Laden investigation after he identified al-Kuwaiti as a critical courier.

In a 2012 news release, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Carl Levin, both Democrats, acknowledged an unidentified “third detainee” had provided relevant information on the courier. But they said he did so the day before he was subjected to harsh CIA interrogation. “This information will be detailed in the Intelligence committee’s report,” the senators said at the time.

In any case, it still took the CIA years to learn al-Kuwaiti’s real identity: Sheik Abu Ahmed, a Pakistani man born in Kuwait. How the U.S. learned of Ahmed’s name is still unclear.

In another case, one official said that nearly the entirety of valuable threat-related information from al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaida, captured in Pakistan in 2002, was obtained during questioning by an FBI agent while he was hospitalized in Pakistan — before he was interrogated by the CIA, whose agents waterboarded him 83 times.

The explosive account comes as Feinstein pushes to get parts of the report declassified and made public.

Her committee is expected to vote Thursday on whether to send the report’s executive summary and key conclusions and recommendations, a total of about 400 pages, to the White House for declassification.

Committee staffers spent countless hours poring over more than 6 million pages of documents in collating what has become one of the most comprehensive oversight projects in congressional history.

Their report has caused a deep rift between the intelligence agencies and the Senate panel tasked with conducting oversight of the spy activities, with each side accusing the other of potentially criminal violations related to accessing computer systems used during the investigation.