August 24, 2009 -- CIA officers used power drills, mock executions and threats against children in often futile attempts to break high-value al Qaeda targets, according to portions of a 2004 report by the CIA inspector general that was made public today.
"We now have a document that the world can read that shows in excruciating and disgusting detail that the United States violated its own beliefs and turned to the dark side when it didn't have to," said Richard Clarke, a former national security official and now an ABC News consultant.
Watch Brian Ross' full report tonight on "World News with Charles Gibson" at 6:30pm ET.
The report says the extensive use of waterboarding was well known and fully approved by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, who told Congress last year that his "understanding is that it has been done three times."
But the report reveals Ashcroft "was informed the waterboard had been used 119 times on a single individual."
A spokesperson for Ashcroft, who now runs a private consulting firm, said they had not yet reviewed the report and had no comment at this point.
Other interrogation techniques described include: CIA officers told al Qaeda figure Khalid Sheik Mohammed "We're going to kill your children" if anything else happens to the U.S.; Officers put a handgun and a running power drill next to the head of Abd al-rahim al Nashiri, who attacked the USS Cole; and Officers staged a mock execution, firing off a gun and using a hooded CIA officer to pose as a dead detainee.
CIA Director Leon Panetta
CIA Director Leon Panetta, who has reportedly been profanity-laced shouting matches with White House officials just seven months after taking over the spy agency, said Monday the agency "made no excuses for behavior, however rare, that went beyond the formal guidelines on counter-terrorism."
American Civil Liberties Union director Jameel Jaffer, who heads the National Security Program, slammed the use of the interrogation techniques detailed in the report, saying, "It is a violation of the U.S. law to carry out a mock execution."
CIA Interrogation Program
Following the release of the inspector general's report, Attorney General Eric Holder reversed course and opened a criminal investigation into the CIA's interrogation program, which was a direct result of the 9/11 attacks and demands from the Bush White House that the CIA get tough on terrorism.
Holder and President Obama initially promised that there would be no prosecutions of CIA personnel, but prosecutor John Durham is set to be appointed by Holder to investigate CIA terror interrogations. He has been investigating the destruction of CIA waterboarding tapes and will now also investigate whether CIA interrogators and contractors violated U.S. torture statutes.
Also today, the Obama White House created a new unit that will report to FBI Director Robert Mueller and follow the Army's policies that prohibit waterboarding, effectively removing the CIA from the al Qaeda interrogation business. Mueller and his agents were the first and strongest internal objectors to the CIA's interrogation tactics.
The announcement will be seen as an effort by the Obama administration to "look forward" rather than backward, as a Department of Justice investigation implies.
The report, compiled by former Inspector General John L. Helgerson, concluded that the CIA waterboarding was not "justified" and that went "beyond" the limits of what the Department of Justice authorized. From the beginning, the report read, CIA officers involved in the program were worried about their personal reputations being "seriously damaged" and that public disclosure of the program would limit the "reputation and effectiveness of the agency itself."
Concerns of the waterboarding were widespread among those who knew of the waterboarding as an interrogation tactic. The Office of Medical Service, the agency's in-house team of doctors who were required to monitor the detainees while they were being waterboarded, noted to the IG staff that potential gains and "power" of the waterboarding to get detainees to talk was "exaggerated" and "appreciably overstated."
According to a former senior CIA official, the IG investigations into waterboarding—even before it was completed—made CIA officials nervous. On June 29, 2003, Director of CIA George Tenet went to the White House to discuss the "expanded use of [waterboarding]" with several senior administration officials. According to the former official, Tenet and CIA general Counsel John Rizzo informed attorney general John Ashcroft on the overuse of waterboarding on three al Qaeda detainees. According to the source, "The attorney general was fully informed of the severity of the situation and gave his approval."
Helgerson released a statement today that said, in part that waterboarding was used in a way that made it "inconsistent" with the understanding between CIA and the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice, Helgerson said in his statement, "provided the Agency a written legal opinion based on an Agency assurance that although some techniques would be used more than once, repetition would "not be substantial." My view was that, whatever methodology was used to count applications of the waterboard, the very large number of applications to which some detainees were subjected led to the inescapable conclusion that the Agency was abusing this technique."
Jameel Jaffer, of the ACLU, which sued the government to get this report released told ABC News said the report was "quite shocking. The fact that interrogators threatened children, the fact that they threatened prisoners with electric drills … that's really not something that I expected to read in a document discussing the activities of U.S. personnel."
Jaffer also applauded attorney general Holder's decision to open an investigation, but warned that any investigation that focused on low-lever CIA officers and not those who gave guidance to operatives on the ground would be inadequate.
"It's important that this investigation can be broad enough to encompass not just the interrogators who exceeded authority, but the senior officials who authorized torture and lawyers who facilitated it," Jaffer said. "We don't want an investigation that begins and ends with so-called rogue interrogators."
Robert Grenier, a former chief of counterterrorism, who oversaw the detention and interrogation program from later 2004 until early 2006, believes prosecuting the CIA officers would be a mistake.
"Here the CIA has done this report a number of years ago," he said. "It's a very thorough report. In fact, it was done by people who were not supportive of the program to begin with. It was very thorough. Any and all abuses were brought to light. Many of those abuses were then referred for possible prosecution to the Department of Justice. It seems to me that the CIA did everything that is was supposed to have done and yet now, both the organization and the individuals concerned are being subject to double jeopardy."
Grenier condemned the interrogation tactics that were unauthorized and pointed echoed some of the IG report's conclusions which noted that the detention program improved as time went on, and noted that prior to 9/11 the CIA simply did not have the capacity to interrogate Islamic terrorists.
"You can't have people who are freelancing. Unfortunately, I think in the very early days, apparently there was a certain amount of freelancing that took place," Grenier said. "It takes time to develop a disciplined, professional program…Part of the problem here was that the CIA got into this business and was trying to construct a locomotive as it was going 60 miles down the track."
In some ways, the much anticipated report raises more questions than it provides answers. During the two year investigation, for example, Helgerson and his staff viewed most of the 92 videotapes made of Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri's interrogations but noted that 21 hours of interrogations were missing. The missing hours include the two waterboarding sessions of al-Nashiri.
The announcement today by the Obama administration in some ways tries to address the underlying question posed by Helgerson and his report: Did torture work?
The CIA released two intelligence reports that former Vice President Richard Cheney had called to be declassified. Last May, Cheney claimed the reports showed that the CIA's interrogation program worked. The reports, while noting the valuable intelligence that came from detainee interrogations, do not specifically address which tactics worked, and which did not.
The IG report concluded the same. "There is no doubt," the report stated, "that the Program has been effective. Measuring the effectiveness of [enhanced interrogation techniques] however, is a more subjective process and not without some concern."