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Acknowledging the Obvious
By Stephen F. Hayes
Weekly Standard
August 29, 2009

Is the mainstream media coming around?

The Washington Post has an important front-page story this morning, with matter-of-fact reporting on the importance of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad as an intelligence source and the enhanced interrogation techniques that made him talk. The piece is headlined: "How a Detainee Became an Asset: September 11 Plotter Cooperated After Waterboarding."

One key source is former CIA Inspector General John Helgerson, who acknowledged that two of the CIA’s “most powerful” enhanced interrogation techniques “elicited a lot of information."

"Certain of the techniques seemed to have little effect, whereas waterboarding and sleep deprivation were the two most powerful techniques and elicited a lot of information," he said in an interview with the Post.

Helgerson authored the 2004 IG report that the Department of Justice released on Monday. The evidence presented in the IG report made clear that EITs had been effective, but Helgerson, well-known inside the CIA as an opponent of the program, stopped short of making that claim in a declarative fashion.

In his interview with the Post there seems to be a subtle shift in his argument. In the IG report Helgerson had written that “measuring the overall effectiveness of EITs” is challenging and a “subjective process.”

In his interview with the Post, Helgerson narrowed the reasons he gave for his reluctance to draw conclusions. Count the qualifiers. Helgerson said he was not in "a position to reach definitive conclusions about the effectiveness of particular interrogation methods" and that “we didn't have the time or resources to do a careful, systematic analysis of the use of particular techniques with particular individuals and independently confirm the quality of the information that came out."

But that kind of analysis misses the point. The fact Helgerson didn’t perform such a study hardly prevents us from concluding that EITs were effective. It is not the effectiveness of “particular interrogation methods” that matters. It’s whether the EITs were effective used together, sometimes simultaneously and sometimes sequentially. And they were.

“The huge reason the program was successful was because the detainees did not know what to expect,” says one intelligence official with detailed knowledge of the program. “Sleep deprivation, forced nudity, dietary manipulation, the waterboard – all of these together created a feeling of utter helplessness and cluelessness.”

Helgerson says something else important. He acknowledges that EITs, particularly sleep deprivation and waterboarding, “elicited a lot of information” but he laments his inability to assess the quality of that intelligence. And the quality does matter. If EITs simply elicited lots of bad information nobody would consider them effective. They didn’t.

He provided information that helped lead to the arrests of terrorists including Sayfullah Paracha and his son Uzair Paracha, businessmen who Khalid Shaykh Muhammad planned to use to smuggle explosives into the United States; Saleh Almari, a sleeper operative in New York; and Majid Khan, an operative who could enter the United States easily and was tasked to research attacks [redacted]. Khalid Shaykh Muhammad’s information also led to the investigation and prosecution of Iyman Faris, the truck driver arrested in early 2003 in Ohio.

The Post article describes “the transformation of the man known to U.S. officials as KSM from an avowed and truculent enemy of the United States into what the CIA called its "preeminent source" on al-Qaeda. This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques.”

In a must-read in the new issue of TWS, Tom Joscelyn offers more details about KSM and his interrogation:

On March 1, 2003, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the principal planner of the September 11 attacks, was captured in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. U.S. interrogators quickly went about the business of getting him to talk, and for good reasons. KSM's operatives were already here, inside America, planning attacks.

Shortly after KSM was detained, an Ohio-based truck driver named Iyman Faris was arrested by the FBI. Faris had reportedly been under suspicion beforehand, but U.S. authorities suddenly determined that they had to arrest him. It turned out that Faris, an al Qaeda-trained sleeper agent, had been dispatched to the United States by KSM to plot attacks on landmarks in the New York area, including the Brooklyn Bridge.

Then, in late March, a young Pakistani man named Uzair Paracha was arrested. He had been working out of an office in Manhattan's Garment District for a company owned by his father, Saifullah Paracha. KSM wanted Uzair to facilitate the entry of al Qaeda operatives and use the Parachas' import-export business to smuggle explosives into the United States.

Until this past week, it was not clear how U.S. authorities pieced together the details of this plotting so soon after KSM was captured. But the inspector general's report on the CIA's detainee interrogation program and two other CIA analytical papers--all three of which were released on August 24--fill in the blanks. It is clear now, if it wasn't before, that the CIA's questioning of KSM saved numerous lives, both here and abroad.

So will the United States again be able to elicit this kind of information from detainees? Reuel Marc Gerecht, writing in the Wall Street Journal, thinks it unlikely.

The appointment of a prosecutor guarantees that unless the United States is again devastated by a terrorist attack—on a scale greater than 9/11—CIA operatives will certainly decline any future order by a Republican president to interrogate roughly a jihadist. Langley's junior officers may still receive survival and escape training, which is the baptismal font for the agency's enhanced interrogation techniques. But members of al Qaeda will not similarly get to enjoy the experience.

Constrained by new rules and hostile lawyers, can the CIA in the future successfully interrogate uncooperative jihadists, like self-described 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who remained as close-mouthed as a clam when questioned without physical coercion? The Obama White House has been enamored of the possibilities of soft power; jihadists, too, are now supposed to yield to the psychological prowess of interrogators who play by the rules of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Will Langley be able to develop and retain interrogators culturally and linguistically qualified under the administration's new plans, which will have the White House and the FBI overseeing all counterterrorist interrogations? Such outside control is, among other things, meant to ensure that the CIA, which originally generated the idea of enhanced interrogation, will never again be a font of such unpleasant creativity.

Regardless of whether one believes CIA-inflicted waterboarding, sleep deprivation or severe psychological coercion (suggesting that harm could come to a family member of a taciturn al Qaeda detainee) constitute torture, such actions may have produced an intelligence bonanza and saved thousands of lives.

There may soon be more information made public that will demonstrate the effectiveness of EITs. Current and former CIA officials supportive of the program are pushing to have other reports declassified -– including a “rebuttal” document to the IG report written by senior officials in the directorate of operations; two internal CIA reviews of the program; and, perhaps most important, the interrogation logs written by interrogators to share the information they elicited with other interrogators and others at the CIA.

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