Following an American special forces raid on the compound of Islamic State operative Abu Sayyaf, U.S. interrogators, who are part of the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, have flown to Iraq in order to question Umm Sayyaf, the wife of Abu Sayyaf, who was taken during the operation. Umm Sayyaf was allegedly involved in the workings of the Islamic State and could possibly have played a role in “the enslavement of women in Iraq and Syria.” U.S. interrogators plan to talk to Umm Sayyaf about U.S. hostages held by the militant group. However, according to the Washington Post, officials have yet to determine whether Umm Sayyaf will remain in Iraq or will be brought back to the U.S.
The High Value Detainee Interrogation Group is President Obama’s replacement of the CIA Retention, Detention and Interrogation Program. It was created in August of 2009 (8 months after newly-elected President Obama signed Executive Order 13491):
President Obama has approved the creation of an elite team of interrogators to question key terrorism suspects, part of a broader effort to revamp U.S. policy on detention and interrogation, senior administration officials said Sunday.
Obama signed off late last week on the unit, named the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG. Made up of experts from several intelligence and law enforcement agencies, the interrogation unit will be housed at the FBI but will be overseen by the National Security Council — shifting the center of gravity away from the CIA and giving the White House direct oversight.
Seeking to signal a clean break from the Bush administration, Obama moved to overhaul interrogation and detention guidelines soon after taking office, including the creation of a task force on interrogation and transfer policies. The task force, whose findings will be made public Monday, recommended the new interrogation unit, along with other changes regarding the way prisoners are transferred overseas.
In the days leading up to the nationwide release of Zero Dark Thirty, the 2012 blockbuster movie about the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Senator Dianne Feinstein was given an advanced screening. How did the then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, whose investigators were working on their own story about the hunt for bin Laden and the role that torture may have played, react to Hollywood’s depiction?
“I walked out of Zero Dark Thirty, candidly,” Feinstein says. “We were having a showing and I got into it about 15, 20 minutes and left. I couldn’t handle it. Because it’s so false.”
False, in Feinstein’s estimation, because she says the film inaccurately portrays torture as a key tool in obtaining information about bin Laden’s whereabouts. Feinstein recounts her revulsion in a new documentary from Frontline, airing Tuesday night on PBS, about the CIA’s torture program and whether brutal interrogations of detainees helped surface intelligence that led to bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, where U.S. special operations forces killed him in 2011.
The documentary is short on news and revelations. But it concisely lays out the the dueling narratives between the CIA’s version of its so-called “rendition, detention, and interrogation” program, and the Senate Intelligence Commitee’s years-long investigation of the same. The committee’s findings conclude that the agency tortured detainees and failed to come up with useful intelligence about terrorist attacks. If you haven’t been following the minutiae of this now-decade-long controversy, the documentary will bring you up to speed.
Investigative journalist Michael Isikoff told Frontline that many more people will see Zero Dark Thirty than will read the countless newspaper articles about the CIA’s interrogation techniques. The movie, he thinks, will stand as the dominant narrative for what really happened in the search for bin Laden.
The Frontline producers seem conscious of that fact, and perhaps in the hopes that more people will watch a TV piece about the CIA program than read about it, they set out to poke holes in Langley’s version of events—and in Hollywood’s.
Zero Dark Thirty is hardly a pro-CIA torture propaganda piece. It’s entertainment, based upon an interpretation of live events. Anyone who believes it to be real in the sense of a documentary is an idiot. Like the producers of Frontline, I suppose.
Here’s a Frontline newsflash: Zero Dark Thirty isn’t a documentary. It’s a dramatization that freely admits to taking liberties with details.
Now let’s talk about that other “false narrative”, the Feinstein Report which paints a distorted, lopsided, partisan perspective.
How about we not let that one off the hook?
So the Frontline special purports to be a “documentary”. Perhaps, but it’s also propaganda that will present a lopsided perspective if it is basing its “facts” on the Feinstein narrative.
Former Deputy CIA Director Mike Morell on Hugh Hewitt had some choice words for Feinstein’s Report:
HH: And I want the audience to know specifically about this book, the reason you can trust it. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on 9/11 and on the CIA’s actions thereafter on rendition and enhanced interrogation techniques, Mr. Morell writes it’s 6,000 pages, and “the report is not the history of the program that Senator Feinstein said it is. It is one of the worst pieces of analysis that this 33 year veteran of the CIA has ever seen. I believe that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence staff produced the committee study, did a great disservice to the committee, the CIA and the country. Senator Feinstein bears significant responsibility for the many flaws in the report.” That’s tough. That’s blunt. But obviously, you felt very passionate about that.
MM: Yeah, you know, this is a very difficult issue, right, and this is something that we in America should actually talk about, and there’s actually four fundamental questions about the enhanced interrogation program. The first is what it legal? And although there are debates about whether the lawyers at the Justice Department at the time made the right call, at the time, they said this was legal. They said this was not torture. And it drives me crazy when people call it torture, because that means that my officers were torturers, and they were not. They wouldn’t do that. They only did it because they were told it was legal. And I’m going to defend those officers to my last breath. The second question, the second question is was it effective? And this is where the Senate reports gets it completely wrong. The Senate report said it wasn’t effective at all, that we got no useful intelligence out of the program. Can you imagine that? No useful intelligence.
HH: And yet, 32 of the 37 detainees, they obviously admit by indirection, gave you intelligence that you used, among them, KSM.
MM: Isn’t that remarkable? I’m absolutely convinced, Hugh, that we got intelligence that saved American lives by using these techniques. I’m absolutely convinced of that. Then the third question is was it necessary, all right? Was it necessary to do these things to get this information from these people? And we’ll never know the answer to that, right? We’ll never know whether some other approach would have worked. But that’s true, as I say, as I talk about in the book, that’s true of almost every major national security decision ever made, right? As I say in the book, was it necessary for President Lincoln to suspend habeas corpus to save the Union? We’ll never know. So that question is unanswerable. And then we get to the fundamental question of morality, right? Was it moral for the United States to do this? And most people, Hugh, think that’s an easy question, and it’s not, because of course, on the one hand, it’s very easy to say the United States of America should never do something like that to another human being. The United States stands for human dignity, for human freedom, etc., etc., etc. But there’s actually a flip side of the coin, Hugh. And the flip side of the coin is, is it moral not to do it when you absolutely believe it is necessary to save American lives?
HH: And that is, you quote your law school professor friend. In fact, I would tell the audience that Michael Morell’s The Great War Of Our Time has in it one of the most sophisticated discussions of the enhanced interrogation techniques and waterboarding I’ve ever read. I’ve been teaching Con Law for 20 years. I’ve had this debate a hundred times. But the law school professor who absolutely rejects it says it’s illegal, then admits to you, then of course, unless I was the president of the United States and somebody told me by using waterboarding, I could save America from a nuclear attack.
MM: Right, and you know, that’s in a sense what happened here, right? People forget, and Senator Feinstein forgets about the context of the times. 3,000 people had just been killed. This was the largest single attack on America ever. We were telling the President that a second wave attack was being planned by al Qaeda. We had credible intelligence on that. We were telling the President that bin Laden was meeting with Pakistani nuclear scientists, right, to try to get his hand on a nuclear weapon. That turned out to be true. We were telling the President that al Qaeda was trying to smuggle a nuclear weapon into New York City. That turned out not to be true, but we didn’t know that at the time. So that’s the context in which the President made his decision. And George Tenent walks in his office and says we’ve captured these guys, who we think know about these plots, about these attacks, and traditional interrogation techniques aren’t working. And Mr. President, here’s what we think we need to do, and we think we need to do it or Americans are going to die.
HH: And that is the context.
HH: Before we leave the EIT and rendition program, you did me a service, and you wrote in the book that to merge the two programs, the enhanced interrogation techniques and the detention programs and rendition, is to do a disservice. Each needs to be addressed separately. It had never occurred to me that of course, that’s true.
MM: Right, and you know, the detention program, just to give you an example, right, when we questioned Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and another senior al Qaeda operative about Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, the guy who turned out to be the courier who took us to Abbottabad, to bin Laden, they lied to us, right? And then they went back to their cell, and they told every, and KSM, KSM told everybody don’t talk about the courier. And the reason he knew he said that, of course, is because we were monitoring him. And the only reason we could monitor him is because he was in our detention, not in somebody else’s.
I purchased Morell’s book on the strength of Hewitt’s interview. (You can download and listen at the link above).
Some good clips of Mike Morell last December on Charlie Rose:
In regards to the two psychologists who were contracted by the CIA for the RDI Program (recently James Risen reported on collaboration by The American Psychological Association), I’ve long heard criticism regarding their lack of qualifications in the field of interrogations. So this defense was a new one to me:
In case you missed James Mitchell’s interview with Megyn Kelly, here it is again:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTzwa9S444c