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Former IG: Gov't Should Have Released Recommendations

POSTED: 05:35 PM ET, 08/24/2009 by Liz Heron

Former CIA Inspector General John Helgerson, who served from 2002 to early 2009 and supervised the 2004 report on interrogation techniques, sent The Post a statement:

August 24, 2009

Statement by John L. Helgerson

The CIA Inspector General's report of May 2004 issued publicly today is a comprehensive review of the Agency's detention and interrogation activities for the two years following 9/11. The report analyzed actions taken by Agency officers before the formal detention and interrogation program was established, actions taken within the program once it had been put in place, and certain actions taken outside the approved program.

The most important findings of the review related to basic systemic issues: had management controls been established; were necessary laws, regulations and guidelines in place and understood; had staff officers and contractors been adequately trained; and had they discharged their responsibilities properly?

The essence of the report is expressed in the Conclusions and Recommendations. I am disappointed that the Government did not release even a redacted version of the Recommendations, which described a number of corrective actions that needed to be taken.

We found that a large number of Agency components and individuals in the post-9/11 period worked hard, selflessly and effectively to capture terrorists and elicit actionable intelligence information.

We also found significant issues of concern. Especially in the early period when the Agency was scrambling to respond to the events of 9/11, its officers were forced to improvise, as management oversight, staffing, training, written guidance, and many processes and procedures were still being established.

In one extreme case, improvisation took a disastrous turn when an Agency contractor in rural Afghanistan--acting wholly outside the approved program and with no authorization or training--took it upon himself to interrogate a detainee. This officer beat the detainee and caused his death. Following an investigation of the incident, this contract employee was convicted of assault and is now in prison.

Agency officers who were authorized to detain and interrogate terrorists sometimes failed in their responsibilities. In a few cases, Agency officers used unauthorized, threatening interrogation techniques. The primary, common problem was that management controls and operational procedures were not in place to avoid the serious problems that arose, jeopardizing Agency employees and detainees alike.

We found that waterboarding had been utilized in a manner that was inconsistent with the understanding between CIA and the Department of Justice. The Department had 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.

We found that a critical legal opinion was lacking, which I believed was needed to protect Agency employees and detainees. The Department of Justice had earlier determined that the Agency's interrogation techniques did not constitute torture, but it had never opined on whether the same actions were consistent with the obligation undertaken by the US Government under Article 16 of the Torture Convention to prohibit cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In fact, it appeared that certain of the techniques were designed solely because they were degrading. As a result of our report and appeals from other key officials, the Department of Justice did later issue an opinion on this matter, approving the Agency's actions.

Our review accepted and reported the judgment of Agency managers that a large amount of valuable intelligence was produced. However, we also observed that the Agency needed to answer more definitively the question of whether the particular interrogation techniques used were effective and necessary, or whether such information could be acquired using more traditional methods. Even at this late date, an independent panel of experts with backgrounds in interrogation should systematically evaluate the quality of the intelligence gained as related to the specific techniques used, or not used, in particular cases. This would clarify the value of the information and the utility of various approaches.

This review of the Agency's early detention and interrogation activities was undertaken in part because of expressions of concern by Agency employees that the actions in which they were involved, or of which they were aware, would be determined by judicial authorities in the US or abroad to be illegal. Many expressed to me personally their feelings that what the Agency was doing was fundamentally inconsistent with long established US Government policy and with American values, and was based on strained legal reasoning. We reported these concerns.

The Inspector General's job is to ascertain whether Agency operations and programs are efficient, effective, and run in a manner that is consistent with law and regulation, and to recommend improvements as appropriate. I believe our extensive work on detention and interrogation issues helped lead to clarification of the law, to strengthened management controls and operational procedures, and to more judicious use of interrogation techniques, including the abandonment of waterboarding.

By Liz Heron |  August 24, 2009; 5:35 PM ET
Previous: Dig Through Interrogation Reports | Next: Guide to Acronyms in Interrogation Documents


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Mr Helgerson's letter is one of those which, inevitably, is brushed aside in the jockeying to spin the mean of the IG's report itself.

It's time for the Post to follow up on the points raised here, eliciting release of the Conclusions and Recommendations section and pressing policy makers to understand why we haven't convened a commission to make the kind of systematic analysis of interrogation methods and results of those interrogations.

Posted by: hippolito | August 24, 2009 10:23 PM

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