Reading the CIA IG Report

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cia-seal.jpgMany writers and thinkers have had late nights and early mornings in the past few days, owing to the release yesterday of the 2004 CIA Inspector General’s report. In particular, The Washington Independent’s Spencer Ackerman has given the report careful coverage on his blog and in the paper itself, while Andrew Sullivan’s blog has been a great source for aggregated insight from different bloggers and journalists. The Washington Post and the New York Times both also have important articles on the report.
Much of the coverage thus-far has focused on the more lurid aspects of the report–abuses, specific techniques used, and the deaths of detainees in American custody. I do not wish to wade into the debate over what may or may not constitute torture, or what level of brutality can be designated illegal. Instead, I would simply like to point readers to the list of “acceptable” interrogation techniques, and encourage them to make up their own mind.
Moreover, while it may be surprising that one high-value detainee (almost certainly Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) was kept without sleep for 180 hours, the report holds few revelations about techniques or tactics used to obtain information.
Rather, other elements of the report concerned me as I read in between the redactions. In particular, the report sketches the picture of an environment where unclear or non-existent guidelines and enforcement of regulations allowed abuses to occur, as portrayed in Alex Gibney’s Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side.
While it is unsurprising that large sections of the report are blacked-out, it is worth pointing out which sections of the report do not appear. For instance, the report’s author(s) state that the Directorate of Operations (DO) handbook explains the CIA’s “general interrogation policy.” Yet this policy is redacted, in full.
The report’s authors also take care to point out several times that, while CIA interrogation procedures and facilities are not required to conform to American prison standards, the CIA was required to provide basic medical care and keep detainees in generally good health. Unfortunately, the released report does not allow us to evaluate the actual medical guidelines used by CIA-employed doctors and interrogators. Similarly, guidelines for the capture of detainees and the specific training given to interrogators are blacked out in the text. And the entire recommendations section is gone.
These are only a few examples, but the redaction of whole sections like these prevents us from evaluating what baseline guidance was given to CIA operatives in the field, and makes it impossible to draw definitive conclusions on how policy-makers defined acceptable tactics and conditions for interrogation. And as Time’s Michael Sherer points out, the report admits that at least initially, the guidance and staffing for interrogation programs was severely lacking.
More importantly, key decisions regarding the treatment of prisoners were made on the basis of vague guidelines that left room for major interpretation on the part of agents on the ground. For instance, several times the report’s authors note that by law torture was defined as the inflicting of “severe” pain and suffering upon a detainee. But I saw no adequate definition in the report of what constitutes severe mental or physical anguish, ignoring the fact that each person has a different threshold for suffering that must be evaluated by observers and officials.
Furthermore, as Scherer and others have noted, this subjective judgement, as well as a simple lack of information, directly led to the employment of “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques,” or EITs, against high-value detainees Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri.
The report’s authors write, for instance, that al Nashiri gave information on other terrorists during the first day of interrogations, but was still waterboarded on the twelfth day, presumably because interrogators felt he was withholding information. Later, after interrogators deemed al Nashiri compliant in December 2002, a seperate operative believed him to be withholding information and subjected him to “hooding and handcuffing.” Similarly, even after the team that had been interrogating Abu Zubaydah deemed him compliant, an unidentified operative believed that Zubaydah was holding back, and “generated substantial pressure from Headquarters to continue use of the EITs.” After the application of the EIT, the DO determined that Zubaydah had nothing more to offer.
But how did various operatives come to these conclusions about the extent of information held by captured terrorists? From the report’s conclusion:

Agency officers report that reliance on analytical assessments that were unsupported by credible intelligence may have resulted in the application of EITs without justification. Some participants in the Program, particularly field interrogators, judge that…assessments to the effect that detainees are withholding information are not always supported by an objective evaluation of available information and the evaluation of the interrogators but are too heavily based, instead, on presumptions of what the individual might or should know.

Thus, in important interrogations, decisions about harsh practices were made at times based not on those actually interrogating suspects, but on unsupported feelings and suspicions.
I do not wish, in analyzing this report, to shortchange the immense pressure placed on interrogators and the officials above them to produce intelligence against terrorist leaders and networks. Nor would I downplay the strain induced by the post-9/11 fear of another attack, and the subsequent drive to protect against it.
But the report is vague about whether or not harsh techniques actually produced actionable intelligence (as opposed to normal techniques), and it seems clear that the push to gain information overwhelmed the need to ensure accuracy and compliance with the laws governing the way American agents operate abroad.
It may be painful to read documents such as this, but it is necessary. On the one hand, we must be able to evaluate the most effective ways to glean intelligence, and understand what techniques cause more harm then good, whether in the form of false intelligence or damage to America’s image abroad. But more importantly, we must know why there was so little guidance of CIA interrogation operations, at least until 2003, and how much senior leadership knew about interrogations where men, no matter their crime, were made to suffer greatly for what at times seems more like caprice than reason.
— Andrew Lebovich

Comments

18 comments on “Reading the CIA IG Report

  1. rich says:

    Great precision defined American torture techniques, and that had to come straight through a chain of command.
    This post appears to omit to mention the tightly choreographed torture conducted directly by the White House. Sure, the CIA couldn’t keep track of the human beings it ‘disappeared’, and of course the intentional use of ill-defined guidelines was designed to evade institutional accountability and shirk personal & professional responsibility.
    But that in no way distracts from data verifying that Colin Powell and Condi Rice, among others, directed interrogation — torture — of high-value prisoners on a minute-to-minute basis. That’s been well-documented.
    Bush/Cheney torture techniques were prescribed right down to the wattage of the light bulbs used to keep human beings awake (2 90 watt bulbs); the temperature of the cold water used to inflict pain and suffering through hot/cold torture (41 degrees); and the volume of loud music used to permanently damage prisoners’ mental health (79 decibels).
    Steve, maybe you could clarify when and how your observation applies to American torture guidelines and American torture practices. What we know about the Bush/Cheney practices is well-documented, and it does not square with your description:
    Steve:
    “Rather, other elements of the report concerned me as I read in between the redactions. In particular, the report sketches the picture of an environment where unclear or non-existent guidelines and enforcement of regulations allowed abuses to occur.”
    The psychologists Mitchell & Jessen monitored the torture process on a minute-by-minute basis, and it’s highly implausible that the CIA would be uninterested in the effectiveness of specific techniques, nor would the Administration allow, say, an accidental death when (supposedly) more information might be forthcoming. Again, we know the White House gave direct instructions and had a hands-on role in the torture of specific individuals, on a moment-to-moment basis.
    Steve:
    “More importantly, key decisions regarding the treatment of prisoners were made on the basis of vague guidelines that left room for major interpretation on the part of agents on the ground.”
    That’s what happens when White House lawyers try to evade applicable law by mis-defining/ illegally defining torture as anything that causes organ failure or death. Any rational citizen and every rational official knows damn well that every torture technique that goes right up to that line by definition is designed to intentionally a) inflict pain & suffering, and b) is in violation of multiple statutes that apply to CIA officers, Blackwater staff & others under contract, and anybody else doing the bidding of the White House. Ronald Reagan’s Convention Agains Torture, the Geneva Convention, as well as others (there’s no point in having an Army Field Manual if other US agencies don’t feel obligated to live up to American standards of conduct).
    Vague? “physical and mental anguish” sounds pretty specific.
    So basically, this notion that Yoo or Bybee can just gin up some memo so abusive of the English language as to pervert the denotative meaning of words and statutes alike that it’ll somehow get torturers off the hook — that notion is just utterly bankrupt. It’s not simply obtuse, it’s evidence of malpractice if not lawyerly treason. The memos were hardly written in good conscience, and I mean that in both senses of the phrase.
    Steve:
    “For instance, several times the report’s authors note that by law torture was defined as the inflicting of “severe” pain and suffering upon a detainee. But I saw no adequate definition in the report of what constitutes severe mental or physical anguish, ignoring the fact that each person has a different threshold for suffering that must be evaluated by observers and officials.”
    That’s the point, isn’t it? To give ‘practitioners’ of torture and policy-makers, and elected officials the pretense of an out? A fig leaf?
    It’s fundamentally absurd as well as disingenuous to resort to the notion that “no adequate definition in the report of what constitutes severe mental or physical anguish” can somehow serve as an excuse or an ‘out’ or a technicality that can get practioners or decision-makers off the hook: not legally, not professionally, not politically.
    Why? Well, duh — any human being, upon punching or abusing a prisoner using precisely the prescribed menu of techniques, knows for a fact that those torture methods inflict “severe mental [and] physical anguish.” That is THE POINT of these torture techniques; by definition, they are designed to inflict “severe mental and physical anguish.” When a prisoner cries out in pain, it’s obvious the American torturer has inflicted “physical anguish.” The premise that CIA interrogators might not know when that threshhold was reached is really beyond the pale, and much shame attaches to folks putting it out there.
    You waterboard somebody once, you’ll see the “mental anguish” — it’s called terror. Any U.S. official will recognize it in an instant. And inflicting total mental breakdown was precisely the point of the menu of torture techniques America used, having adapted & refined them from German, Japanese and Soviet methodologies in the mid-20th century.
    NOTE that applicable limits “by law” were far more stringent than “organ failure or death” or “severe mental & physical angusish” dishonorably proffered by Yoo & Bybee. Just writing a memo intentionally mis-defining the law cannot change that. Further, Americans pushed these techniques far beyond the legal limits: many, many prisoners are now psychologically broken, and over one hundred died under interrogation. Those are just the ones we know about.
    Bottom line: any human and any U.S. (or contract) employee can take a good look at the condition of a human being under their control — and will know damn good and well that they’ve inflicted “severe physical & mental anguish.” That was, after all, the point.
    “Furthermore, as Scherer and others have noted, this subjective judgement, as well as a simple lack of information, directly led to the employment of “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques,” or EITs, against high-value detainees Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri.”
    I question the accuracy of this assertion. These techiques were adapted & refined by the CIA, mid-20th century, so the agency is obviously very familiar with how & why they’re used. There’s nothing subjective about it. The term Enhanced Interrogation Techniques is a direct translation of the term used by the Gestapo to describe the Third Reich’s use of torture. It’s euphemistic, of course, but bureaucratic double-speak for the despicable applies whether you’re German or American.
    Here’s the thing: the history of this, near- & long-term, is well documented. We spent considerale time teaching our proxies — South Vietnam, Iran, Latin American regimes — to torture. The notion that we didn’t know what we were doing at Abu Ghraib, Bagram, in the CIA’s Gulag Archipelago of ‘black sites’ or at Guantanamo, is simply laughable.
    That’s not to say there wasn’t ALSO great carelessness in play, probably intentional. After all, when you ‘disappear’ human beings, going down the same road as the Soviets and Latin American death squads, it becomes so easy to just .. . lose people. Now, some folks may be comfortable with that — they may try to rationalize it legally, or rhetorically on blogs to create the illusion that those they know the best can be saved or need not be accountable. But they’d be wrong: it has cost this country everything. And only revising our course as a nation, and correcting the law in an utterly clear-cut fasion, and weeding out the cancerous self-affirming mindset that has placed us on par with the most vicious regimes ever known — only that’ll repair the damage and only that’ll restore the country to our former greatness.

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  2. maplestory mesos says:

    Classic exposition, I have also mentioned it in my blog article. But it is a pity that almost no friend discussed it with me. I am very happy to see your article.

    Reply

  3. tibia gold says:

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    Reply

  4. TonyForesta says:

    You logic may be valid Vladimir Val Cymbal, but your facts mangled. First, there was never any justification for the socalled war in Iraq. That deceptive waste of blood, treasure, time, and credibility was a grotesque abuse of power sold through the ghoulish exploitation of 9/11 which had nothing to do with Iraq, nor were there ever any imminent threats of mushroom clouds, or one particle of WMD. Worse, we have yet to win any of these conflicts so all this macho gibberish about “War must be fought to win” is hollow and moot and all the torture and perversions, and rank injustices only compounded the original crimes.
    In Afghanistan, – the Taliban is far from defeated, and in the socalled neverendingwaronterror, – victory is a long way from complete, – so what real benefit did Amerika glean from stooping the lowest levels of human depravity? You might want to revisit the canards bruting “… the bombing of the tallest building in Los Angeles many other terrorist attacks were foiled” – all of which have been proven FALSE!
    What we are party to, is fascist government run amock, drunk and delirious with power and wealth, and willing to crawl to the lowest levels of human depravity for PROFITEERING, NOT for VICTORY, which we still cannot claim.
    I don’t know where you live, I do not, and never will support torture, the ruthless slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocents, and wanton profiteering so a few fascists and select oligarchs beholden to the bushgov can maraud Iraqi and Caspian oil and energy resources. I’m support wholeheartedly the hunting, capturing, and killing of every jihadi on the face of the earth, – but I do not believe, and see absolutely no evidence of how, stooping to the depravities and perversions perpetrated by the fascists in the bushgov, benefited America or Americans in anyway. Rather, we have wasted blood and treasure, squandered credibility worldwide, and forever tarnished America and – still – have not WON any of these conflicts.
    I second POA, – your bruting, propaganda, and disinformation are a “crock of shit!

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  5. pauline says:

    “Are Bradbury’s Two 2006 OLC Opinions Still Active?”
    By: emptywheel Wednesday August 26, 2009 3:25 pm
    Help me do the math on this for a second.
    On April 15, 2009 (just one day before the release of them), OLC withdrew the August 1, 2002 Bybee Two memo, the May 10, 2005 Techniques memo, the May 10, 2005 Combined memo, and the May 30, 2005 CAT memo.
    On April 21, 2009, Spencer reported on the July 20, 2007 memo authorizing dietary manipulation, sleep deprivation, and four coercive techniques; SSCI reported on it officially the next day, April 22.
    That memo was withdrawn on June 11, 2009.
    But unless I’m mistaken, Bradbury’s two memos from August 31, 2006 remain in place (one, two). These memos authorize six conditions of confinement: blocking detainee vision, isolation, white noise, 24-hour light, shackling, and forced shaving.
    While several of those are used in domestic prisons, the others–and the techniques used in combination–seem pretty transparently designed to achieve the kind of disorientation achieved by sensory deprivation even while claiming not to be doing so. The techniques, used in combination, could easily be sleep deprivation and/or stress positions in disguise. The memos claim to need these techniques precisely because these detainees are not held in real prisons, which they could be, if the CIA were not so secretive with its program. Moreover, the memos appear to be bound by the same pained logic as Bradbury’s earlier memos and indeed relys on some of the same propaganda documents in their logic. If we’re going to authorize shackles and isolation, let’s do it with a sincere concern for safety and security, not one used to pretty up a coercive philosophy that remains in place.
    By all means keep these detainees in secure facilities. But let’s do so without retaining the twisted logic of the Bush Administration.
    http://emptywheel.firedoglake.com/

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  6. samuelburke says:

    “Besides preventing the bombing of the tallest building in Los Angeles many other terrorist attacks were foiled.”
    MAYBE IN DREAMLAND.
    feast on these and maybe you can come out of the govt induced ether you have willingly placed yourself in.
    http://www.antiwar.com/orig/giraldi.php?articleid=13430
    The FBI net has swept up pizza delivery men, landscapers, truck drivers, and the unemployed. Not a single alleged terrorist arrested and convicted in the United States has had the actual capability to carry out an act of terrorism.
    In spite of the fact that there is little or no evidence of terrorists actually operating inside the U.S., the federal government is spending in the neighborhood of $100 billion per year in its war against terrorism.
    http://original.antiwar.com/justin/2005/02/03/weve-been-warnedthe-state-of-our-unionperpetual-war/
    “Of the more than 5,000 foreign nationals detained in anti-terrorism measures, not a single one stands convicted of any terrorist offense. … Nor did he find a single terrorist among the 80,000 Arabs and Muslims called in for registration, or the 8,000 sought out for FBI interviews. … He also claims that his terrorism investigations led to 368 criminal indictments and 194 convictions. What he doesn’t say is that all but a handful of the convictions were for petty offenses, not terrorism charges. A Syracuse University study found that the median sentence actually handed down in cases labeled ‘terrorist’ by the Justice Department in the first two years after 9/11 was 14 days – not the kind of sentence you’d expect for a terrorist.
    “And where are the al-Qaeda sleeper cells that prompted the aggressive sweeps in the first place? The closest thing Ashcroft can point to are six young men from Lackawanna, N.Y., who followed a charismatic religious leader to an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan, but returned to the United States showing no interest in terrorism and undertook no activity whatsoever in furtherance of even a petty crime, much less a terrorist plot.
    http://www.antiwar.com/engelhardt/?articleid=5182
    http://www.antiwar.com/roberts/?articleid=11471

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  7. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Many American and allied lives were saved due to vigorous and immediate interrogation of enemy combatants”
    Thats a crock of shit, and I have seen no one, who has read the report, claim that Cheney’s assertions are buttressed by the report.
    So, when its YOUR kids being tortured, because of the standard this satanic piece of shit Cheney has exposed OUR troops to, how then will you view ETIs?
    I remember the day this clueless cattleless cowboy Bush was taking the Chinese to task for merely “parading our air crew in front of the cameras”. Remember that? The Stetson defiling padded boot Texan was all red-faced over it.
    My how things change, eh? You jackasses only care about “humane treatment” for prisoners when its OUR boys on the end of a shorted out extension cord. And you’re too fuckin’ red-neck ignorant to bother to consider the fact that you are placing every American serviceman at risk of being tortured by advocating for its use.

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  8. Vladimir Val Cymbal says:

    This is just a bunch of bovine excrement. There is no place for civilities in a war. War must be fought to win. That does not include Miranda rights or other civilities. The enemy is doing his best to kill you; you have to be better at it then the enemy if you want to have any hope of winning the war. Planning to kill and how to do it is part of war. If you can find out your enemy’s plans, you will be able to save your life, the lives of your comrades, and the citizens you are fight to protect. The information must be retrieved quickly with any means available.
    Many American and allied lives were saved due to vigorous and immediate interrogation of enemy combatants. Besides preventing the bombing of the tallest building in Los Angeles many other terrorist attacks were foiled.

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  9. Carroll says:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/26/us/26prison.html?_r=1
    If this description of how the CIA and Justice Dept. observed and kept up with the ‘details’ of the torture doesn’t sound exactly like the way the nazis documented all their “experiments” I don’t know what does.
    Everyone in the chain of command of this torture needs to be tried and imprisoned and or excuted for any deaths caused by it.
    Someone better BWTTGASO or produce some justice in this country very soon or we are all eventually going to get exactly what we deserve for tolerating this criminal filth.

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  10. Dave says:

    4 US Soldiers Dead, no coverage, A Senator Dies America mourns, makes you think what America thinks about its Veterans, active and retired
    CNN scroll at bottom of page said 4 US Soldiers killed
    Same NBC
    Same ABC
    Same CBS
    Now look at the difference between what happened overnight to a Senator to 4 Soldiers.
    America, you make me sick.

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  11. TonyForesta says:

    Unspoken in the CIA IG Report babble is the gossamer thin line, if one exists at all, that protects any American from being subjected to these kinds of perverted and medieval practices.
    The Pandora’s Box of horrors exists wherein any fascist in the bushgov, or any current government official can simply label anyone – anyone – an evildoer, or terrorist, or enemy combatant, and whatever the label de jour might be, and round people up, without due process, and any constitutional protection and subject anyone to these kinds of depraved and barbaric abuses. No can question these practices legally, or look to any judicial relief and protection.
    Refusing to establish some kind of standards or ground rules to determine if the interrogee is in fact a legitimate threat, or if there is actually any actionable intelligence to glean, opens wide the door for all kinds of wild and inhuman abuses, – and there are also no stipulations or anything like the rule of law, or that thing called the constitution to protect innocent, but politically inconvenient or outspoken Americans from being subjected to the same kind of inquisitionlikehorrors the bushgov applied to socalled evildoers.
    If we a nation that condones torture, without guidlines or any legal process or remedy for abuse, then how are we any different from the evildoers.
    If we do not abide by our own laws and principles – then what are we as a nation and a people, and can how, and upon what grounds can we condemn any other nation or people from perpetrating these exact same kinds of perverted and depraved practices.
    We cannot. We (Amerika) have shapeshifted into a nation and a people of evildoers, out of fear and ignorance and the baseless findings of patholical liars.
    The evils of the fascists in the bushgov will haunt and discredit America for the rest of our days, until and unless these monsters and perverts are held accountable, and punished for their freakish crimes and abuses.

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  12. Carroll says:

    I think we all know by now, even if we don’t want to admit it, that we are not a nation of law any longer, but a nation of politicans whose only laws is get elected, cover their ass, and the party’s ass, rake in the money and get re-elected.
    That’s it. That’s our so called government.

    Reply

  13. pauline says:

    The soul of our nation has been hijacked by gw and cheney along with the legal slanderers in the CIA who set the interrogation practices up as acceptable. What did we gain as credible intelligence from this illegal, inhuman treatment?
    Who thinks a special independent prosecutor will go after more than just the lowest levels of interrogators, and not the madmen who designed and approved from high above?
    No wonder cheney is out there talking like a Philadelphia lawyer justifying torture. Is he feeling the coming heat of a real hell?

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  14. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “…….and how much senior leadership knew about interrogations where men, no matter their crime, were made to suffer greatly for what at times seems more like caprice than reason.”
    No matter their crime???? Who’s word do we take that they committed any crime at all? Thats the real crux of it. These satanic sick fucks like Dick Cheney make the claim that these prisoners are terrorists, “the worst of the worst”, and it gets repeated by our media ad nauseum. Yet no one is asking WHAT IS THE LEGAL PROCESS THAT HAS PROVEN THESE PEOPLE TO BE TERRORISTS?
    This whole debate is skewed by the FACT that we have, for years now, just taken the word of KNOWN LIARS that prisoners in our custody are “terrorists”, as a justification for the use of EITs. In fact, it seems these bastards running the GWOT charade have replaced the legal system with a system of labeling. All these bastards have to do is place a label on you, and its off to the gulag you go.
    And don’t get your hopes up about Holder. He does as Obama tells him. He answers to Obama, not to the law. Just like that criminal piece of shit perjurer Gonzales. If Holder intended to follow the letter of the law, we would be reading about indictments, not another “report” that will be today’s news and tommorow’s memory.
    Were crimes committed? Undeniably. Does Holder have a sworn responsibility to uphold the law? Of course he does. So what the hell is the issue? Why are we debating whether or not our AG does his job or not, as if the son of a bitch should have a choice in the matter? Since when does the POTUS tell the AG to ignore the law, and get away with it?
    Every American should be madder than hell about this pathetic carnival masquerading as a “representative government”. “Representative”, my ass. There are obviously two sets of laws; the ones we have to abide by, and the ones Washington gets to ignore.

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  15. Dan Kervick says:

    “It may be painful to read documents such as this, but it is necessary.”
    Perhaps. But there are only so many nightmares to which one can expose oneself without going insane – which might be one reason why so many of the people working in government appear to be insane.

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  16. ... says:

    cheney is quick to get a pr, or bs response out on this.. i guess he has someone (rupert murdoch?) working 24/7 in the media to cover his ass..
    >>Former Vice President Dick Cheney says documents released Monday support his view that harsh interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects prevented attacks and yielded crucial information about al Qaeda.<<

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