CIA Documents: 'Black Sites,' White Noise And Intel

The Justice Department released a set of documents Monday night, including many legal opinions related to the CIA's interrogation and detention program.

Most of the attention was focused on the 2004 report by the CIA's inspector general, but the other documents provide new windows into the details of the CIA's now-shuttered network of secret prisons overseas, as well as its treatment of al-Qaida detainees. They also describe how the interrogation program evolved after the inspector general report revealed a series of alleged abuses.

Here are some notable excerpts from the new documents:

The Detainee Experience

A 2004 document prepared by the CIA offers a stark account of the typical treatment of a high-value al-Qaida detainee. It began with the initial rendition, where the prisoner was flown to a secret CIA prison, called a "Black Site" in the document. "During the flight, the detainee is securely shackled and is deprived of sight and sound through the use of blindfolds, earmuffs, and hoods," the document says. After an initial interview, unless the suspect was unusually cooperative, he was taken to a cell, stripped naked, fitted with a diaper and shackled vertically as part of the sleep deprivation process. Officials also described a typical interrogation session as interrogators moved through a series of increasingly harsh techniques, including facial slaps and cramped confinement, if they thought the detainee was withholding information. These techniques were often combined to increase their effectiveness.

Read The 2004 Document (PDF).

Conditions In The CIA's Secret Overseas Prisons

A 2006 Justice Department memo offers surprisingly specific descriptions of the standards at the CIA's overseas prisons. "The CIA plays white noise in the walkways of the detention facilities to prevent detainees from being able to communicate with each other while they are being moved within the facilities," the memo says, offering decibel readings from inside the cells and in the halls. The cells were lighted 24 hours a day (by two 17-watt T-8 fluorescent bulbs — "about the same brightness as an office.") Some of the more cooperative detainees were given eyeshades to help them sleep. Steven Bradbury, the principal deputy assistant attorney general at the time, wrote in the memo that these measures were legal because they were designed not to punish prisoners, but instead for the security of CIA personnel. He added that while courts had found some of the measures illegal in certain circumstances, they should be permitted in the CIA prisons. "Because the CIA detains only the extremely dangerous individuals whom it has determined to pose serious threats to the United States or to be planning terrorist attacks ... its interest in being able to observe its detainees at all times is considerably greater, in most circumstances, than the need to keep a pretrial detainee under constant surveillance in a U.S. prison or jail."

Read The 2006 Memo (PDF).

Interrogations After 2006

After the CIA emptied its secret prisons in September 2006 and sent the remaining detainees to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, it asked for Justice Department guidance on resuming an interrogation program. CIA officials were seeking permission to use a reduced number of interrogation techniques, omitting the most controversial ones, including waterboarding. They proposed using measures like facial slaps and sleep deprivation, which they said were "the most indispensable to the effectiveness of the interrogation program." In his reply on July 20, 2007, Steven Bradbury, the principal deputy assistant attorney general at the time, wrote that the Justice Department agreed the CIA's proposal did not violate any of the new U.S. laws barring mistreatment of detainees. For example, he found that the CIA program does not meet the definition of "cruel treatment" or "outrages upon personal dignity" as laid out in the Geneva Conventions. He also noted that the program was carefully limited. From March 2002 through 2006, the CIA held only 98 detainees, 30 of whom had been subjected to so-called enhanced techniques.

Read The 2007 Reply (PDF).

Were The Interrogations Effective?

Former Vice President Dick Cheney asked the CIA to declassify two memos that he said showed that the interrogation program produced vital intelligence. One is a 2005 CIA report that says detainee reporting was "pivotal" in the war against al-Qaida. While there are many problems with detainee accounts, the CIA says interrogations produced information that helped lead to the capture of additional terrorist suspects, helped to thwart terrorist plots, and built a more complete portrait of how the al-Qaida network functioned. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, for example, "provided information that set the stage for the detention of Hambali," the leader of Jemaah Islamiya, a large Indonesian affiliate of al-Qaida. The report claimed that detainee interrogations also helped lead to the arrest of Jose Padilla, who originally was accused of planning to set off a radioactive device, but was convicted only on charges of supporting terrorism. The report does not, however, make any distinction between information obtained through conventional interrogations and that extracted using harsh techniques like waterboarding.

Read The 2005 Report (PDF).

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