Noah Millman and others have asked, why did we torture? Was it vengefulness? The desire to appear “serious” in our fight?
So far as the CIA is concerned, the answer may be even more petty.
I’m finally getting into the Senate report, and reading between the lines, it exemplifies the banality of evil. CIA was concerned from the get-go about being THE agency to conduct interrogations (despite its lack of legitimate experience therein).
The Senate report is clear in its early pages that interagency rivalry was an early concern re: access to prisoners. For instance, CIA didn’t want them anywhere like GTMO where they could be yanked away by DOD or FBI.
I suspect that the leap into torture, which was not a response to prisoner resistance but rather was contemplated before CIA had any prisoners, was a deliberate effort to hit upon a method of questioning that no other agency would dare conduct. (As the Senate ASC report makes clear, CIA overrated the Army in this respect.) Difficult else to explain the CIA’s deliberate omission to consult with anyone about traditional interrogation methods (which might have involved other agencies like FBI).
Senate report at 32 n.138: CIA said Mitchell & Jessen “had the closest proximate experience CIA sought at the beginning of the program, specifically in the area of non-standard means of interrogation. Experts on traditional interrogation methods did not meet this requirement. Non-standard interrogation methods were not an area of expertise of CIA officers or of the US Government generally.” That’s from the June 2013 CIA response which Andrew admires.
But as the report goes on to observe, CIA didn’t seek out the shrinks after deciding to torture; “rather, [they] played a role in convincing the CIA to adopt such a policy.” And given the already well-known story of how their first prisoner, Zubaydah, was yanked from FBI questioning (which, using their standard rapport-based methods, had already yielded up a link to KSM and other relevant data), it seems hard to believe that agency politics weren’t a huge factor.
CIA tried to justify its sole custody of Zubaydah on the need to impose a “learned helplessness” regime on him (white room, 24-hour lights, sleep deprivation, etc.) so as to obtain data on “current threats.” This in June 2002 for a guy nabbed in March 2002. And once the FBI had been chased off, they then left Zubaydah to sit in isolation for 47 days, from June 18 through August 4, without being asked a single question. Sen. report at 30-31. Is that what you do with a guy who you believe has “current threat information”? FBI had complained in April 2002 that CIA reluctance to allow questioning of Zubaydah meant “that valuable time was passing where we could attempt to solicit threat information” (at 28).
(Zubaydah never provided any such threat information, which CIA eventually decided he simply did not have (at 31).)
None of this makes any sense unless one concludes that CIA’s main goal with Zubaydah was to be the sole agency in charge of interrogating and confining him and future high-value prisoners.
(Post based in part on some commenting I did at Crooked Timber.)