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The Biggest Lies the CIA Told About Its Torture Program

Among the least surprising findings of the Senate's CIA torture report is that the agency lied about enhanced interrogation. A lot. To everyone.

by CJ Ciaramella
Dec 10 2014, 9:00pm

​ Among the least surprising findings in the Senate I​ntelligence Committee's report on the CIA's rendition and interrogation program is that the agency, including its highest-ranking leaders, lied about the program. A lot. To everyone.

The CIA, in the report's bureaucratic wording, "provided inaccurate information" to Congress, the White House, the Justice Department, the press, and the agency's own inspector general. This is in addition to selectively omitting information, destroying information, and failing to correct false information. While variations of the words "lie" or "mislead" don't actually appear in the  500-page executive summary of th​e report released to the public Tuesday, "inaccurate" appears 263 times.

Here, we've pulled out all of the major ways that intelligence officials lied about its enhanced interrogation program. It's a partial list, but should give you a good idea of the lengths the CIA went to deceive the public, Congress, and even members of its own agency about the scope of the detention program. 

The CIA Said the Interrogations Stopped Terrorist Attacks: Even to this day, intelligence officials have claimed that the enhanced interrogation tactics saved "hundreds or thousands of innocent lives." This argument was used to justify the program, both legally and in the eyes of Congress and the public. The problem is, of course, that statements about the program's effectiveness weren't actually true.

In fact, Senate investigators reviewed 20 of the most cited examples of counterterrorism victories attributed to the CIA's interrogation program—including claims that information from detainees helped thwart terrorist attacks on Heathrow Airport, on the US Consulate in Karachi, and at various locations in the US—"and found them to be wrong in fundamental respects."

The CIA Lied to the Justice Department About Its Torture Tactics: The DOJ's legal justification for the program relied on the argument that the tactics were necessary to save lives. Obviously, those claims were inaccurate. On top of that, the CIA lied to the Justice Department about the conditions of confinement and interrogation methods used on detainees, leading the department to craft legal justifications that were divorced from the reality of the program.

For example, the CIA told the DOJ that it would be "unlikely" that sleep deprivation would cause hallucinations, and that medical personnel would intervene if they did, which was a lie. The agency also failed to inform the DOJ that it was using techniques like "water dousing, nudity, abdominal slaps, and dietary manipulation," on the detainees.

The CIA Claimed It Had Fewer Than 100 Detainees: In statements to the Senate Intelligence Committee and the public, the CIA claimed it had fewer than 100 detainees. But committee investigators found there were 119 detainees, at least 26 of whom were wrongfully held. One of those 26 was an "intellectually challenged" man held to leverage information from one of his family members.

The CIA Said It Only Waterboarded Three People: The CIA previously said it only waterboarded three detainees, but Senate investigators found evidence suggesting there may have been more. Investigators uncovered a photograph of a "well-worn" waterboard, surrounded by buckets of water, at a site where the CIA said it had never conducted waterboardings.

The CIA Lied to the White House: The Senate report concluded that the CIA "provided extensive amounts of inaccurate and incomplete information related to the operation and effectiveness of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program to the White House, the National Security Council principals, and their staffs." According to the report, no CIA officer—including the directors of the agency—even briefed the president on the details of the enhanced interrogation program until April 2006, after 38 detainees had already been tortured.

Other Cabinet officials were also kept in the dark, apparently per the White House's request. A 2003 internal CIA email noted that "the "it is clear to us...that the [White House] is extremely concerned [Secretary of State Colin] Powell would blow his stack if he were to be briefed on what's been going."

The CIA Lied to Congress: This one isn't surprising. The report states that "briefings to the full Committee beginning on September 6, 2006, also contained numerous inaccuracies, including inaccurate descriptions of how interrogation techniques were applied and what information was obtained from CIA detainees." In fact, it doesn't seem like Congress knew much of anything about the program.

The CIA Lied About Congress: Despite multiple letters from senators expressing criticism and concern about the program, CIA Director Michael Hayden told a room of foreign ambassadors that the Senate Intelligence Committee was "fully briefed" on program, adding: "This is not CIA's program. This is not the President's program. This is America's program." The CIA also lied about the views of US senators to the Department of Justice, in order to get approval for the program.

The CIA Lied to Its Own Inspector General: The CIA avoided oversight of the enhanced interrogation program from all sides, including from the independent office tasked with overseeing the agency. Senate investigators found that during a 2004 special review of the program, CIA officials provided the OIG with inaccurate information about the operation and management of the program, as well as about its effectiveness. The lies were included in the final report, which was later declassified and released to the public. According to Senate investigators, the report "remains uncorrected," which means, officially, the CIA is still lying to the public.

The CIA Lied to the Media: According to the report, the CIA public affairs office selectively leaked classified information to suggest to reporters that the program was working with, often to positively shape coverage. This is nothing new or extraordinary in Washington, but the report found that, like everything else the CIA said about the program, the leaks to reporters were inaccurate.

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Since the report's release, defenders of the program have pushed back against the Senate Intelligence Committee's findings. Hayden, the former CIA chief who is singled out numerous times for making inaccurate statements to Congress, denied lying about the program.

"My response is that I didn't lie and I didn't mislead Congress,'' Hayden s​aid in an interview with Today Wednesday morning, when asked about congressional testimony he made in 2007. "My purpose going down there was to put my arms around the other political branch and try to decide a way forward. I was straightforward and honest and gave information as I knew it to be and as the agency knew it to be."

Other former CIA officials have denounced the Senate report as a partisan hit job, and even launched a website , CIA Sav​ed Lives, to push back against its findings. They say the report's argument that the CIA torture program didn't disrupt terrorist plots is—wait for it—inaccurate.