Relax, The CIA Didn't Torture People; It Just Tortured People

Can we please be politically correct about this, guys?
Noam Galai via Getty Images

WASHINGTON ― In a collection of essays set to be released this week, former CIA Director Michael Hayden unabashedly defends the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program, and says last year’s gruesome report from the Senate Intelligence Committee doesn’t hold water.

In an upcoming book entitled Rebuttal: The CIA Responds to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Study of Its Detention and Interrogation Program, Hayden says when Senate Democrats ― led by former Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) ― released a summary of the committee’s 6,700-page report in December, they approached the study from a pre-drawn conclusion.

He points to the CIA’s use of a technique called “walling” to illustrate his point. Feinstein, Hayden said, described the technique in 2008, saying the CIA had “slammed a detainee’s head against a wall.” Her description, Hayden says, showed a general disregard for accuracy when considering the CIA’s harsh techniques.

“I quickly got on her calendar to explain the interrogation technique called ‘walling,’ pushing a detainee’s shoulders into a false plywood wall, all the while protecting their necks with braces or at a minimum towels,” Hayden writes in the book.

This would appear to be a nicer way of saying the CIA was slamming prisoners’ heads into walls.

Based on the CIA’s own guidelines for interrogating a high-value suspect, interrogators would often use a towel or collar to serve like a handle when slamming a terror suspect’s body against a flexible plywood wall in their cell.

Indeed, the Senate report outlines an instance of walling. According to emails cited in the study, CIA interrogators used the technique against al Qaeda detainee Abu Zubaydah.

“Interrogators placed a rolled towel around his neck as a collar, and backed him up into the cell wall (an interrogator later acknowledged the collar was used to slam Abu Zubaydah against a concrete wall),” according to the Senate report. In a footnote, an email between two redacted parties says that interrogators present during the time of the incident confirmed the walling had happened, and that a more flexible plywood wall was installed afterward.

Interrogation professionals have long challenged the CIA’s use of techniques such as walling, and the many other brutal tactics employed by the agency during its post-9/11 torture program. The agency created the program with the help of two contract psychologists, who developed the tactics out of the Defense Department’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape course, which teaches U.S. military personnel how to resist torture if captured overseas.

“The CIA relied on SERE psychologists, with no experience in interrogations, terrorism or Middle Eastern culture develop [to] a program of systematic inhumane and degrading experience that frequently rose to the level of torture,” said Mark Fallon, a career intelligence officer. “Techniques, such as walling, were designed to expose our service members to the type of brutal abuse they would suffer from a brutal enemy with no regard for international law, the UN Conventions Against Torture or the Geneva Conventions.”

Congress, in an effort led by Feinstein, is expected to outlaw the use of torture in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.

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