White House Preparing To Release "Holy Grail" Torture Report

Greg Sargent's done an exceptional job plumbing this Washington Post piece from R. Jeffrey Smith, entitled "Hill Panel Reviewing CIA Tactics." Look at what shows up about seven paragraphs in:

Government officials familiar with the CIA's early interrogations say the most powerful evidence of apparent excesses is contained in the "top secret" May 7, 2004, inspector general report, based on more than 100 interviews, a review of the videotapes and 38,000 pages of documents. The full report remains closely held, although White House officials have told political allies that they intend to declassify it for public release when the debate quiets over last month's release of the Justice Department's interrogation memos.

According to excerpts included in those memos, the inspector general's report concluded that interrogators initially used harsh techniques against some detainees who were not withholding information. Officials familiar with its contents said it also concluded that some of the techniques appeared to violate the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified by the United States in 1994.

Although some useful information was produced, the report concluded that "it is difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations have provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks," according to the Justice Department's declassified summary of it. The threat of such an imminent attack was cited by the department as an element in its 2002 and later written authorization for using harsh techniques.

Says Sargent:

Specifically: The White House has decided to declassify and release a classified 2004 CIA report about the torture program that is reported to have found no proof that torture foiled any terror plots on American soil -- directly contradicting Cheney's claims. The paper cites "allies" of the White House as a source.

Dem Congressional staffers tell me this report is the "holy grail," because it is expected to detail torture in unprecedented detail and to cast doubt on the claim that torture works -- and its release will almost certainly trigger howls of protest from conservatives. Tellingly, neither the CIA nor the White House knocked down the story in response to my questions, with spokespeople for both declining comment.

Several footnotes in the Office of Legal Counsel memos written by Steven Bradbury in 2005 and released last week indicate what the inspector general report found. As first reported by Marcy Wheeler at Firedoglake, Helgerson's review determined that in practice, the CIA's interrogators often went beyond what the Justice Department had authorized for enhanced interrogations in 2002. Medical personnel were not present at all of the enhanced interrogations, though 2002-era memoranda had anticipated they would be. The maximum-allotted number of hours for sleep deprivation was, by 2004, "260 hours or 11 days," though 2002-era memoranda had anticipated it would be much shorter than that. CIA interrogators conducted waterboarding that was more painful and severe than the training program for U.S. Special Forces that formed the basis both for the interrogation program and the 2002-era memoranda's legal justification for it. As a result of these inspector general-discovered discrepancies, Bradbury apparently had to re-certify that CIA interrogation practices were legal, according to the 2005-era memoranda.

Helgerson's review made him no friends within the CIA. Former CIA Director Mike Hayden sparred with Helgerson in 2007 over whether Helgerson's investigation of interrogation practices went beyond the inspector general's mandate and intruded onto the portfolio of the CIA's legal counsel. On Feb. 18, Helgerson announced his retirement from the CIA. A CIA official who declined to be quoted said that Helgerson was in the process of leaving the agency, and would be finished with his final paperwork by June. He's no longer serving as inspector general in the interim.

It will be interesting to see how vocal Dick Cheney is about further disclosure, now that this balloon is afloat.

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