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NYT Reporter: Brutal Interrogations Rose In CIA's Post-9/11 Chaos

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The U.S. Senate report on CIA interrogation techniques reignited a debate. What is torture? Did the CIA's methods after 9/11 lead to accurate intelligence? CIA director John Brennan described the CIA's first entrance into the practice of detention and coercive interrogation.

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JOHN BRENNAN: In many respects, the program was uncharted territory for the CIA, and we were not prepared. We had little experience housing detainees, and precious few of our officers were trained interrogators. But the president authorized the effort six days after 9/11, and it was our job to carry it out.

SIMON: Mark Mazzetti covers national security at the New York Times. He's the author of "The Way Of The Knife: The CIA, A Secret Army, And A War At The Ends Of The Earth." He joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

MARK MAZZETTI: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Are these tactics that have come to light that have been talked about so much this week an exception or a philosophy that was at the core of those interrogation programs?

MAZZETTI: It was certainly a philosophy at the core of the program in its early years that in the months and years after the September 11 attacks, you needed to get detainees - once you had them, you needed to get information from them. And the information wouldn't come out of them the normal ways. What comes out in the Senate report is just how little the agency knew at the time, how chaotic it was and how easy it was for the agency to go down this path to use these incredibly brutal methods.

SIMON: Was there also a feeling of imminent attack, that 9/11 might've been part of a wave?

MAZZETTI: Sure. The CIA and the government as a whole had really no clue about al-Qaida on 9/11. I mean, they certainly - the CIA had been warning for months that al-Qaida was about to attack, but in terms of what would come after that, they had not penetrated the organization. They didn't have any good sources in the organization. So the rush was to find detainees, capture them and then get information out of them by any means necessary.

SIMON: When did the CIA - for a number of reasons - begin to deemphasize interrogations and take up counterterrorism principally through targeted killings and drone attacks?

MAZZETTI: There's not one clear point. But it's interesting, in May of 2004, the CIA's inspector general takes this very hard look at the detention interrogation program, reports of some of the abuses that had been going on in the system. And this really sends a shock not only through parts of the CIA but also throughout the Bush administration. And it really was the beginning of the end of the detention and interrogation program as it existed for those first couple of years. The month after the first draft of that report, the very first drone strike happens in Pakistan in June 2004. Now, this is not a direct cause-and-effect, but it is the beginning of what would then occur for the next decade, which is drone strikes primarily in Pakistan. But we've also seen them expand to Yemen, Somalia, other places. That's a really key turning point, I think.

SIMON: And is there any concern in the CIA - for that matter departments of the current government - that another Congress 10 years from now is going to look at what's going on now?

MAZZETTI: Certainly, it is possible. You know, we - things that are greatly supported within Congress now, there could be very shocking revelations. And I think some revelations about the drone program certainly have come out. Brennan addressed it in a very oblique way during his press conference, not directly even acknowledging that the CIA does drones. But he did point out interestingly that this program has a lot of buy-in. And what he was saying was that Congress - Republicans and Democrats - are very supportive of this. And I do think that the amount of briefings on the drone program to the Senate and to the House is far more extensive than they were about the detention interrogation program. So if Congress wanted to relook this, they certainly would take a hard look at themselves as well.

SIMON: Mark Mazzetti, national security correspondent for the New York Times. Thanks much for being with us.

MAZZETTI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.