McClatchy has a story up today with the headline “CIA Official: no proof harsh techniques stopped terror attacks.” The story notes that “The CIA inspector general in 2004 found that there was no conclusive proof that waterboarding or other harsh interrogation techniques helped the Bush administration thwart any “specific imminent attacks,” according to recently declassified Justice Department memos.”
Critics are jumping on this as the smoking gun that proves those who claim the program stopped attacks are wrong. Not so fast.
In fact, the 2004 IG memo concluded as a general matter that the program had produced valuable intelligence, although the IG report prefaced this conclusion by stating that it was difficult precisely to assess or measure the value of the program and that “it is difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks.” The Justice Department memos released by the Obama administration quoted or paraphrased these statements from the IG report.
The IG report was not intended to be a comprehensive inquiry into the value and effectiveness of the program. That is why, the following year, in 2005, the CIA was asked to provide an assessment of the value and effectiveness of the program. They later produced something called the “Effectiveness Memo” which lays out specifically how the program helped stop attacks and saved lives. This is one of the documents that Vice President Cheney has asked be declassified.
For more balanced reporting, I recommend this piece by Stuart Taylor of National Journal. In it he quotes several former CIA directors and directors of national intelligence who state definitively that the program stopped attacks and saved lives.