A former head of the US Central Intelligence Agency has insisted that harsh interrogation techniques widely condemned as torture succeeded in battling al-Qaeda and saving American lives, something he characterised as “an inconvenient truth”.
Michael Hayden, who was replaced as CIA chief earlier this year by President Barack Obama, assailed Obama\’s decision last week to release top secret memos detailing the interrogation techniques as “really dangerous” for US intelligence efforts.
Speaking on the Fox News Sunday program, Hayden rejected claims by critics that methods such as extreme sleep deprivation, waterboarding and the use of insects to provoke fear had proved ineffective in getting information from top members of the al-Qaeda terrorist network.
“Most of the people who oppose these techniques want to be able to say: \’I don\’t want my nation doing this\’ – which is a pure, honorable position – and \’they didn\’t work anyway\’,” Hayden said.
“The facts of the case are that the use of these techniques against these terrorists made us safer; it really did,” Hayden said.
“It\’s what I\’d call, without meaning any irreverence to anybody, \’a really inconvenient truth\’.”
Hayden specifically rejected a weekend report in The New York Times citing CIA officials saying waterboarding and beating of a top al-Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaydah, yielded no more information than softer interrogation techniques.
“We stand by our story. The critical information we got from Abu Zubaydah came after we began the EIT\’s, enhanced interrogation techniques,” he said.
Hayden said Abu Zubaydah had “clammed up” after providing some “nominal information” under initial questioning.
But under harsher interrogation he “gave up more valuable information”, including tips that led to the capture of another senior al-Qaeda agent, Ramzi Binalshibh, he said.
Hayden also dismissed Obama\’s controversial promise not to seek prosecution of CIA agents or former officials under President George W Bush who authorised or carried out the harsh techniques the government now condemns.
“Oh, God no, it\’s not the end of it,” Hayden said, warning of possible civil lawsuits or congressional probes targeting CIA agents who relied on the Bush-era memos to carry out harsh interrogations.
“There will be more revelations. There will be more commissions. There will be more investigations,” he said.
“And this to an agency, again I\’ll repeat, that is at war and is on the front lines of defending America.”
Hayden also said Obama\’s own CIA director, Leon Panetta, as well as three other former CIA chiefs had warned the White House against releasing the memos outlining US interrogation techniques.
“At the tactical level, what we have described for our enemies in the midst of a war are the outer limits that any American would ever go to in terms of interrogating an al-Qaeda terrorist. That\’s very valuable information,” he said.
Janet Napolitano, Obama\’s homeland security minister, defended the decision.
“When you look at the great public need for accountability and responsibility and transparency here, and when you look at our desire to close the book on this regrettable chapter and move the country forward, it was imperative, really, that the reports be released,” she said on CNN.