CIA considered requesting advance immunity for enhanced interrogations

CIA considered requesting advance immunity for enhanced interrogations
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The CIA considered asking the Justice Department for an advance promise not to prosecute officials who engaged in brutal interrogation techniques in the early stages of its implementation.

In a July 2002 draft letter prepared for then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, the CIA included a request for “a formal declination of prosecution, in advance,” for anyone who carried out actions on behalf of the CIA “that otherwise might subject those individuals to prosecution.” 

The request concerned people interrogating Abu Zubaydah, a suspected militant who was subjected to waterboarding dozens of times.


The draft letter was contained in a trove of heavily redacted documents released by the CIA on Tuesday under an open records lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union.

The documents show that the spy agency vigorously supported the interrogation methods, which include waterboarding as well as sleep deprivation and “stress positions,” and repeated multiple times that the techniques had saves hundreds of thousands of lives.

The program “works and the techniques are effective in producing foreign intelligence,” the CIA said in one 2005 memo.

The rendition and detention program had yielded incredible success, “no doubt saving countless American lives,” an unidentified CIA official said in a separate memo from the same year.

Those conclusions are at odds with a scathing Senate Intelligence Committee report released by Democrats in late 2014. That analysis, which has been dubbed the “torture report,” blasted the CIA for what it claimed were ineffective methods carried out without adequate oversight from Washington. Many of the documents appear to have been used in compiling that report, which was opposed by the CIA and multiple Republicans.

A description of the request for a promise not to prosecute was included in that report, but not the redacted document itself.  

Like others, it is sure to incite fury in the program’s critics.

In a May 2005 fax, the CIA’s office of medical services defended the programs to the Justice Department. Among other points, the CIA office claimed that when detainees were subjected to “cramped confinement,” they “used the opportunity to sleep, mitigating any concern about pain.”

The fax also noted that medical officers asked detainees if they are in pain after the interrogation session has ended and gave Tylenol or Aleve “to detainees who report headache and other discomforts during their interrogations.”

The documents also offer glimpses into the development of the program.

A document from 2002 lists 12 “potential” techniques that could be employed on suspected terrorists, including waterboarding, “mock burial” and the use of diapers and insects to threaten and demean a detainee.

Emails from April of 2005 outline the tensions of trying to claim the program remains secret, while also defending it in a set of draft public talking points.

The “figleaf” used by the agency to refuse to discuss the issue, one official wrote, “is getting pretty thin.”

The extreme interrogations methods are prohibited under current law but have been championed by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSunday shows preview: House GOP removes Cheney from leadership position; CDC issues new guidance for fully vaccinated Americans Navajo Nation president on Arizona's new voting restrictions: An 'assault' on our rights The Memo: Lawmakers on edge after Greene's spat with Ocasio-Cortez MORE.

Trump has called for a return to the extreme methods, which he calls torture, as well as new, undescribed methods that are “a hell of a lot worse.”