Day 6

Meet the man behind the investigation into the CIA's use of torture after 9/11

Former FBI agent Daniel J. Jones' exhaustive efforts to investigate the use of torture by U.S. officials in the aftermath of 9/11 are at the heart of a new movie called The Report.

Daniel J. Jones' exhaustive efforts to get to the truth are at the heart of a new movie called The Report

Daniel J. Jones is a former U.S. Senate investigator and current fellow at the Harvard University Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. (Ginny Filer Photography)
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For seven years, Daniel J. Jones investigated the CIA and U.S. military's use of torture following the Sept. 11 attacks. 

The result of his work is the longest U.S. Senate report in history, and is now the focus of the film The Report.

"I think most people who read the report walk away shocked about the brutality of the program," Jones, a former investigator for the Senate select committee on intelligence, told Day 6.

Jones's report details the CIA's efforts to gather intelligence using violent techniques influenced by so-called military survival, evasion, resistance and escape (SERE) tactics, techniques for U.S. special forces to use if captured by a hostile country that doesn't abide by the Geneva Convention.

Below is part of Jones's conversation with Day 6 guest host Saroja Coelho. 

What exactly are we speaking about when you say 'the torture that happened'?

The CIA came up with the program, which they called enhanced interrogation techniques. 

They pushed this program onto the Department of Justice and onto the Bush White House by saying that they needed these techniques in order to obtain intelligence that they could not get in any other way. 

They couldn't get it from signals intelligence, which is reading people's emails or listening to their phones. They couldn't get it from coo-perative sources, which is what the CIA normally deals with. 

The architects of this program somehow thought they could take these SERE tactics and reverse-engineer them to produce useful intelligence that was absolutely required to disrupt plots and identify terrorist threats in the United States.

Was that the case?

Absolutely not. 

We looked at the CIA's most frequent representations regarding the effectiveness of their interrogation tactics, though there are 20 cases that, over a period of years, the CIA repeatedly used in order to get policy approval from the White House and legal approval from the Department of Justice. And each of those 20 examples were inaccurate in key and important ways. 

Jones is critical of former U.S. president Barack Obama's response to the findings. (John Gress/Reuters)

So what happened? I want to get an idea of what was actually happening in these rooms. 

There were the official enhanced interrogation techniques. But then, of course, there were unauthorized interrogation techniques that were nonetheless documented in secret CIA records that the committee went through. 

And this included even worse behaviour. There [were] techniques such as rectal rehydration and rectal feeding described by a medical officer as being done not for medical purposes, but to, quote, clear a person's head.

As the film opens, we see you walking out of the CIA building with something in your bag that you're clearly not supposed to have. Lots of tension in that moment. What was in your bag?

When the committee launched this huge review in 2009, the CIA director at the time under President Obama, Leon Panetta, decided to do his own internal review of the program. 

Basically, Leon Panetta wanted to make sure he wasn't surprised by what the Senate investigators would find. 

This Panetta review came up with several findings and conclusions based off their review of CIA's records — and the Panetta review is more than 1,000 pages long.

But you took a huge risk when you took this document. Why was it worth it?

At the time, the CIA was telling the senators and leaking to the media that they thought the Senate report was factually inaccurate and that their torture tactics were effective and that they had accurately briefed Congress, and that they never misled the Department of Justice or the Bush or Obama White Houses. 

Their own internal review contradicted their public statements. And given that the CIA had previously destroyed evidence — in this case, I'm referring to the destruction of interrogation videotapes that depicted torture — we thought that having that document relocated from one secret facility to another secret facility operated by the Senate was the only prudent action to take given the CIA's misrepresentations.

Watch the movie trailer for The Report.

Not long after you took that document, the CIA broke into your Senate investigation office. Why did that happen?

It's remarkable, and no one was ever held accountable for the CIA's intrusion into this special room that was owned by the Senate or into the Senate computers or by going through my emails and the emails of other staffers. 

They were worried about this document because it contradicted what the CIA had been telling President Obama in real time about the Senate report, and that they had never done any of the things in which the Senate had uncovered. 

But when it came to light that they had done their own internal report and that internal report mirrored the Senate's findings, they became quite alarmed.

The CIA weren't the only ones obstructing your efforts to make that report public. Watching the film, it feels like it really came down to a battle between the Obama White House and the Senate intelligence committee headed by Dianne Feinstein. 

The battle there being whether or not to release the report to the public. What do you make of the Obama White House's resistance?

It fascinates me even to this day. I was a supporter of President Obama. I think he did some amazing things, but they failed here quite dramatically. I was shocked at the level at which this was handled at the White House. 

It was that small group who was spearheading the interactions with the committee in regards to declassifying much of the report. They thought that the Senate would accept whatever redactions the CIA made, and that's when President Obama gave this famous speech that many remember where he says, "We tortured some folks." 

Gina Haspel was confirmed as CIA director in May 2018 despite the findings of Jones's report. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

But what many people don't remember is the next few lines of that speech, which he said, "It's important not to get too sanctimonious about what those people did because they're real patriots." 

And I find that to be so unsettling because of all the CIA officers who came to me when I was researching and writing the report, who helped by saying you have to look at this email, you have to look at this memo.... And here was Obama saying that the people who conducted the torture were real patriots and I think they're anything but.

You have actually taken in all of the detailed reports of the torture that was experienced here. What's your response to where we're at now?

There has to be some accountability. It doesn't necessarily mean people go to jail — although maybe they should — but it certainly means they're not promoted. They should not rise to senior leadership levels. 

I should say that the same Senate that commissioned this report, that fought so hard to make a portion of this report public, many members of that committee voted to confirm and approve Gina Haspel as CIA director. So this is not just an executive branch problem. It's a legislative branch problem. 

It's actually, you know, it's a larger cultural problem. 


This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview, download our podcast or click 'Listen' above.

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