The day after a retired military judge said that the U.S. military had tortured one of the detainees at Guantánamo Bay, outgoing CIA Director Michael Hayden offered a spirited defense of the way his organization has waged the war on terrorism, particularly its controversial interrogation techniques.
The debate over the legality of waterboarding and other interrogation techniques is an "uninteresting question to the CIA," Hayden told a group of reporters at a farewell interview at the agency's headquarters in Langley, Va. He said that the CIA had not engaged in waterboarding since March 2003.
The controversial program of rendition and interrogations was, he said, "based on the best legal counsel at the time." Hayden was named director of the agency in 2006.
Arguing that Department of Justice lawyers had issued several legal decisions ruling on the CIA's interrogation methods, Hayden said the agency was motivated by duty, not "enthusiasm." "If the techniques used are said to be legal, should they not be used?" he asked, adding that interrogations produced the "maximum amount of information" from the first groups of detainees captured after the 9/11 attacks.
Earlier this week, Susan Crawford, the convening authority of the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, told the Washington Post that the cumulative effect of much of the interrogation techniques used against one suspect, Mohammed al-Qahtani, did amount to torture. It was the first time that a Bush administration official had described the actions using that term.
Those techniques included prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, threats using a dog, degrading treatment, and prolonged exposure to cold. Hayden has said in the past that three terrorist suspects were waterboarded, but Qahtani was not one of those three.
Hayden, as he has in the past, expressed opposition to proposed legislation that would require CIA officers to follow the U.S. Army field manual, which does not permit many of the techniques used in the past by the CIA. "No one claims that the U.S. Army field manual encompasses all legal tactics" for interrogations, Hayden said, adding that the agency would follow, to the letter, any laws mandating conduct.
And Hayden pointed to the value of intelligence gained from interrogations. He said that half of what Langley knew about al Qaeda by the year 2006, when Hayden took the reins at CIA, had come from fewer than 100 CIA detainees.
- Read what attorney general nominee Eric Holder had to say about waterboarding.
- Read more about interrogations.
Corrected on 1/16/09: An earlier version of this story erroneously reported that CIA Director Michael Hayden said that Mohammed al-Qahtani had been waterboarded. The CIA has acknowledged waterboarding three terrorist suspects, but Qahtani is not one of those three.