Former Congressman: Enhanced Interrogation Techniques Can Be Valuable
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Former Congressman Peter Hoekstra was chairman and later, Ranking Minority Member of the House Intelligence Committee. The Michigan Republican served nine terms in the House and he now works for a Washington law firm and at a Washington think tank.
Mr. Hoekstra, welcome to the program.
PETER HOEKSTRA: It's great to be with you. Thank you.
SIEGEL: You were a senior member of the committee that oversaw the CIA during the years described in the Senate report, the years after 9/11. First, do you share its general conclusions, number one that brutal interrogations produce little if any actionable intelligence?
HOEKSTRA: No, I don't agree with those conclusions at all. I think that in the mosaic of gathering intelligence, I personally believe that some of the intelligence that was received through the interrogation - the enhanced interrogation process - did help us more effectively combat the threat from radical jihadists.
SIEGEL: To take one major point though, one claim disputed by the Senate report is that those interrogation techniques produced information that led to Osama bin Laden. The report suggests that what was learned about bin Laden's courier - the main piece of intelligence - came from conventional interrogation methods.
Do you agree with the Agency or with the senators on that one?
HOEKSTRA: No, I agree with the Agency on this. I think in many ways the Agency's getting very much a bum rap by this Senate report. The business of intelligence is about connecting the dots and I'm firmly convinced that through the enhanced interrogation techniques, we collected dots that eventually helped us plan missions, including the raid on bin Laden that ultimately killed bin Laden, and so enhanced interrogations were part of that process to develop the full set of information that was necessary.
SIEGEL: Judging from your reaction to the report and what the CIA said in reaction to the release of the report, it sounds to me as though you would have no problem with the CIA still waterboarding terror suspects?
HOEKSTRA: That's an unfair characterization.
SIEGEL: Where do you find anything wrong with what's been done? You seem to have felt it was all justified.
HOEKSTRA: Well, no - I think - having had, or having a very fair discussion, a bipartisan discussion, as to exactly what enhanced interrogation techniques worked, how effective were they, what alternatives were available - I think that would be a very worthwhile and meaningful discussion to have. And I'm disappointed that this report that came out from the Senate was only endorsed by Senate Democrats and that it was not a bipartisan report, and that some of the people who were involved in this process were never even interviewed. And you know, there were parts of the thing - this process - that I disagreed with very strongly. When Jose Rodriguez destroyed tapes of waterboarding...
SIEGEL: He was the CIA counterterrorism...
HOEKSTRA: ...He was the CIA Counterterrorism Head. You know, and Congress - when we found out that those tapes were available, we requested access to those tapes and to view them, and the CIA destroyed them. I very much disagreed with that and I thought that Jose Rodriguez or whoever made that decision should be held accountable, either through proceedings by the Justice Department, or a reprimand by Congress.
SIEGEL: But just to be clear though, when the Agency says that its techniques led to bin Laden, among those, among the interrogations they're talking about, is the interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and I believe Abu Zubaydah. They accounted for most of the waterboarding being done, so I'm not quite sure whether you're saying that is effective and it leads to actionable intelligence that helps to achieve important strategic goals, or whether it should be stopped - it should've been stopped.
HOEKSTRA: Well, what I can tell you is, at the time, when briefed on interrogation techniques and shown or verbally described exactly how those techniques would be used, where they would be used and their effectiveness in the past, the Republican and Democratic leadership in the House on intelligence all agreed that those should continue to be viable options for our intelligence community to use, depending on the circumstances and depending on the individual that may have been apprehended.
SIEGEL: Let me ask you a question about one word - torture. The Senate report describes the treatment of an Afghan man in his mid-50s named Arsala Khan who was believed to have helped bin Laden flee in 2001. Fifty-six hours of standing sleep deprivation, after which he's described by a - in a CIA document as barely able to enunciate and suffering hallucinations. Then two days of being allowed sleep, then 21 more hours of sleep deprivation. Eventually, freed and compensated. He was of no use, it turned out, as an intelligence source.
Would you say that he was tortured?
HOEKSTRA: I would say that, you know, there's a legal definition for that and the procedures and the techniques, you know and this is - yeah, hiding behind a legal description, but that the Justice Department and internal attorneys within the administration would have said that that was not torture.
SIEGEL: But I mean, in common English, would you say that man was tortured by his interrogators?
HOEKSTRA: I think reasonable people could say that that man was tortured but, you know, where we're getting into now is, we're - and you know, this is always the hard part of intelligence and these types of things, designing and determining exactly where you will cross the line and you move from enhanced interrogations into torture and different people will draw that line a different place.
Was I uncomfortable at some of the descriptions of some of the activities as they were outlined to me? Yes.
SIEGEL: Since you agree with the CIA's appraisal that indeed these techniques did produce actionable intelligence and they lead to very important goals, like getting Osama bin Laden, as the U.S. looks forward, to say, coping with ISIS in Iraq or Syria, or dealing with other groups that pose terror threats either to U.S. interests abroad or to the United States - should we restore these techniques? Should we say, you know, someone who's detained and might be linked to such a group should be potentially subjected to sleep deprivation, water boarding? Should we say, yeah, let's go back to what we were doing in the years right after 9/11?
HOEKSTRA: No, we should never go back and just do it. What we should do is a very common practice in the business community where I came, or the military or the intelligence community. We should do a lessons-learned. What we need today on foreign policy, what we need in the intelligence community is we need bipartisanship agreement. We have real threats that are out there. We need America to come together with strategies to confront these threats effectively for the long term, and a discussion - an informed discussion on the use and effectiveness of enhanced interrogation techniques is totally appropriate. And that should then frame where we move in the future.
SIEGEL: Peter Hoekstra, former Congressman Peter Hoekstra, former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Thank you so much for talking with us today.
HOEKSTRA: Great. Thank you.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Elsewhere in the program, a former military interrogator, he disputes the value of enhanced interrogations. He'll explain the different techniques he used to help get the information that led U.S. forces to the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. Meanwhile, you can read excerpts from that Senate intelligence report and hear more interviews from many other players in this story at our website, npr.org. If you want to reach out to the show directly, you can contact us there as well, or on social media sites. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter. The handle for both pages is @npratc. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.