The NY Times has a piece about how the CIA came to torture. Let me fill in a couple of fairly important bits:
Almost immediately after transferring the first important prisoner they had captured since the 9/11 attacks to a secret prison in Thailand, officials of the Central Intelligence Agency met at the agency’s headquarters to debate two questions they had been discussing for months. Who would interrogate Abu Zubaydah, and how?
But Mr. Mitchell said that at first, his job was to observe Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation and assess whether he was using the Qaeda techniques.
“I was making recommendations to a team who were doing the interrogation,” he said. “But there was intense pressure for results. There was a tremendous amount of pressure not to let other Americans die.”
You would think at some point, this would be mentioned:
One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first, dated August 2002, grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn’t been working. The next three memos cite the successes of those methods as a justification for their continued use.
It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence.
There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified.
One of the worst consequences of the use of these harsh techniques was that it reintroduced the so-called Chinese wall between the C.I.A. and F.B.I., similar to the communications obstacles that prevented us from working together to stop the 9/11 attacks. Because the bureau would not employ these problematic techniques, our agents who knew the most about the terrorists could have no part in the investigation. An F.B.I. colleague of mine who knew more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed than anyone in the government was not allowed to speak to him.
Later in the Times’ article there’s this:
Yet the Senate report shows that Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Jessen prevailed, backed by allies at C.I.A. headquarters, including on the agency’s Bin Laden team and at the Counterterrorism Center, who believed that Abu Zubaydah — and later others — were holding back information.
Now what might that information be? Ah yes (bold added):
“There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used,” the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity.
“The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there.”
So, the whole system of torture started despite the fact that regular interrogations were working, because the administration was trying to prove a non-existent link.