The CIA and the Torture Controversy: Interrogation Authorities and Practices in the War on Terror

The purpose of this piece is to shed some light on the way the intelligence community operates, to describe how legal rules shape some of its most sensitive work, and to offer a perspective on the way the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA or Agency) fits into the debate about interrogation and torture. The debate is not about, and indeed cannot be about, whether our government should conduct torture. The answer to that question is and must be, by law and standards of human decency, no. As recently as March 2005, CIA Director Porter Goss reiterated the Agency’s position that it is bound by the laws banning torture and that the Agency adheres to those laws. But at a level deeper than the denials and the blanket statements, there is a difficulty that cannot be avoided. That difficulty lies not in the abstract form of the question, but in the real, on-the-ground scenarios that develop where interrogations are taking place. What can an interrogator do? When can she use deception, discomfort, fear, fatigue, punishment, physical contact, and similar tactics?

By Kenneth J. Levit

Kenneth J. Levit, executive director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation in Tulsa, received the OSU Center for Health Sciences 2010 Distinguished Public Service Award at commencement ceremonies in May. Prior to taking on his leadership role at the George Kaiser Family Foundation, Levit served as president of the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa from 2001-06, where he also served as the system senior vice president. From early 1998 through 2000, Levit was special counsel to George Tenet, director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He is a member of the board of directors of the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism.

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