Inside the black sites, detainees are subject to psychological and physical abuse -- from simulated drowning to prolonged nudity -- so severe that CIA officials fear prosecution. Yet many CIA veterans describe the interrogations there as "nothing like Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo," in the words of a former chief of the agency's Counterterrorism Center, Robert Grenier. "They were very, very regimented. Very meticulous."
Some of the methods employed in the black sites, however, did appear in both Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, where the U.S. military, not the CIA, primarily handled detention and interrogation operations. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the architect of 9/11, was paraded on a dog leash, much like at Abu Ghraib. Black-site denizens, additionally, are subject to exposure to extremely cold cells, which can induce hypothermia, and extended periods of sleeplessness, both of which have been documented by official inquiries (pdf) into Guantanamo Bay. While Mayer's article does not explore the connection, she reports that psychologists from the Special Forces' program to survive torturous interrogations, known as SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape), helped design the interrogation regime, much as they had at Guantanamo.
(snip)The SERE program was designed strictly for defense against torture regimes, but the C.I.A.’s new team used its expertise to help interrogators inflict abuse. “They were very arrogant, and pro-torture,” a European official knowledgeable about the program said. “They sought to render the detainees vulnerable—to break down all of their senses. It takes a psychologist trained in this to understand these rupturing experiences.”
The use of psychologists was also considered a way for C.I.A. officials to skirt measures such as the Convention Against Torture. The former adviser to the intelligence community said, “Clearly, some senior people felt they needed a theory to justify what they were doing. You can’t just say, ‘We want to do what Egypt’s doing.’ When the lawyers asked what their basis was, they could say, ‘We have Ph.D.s who have these theories.’ ” He said that, inside the C.I.A., where a number of scientists work, there was strong internal opposition to the new techniques. “Behavioral scientists said, ‘Don’t even think about this!’ They thought officers could be prosecuted.”
It's clear from Mayer's piece that several officials inside the CIA believe that the black-site interrogations worked. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed divulged significant information about the 9/11 plot, and officials state unequivocally that his interrogations yielded information that helped avert three active terrorist conspiracies. But he also confessed involvement in additional terrorist acts that he probably had nothing to do with, such as the 2002 murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. CIA officials, like George Tenet's former chief of staff, John Brennan, accept the likelihood of false information as a cost of doing business in coercive interrogation. Another told Mayer that "ninety per cent of the information was unreliable."
What remains unclear is whether the black sites still exist, and what's allowed within their walls. Last year's Supreme Court ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld provided for the application of Geneva Conventions protection to all detainees in U.S. custody, which led the CIA to transfer fourteen "high value targets" -- including Mohammed -- to Guantanamo Bay. But some remained in CIA custody after the transfer, including an al-Qaeda operative named Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi -- turned over to the Pentagon in April -- and President Bush recently signed an executive order detailing new, presumably less harsh rules for future CIA interrogations. Critics have said that the new rules appear to allow sleep deprivation to continue, meaning that the debate over the efficacy and morality of coercive interrogations will as well.