"The Communists do not look upon these assaults as ‘torture,’ " one 1956 study concluded. "But all of them produce great discomfort, and lead to serious disturbances of many bodily processes; there is no reason to differentiate them from any other form of torture."
Worse, the study found that under such abusive treatment, a prisoner became "malleable and suggestible, and in some instances he may confabulate."
In late 2001, about a half-dozen SERE trainers, according to a report released Tuesday night by the Senate Armed Services Committee, began raising stark warning about plans by both the military and the C.I.A. to use the SERE methods in interrogations.
In December 2001, Lt. Col. Daniel J. Baumgartner of the Air Force, who oversaw SERE training, cautioned in one memo that physical pressure was "less reliable" than other interrogation methods, could backfire by increasing a prisoner’s resistance and would have an "intolerable public and political backlash when discovered." But his memo went to the Defense Department, not the C.I.A.
One former senior intelligence official who played an important role in approving the interrogation methods said he had no idea of the origins and history of the SERE program when the C.I.A. started it in 2002.
"The agency was counting on the Justice Department to fully explore all the factors contributing to a judgment about legality, including the surrounding history and context," the official said.
But it was the C.I.A. that was proposing the methods, and John Yoo , the Justice Department official who was the principal author of a secret August 2002 memorandum that authorized the interrogation program, was mostly interested in making a case that the president’s wartime powers allowed for the harsh tactics.
A persuasive case
After the March 28, 2002, capture in Pakistan of the Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah — the C.I.A.’s first big catch after Sept. 11 — Mr. Tenet told Ms. Rice, then the national security adviser, he wanted to discuss interrogation, several former officials said. At a series of small-group and individual briefings attended by Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, Ms. Rice and Attorney General John Ashcroft , Mr. Tenet and his deputy, John McLaughlin, laid out their case.
They made a persuasive duo, former officials who heard their pitch recalled. Mr. Tenet, an extroverted former Congressional staff member, was given to forceful language about the threat from Al Qaeda, which he said might well have had operations under way involving biological, radiological or even nuclear weapons. Mr. McLaughlin, a career intelligence analyst, was low-key and cerebral, and some White House officials said they found his support for the methods reassuring.
In the briefings, Mr. Tenet said that after extensive research, the agency believed that only the methods he described — which he said had been used on thousands of American trainees — could extract the details of plots from hardened Qaeda fanatics.
"It was described as a program that was safe and necessary, that would be closely monitored by medical personnel," a former senior official recalled. "And it was very much in the context of the threat streams that were just eye-popping at the time."
Mr. Tenet’s descriptions of each proposed interrogation method was so clinical and specific that at one briefing Mr. Ashcroft objected, saying that cabinet officials should approve broad outlines of important policies, not the fine details, according to someone present. The attorney general later complained that he thought Mr. Tenet was looking for cover in case controversy erupted, the person said.
Ms. Rice insisted that Mr. Ashcroft not just pass along the conclusions of his Office of Legal Counsel, where Mr. Yoo worked, but give his personal assurance that the methods were legal under domestic and international law. He did.
The C.I.A. then gave individual briefings to the secretary of defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld , and the secretary of state, Colin L. Powell . Neither objected, several former officials said.
Mr. Cheney, whose top legal adviser, David S. Addington , was closely consulting with Mr. Yoo about legal justification, strongly endorsed the program. Mr. Bush also gave his approval, though what details were shared with him is not known.
With that, the C.I.A. had the full support of the White House to begin its harshest interrogations. Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney have never publicly second-guessed their decision. Though some former officials expressed regret that such a momentous decision was made so quickly without vital information or robust debate, none were willing to be quoted by name.
One more check
There was one more check on intelligence programs, one designed in the 1970s to make sure independent observers kept an eye on spy agencies: Congress. The Senate and House Intelligence Committees had been created in the mid-1970s to prevent any repeat of the C.I.A. abuses unearthed by the Senate’s Church Committee.As was common with the most secret programs, the C.I.A. chose not to brief the entire committees about the interrogation methods but only the so-called Gang of Four — the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate and House committees. The rest of the committee members would be fully briefed only in 2006.
The 2002 Gang of Four briefings left a hodgepodge of contradictory recollections that, to some Congressional staff members, reveal a dysfunctional oversight system. Without full staff support, few lawmakers are equipped to make difficult legal and policy judgments about secret programs, critics say.
Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, who in 2002 was the ranking Democrat on the House committee, has said in public statements that she recalls being briefed on the methods, including waterboarding. She insists, however, that the lawmakers were told only that the C.I.A. believed the methods were legal — not that they were going to be used.
By contrast, the ranking Republican on the House committee at the time, Porter J. Goss of Florida, who later served as C.I.A. director, recalls a clear message that the methods would be used.
"We were briefed, and we certainly understood what C.I.A. was doing," Mr. Goss said in an interview. "Not only was there no objection, there was actually concern about whether the agency was doing enough."
Senator Bob Graham, Democrat of Florida, who was committee chairman in 2002, said in an interview that he did not recall ever being briefed on the methods, though government officials with access to records say all four committee leaders received multiple briefings.
Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the senior Republican on the committee, declined to discuss the briefings.
Lawyer not briefed
Vicki Divoll, general counsel of the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2002 and a former C.I.A. lawyer, would have been a logical choice to advise senators on the legal status of the interrogation methods. But because of the restricted briefings, Ms. Divoll learned about them only years later from news media accounts.
Ms. Divoll, who now teaches government at the United States Naval Academy , said the interrogation issue revealed the perils of such restricted briefings.
"The very programs that are among the most risky and controversial, and that therefore should get the greatest congressional oversight," she said, "in fact get the least."
This article, "In Adopting Harsh Tactics, No Inquiry Into Their Past Use," first appeared in The New York Times.