The Time CIA Director Michael Hayden Slapped a Subordinate in the Face

The Bush official was trying to persuade President-elect Obama to retain certain interrogation techniques. He wanted to ram a guy into a wall too.

michael hayden full.jpg

Although I've yet to make my way through Daniel Klaidman's book, Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency, I can't resist excerpting a passage that's been making the rounds. The main character is Michael Hayden, who directed the National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005, was deputy director of national intelligence for a year afterward, and served as head of the CIA from 2006 to 2009. After Barack Obama won election 2008, promising to end the "enhanced interrogation techniques" of the Bush Administration, Hayden tried to change his mind.

He used a subordinate, David Shedd, as a prop.

Not long into his presentation, Hayden called Shedd over. Suddenly, unexpectedly, Hayden slapped Shedd's face. Then he grabbed him by the lapels and started to shake him. He'd wanted to throw him up against the wall during this demonstration, but there were chairs in the way. Instead he explained to Obama and his aides about the interrogation technique known as "walling," in which detainees were thrown against a flexible artificial wall that made a loud noise on impact but caused little physical pain. These were three of the remaining six techniques that made up the harsh interrogation methods the CIA had relied on since shortly after 9/11. (The most controversial practice, the simulated-drowning technique known as waterboarding, had not been used since 2003.) The others were the playing of loud music, keeping the lights on in the cell twenty-four hours a day, and sleep deprivation.

If I'd seen it on 24 I'd have scoffed at the Hollywood silliness of the scene. What surreal times we live in. And that detail: "... but there were chairs in the way,"  is priceless.

Bob Woodward has a slightly different version of the same story in his book, Obama's Wars.

"David, stand up please," Hayden said to David Shedd, the DNI's deputy director for policy. Shedd rose. Hayden gently slapped his face, then shook the deputy DNI. It was as rough as what might happen in "Little League football," Hayden said. 

What with the slapping, disparaging nicknames, naked pyramid of detainees, and accidental gunshot wounds while playing with guns, the Bush Administration may go down as America's frattiest administration ever. That its actors never faced accountability for illegal torture or spying remains a stain on America's reputation, however unthinkable it remains in establishment circles.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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