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January 14, 2005

Outstanding History of, and Defense of, Bush "Torture" Policy

Heather McDonald's piece has been out there for a week, but if you haven't read it (as I hadn't until now) it worth reading in full.

It didn’t take long for interrogators in the war on terror to realize that their part was not going according to script. Pentagon doctrine, honed over decades of cold-war planning, held that 95 percent of prisoners would break upon straightforward questioning. Interrogators in Afghanistan, and later in Cuba and Iraq, found just the opposite: virtually none of the terror detainees was giving up information—not in response to direct questioning, and not in response to army-approved psychological gambits for prisoners of war.

Debate erupted in detention centers across the globe about how to get detainees to talk. Were “stress techniques”—such as isolation or sleep deprivation to decrease a detainee’s resistance to questioning—acceptable? Before the discussion concluded, however, the photos of prisoner abuse in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison appeared. Though they showed the sadism of a prison out of control, they showed nothing about interrogation.

...

The need for rethinking interrogation doctrine in the war on terror will not go away, however. The Islamist enemy is unlike any the military has encountered in the past. If current wisdom on the rules of war prohibits making any distinction between a terrorist and a lawful combatant, then that orthodoxy needs to change.

...

But the Kandahar prisoners were not playing by the army rule book. They divulged nothing. “Prisoners overcame the [traditional] model almost effortlessly,” writes Chris Mackey in The Interrogators, his gripping account of his interrogation service in Afghanistan. The prisoners confounded their captors “not with clever cover stories but with simple refusal to cooperate. They offered lame stories, pretended not to remember even the most basic of details, and then waited for consequences that never really came.”

Some of the al-Qaida fighters had received resistance training, which taught that Americans were strictly limited in how they could question prisoners. Failure to cooperate, the al-Qaida manuals revealed, carried no penalties and certainly no risk of torture—a sign, gloated the manuals, of American weakness.

Even if a prisoner had not previously studied American detention policies before arriving at Kandahar, he soon figured them out. “It became very clear very early on to the detainees that the Americans were just going to have them sit there,” recalls interrogator Joe Martin (a pseudonym). “They realized: ‘The Americans will give us our Holy Book, they’ll draw lines on the floor showing us where to pray, we’ll get three meals a day with fresh fruit, do Jazzercise with the guards, . . . we can wait them out.’ ”

...

Many of the interrogators argued for a calibrated use of “stress techniques”—long interrogations that would cut into the detainees’ sleep schedules, for example, or making a prisoner kneel or stand, or aggressive questioning that would put a detainee on edge.

Joe Martin—a crack interrogator who discovered that a top al-Qaida leader, whom Pakistan claimed to have in custody, was still at large and directing the Afghani resistance—explains the psychological effect of stress: “Let’s say a detainee comes into the interrogation booth and he’s had resistance training. He knows that I’m completely handcuffed and that I can’t do anything to him. If I throw a temper tantrum, lift him onto his knees, and walk out, you can feel his uncertainty level rise dramatically. He’s been told: ‘They won’t physically touch you,’ and now you have. The point is not to beat him up but to introduce the reality into his mind that he doesn’t know where your limit is.” Grabbing someone by the top of the collar has had a more profound effect on the outcome of questioning than any actual torture could have, Martin maintains. “The guy knows: You just broke your own rules, and that’s scary. He might demand to talk to my supervisor. I’ll respond: ‘There are no supervisors here,’ and give him a maniacal smile.”

...

What emerged was a hybrid and fluid set of detention practices. As interrogators tried to overcome the prisoners’ resistance, their reference point remained Geneva and other humanitarian treaties. But the interrogators pushed into the outer limits of what they thought the law allowed, undoubtedly recognizing that the prisoners in their control violated everything the pacts stood for.

The Geneva conventions embody the idea that even in as brutal an activity as war, civilized nations could obey humanitarian rules: no attacking civilians and no retaliation against enemy soldiers once they fall into your hands. Destruction would be limited as much as possible to professional soldiers on the battlefield. That rule required, unconditionally, that soldiers distinguish themselves from civilians by wearing uniforms and carrying arms openly.

Obedience to Geneva rules rests on another bedrock moral principle: reciprocity. Nations will treat an enemy’s soldiers humanely because they want and expect their adversaries to do the same. Terrorists flout every civilized norm animating the conventions. Their whole purpose is to kill noncombatants, to blend into civilian populations, and to conceal their weapons. They pay no heed whatever to the golden rule; anyone who falls into their hands will most certainly not enjoy commissary privileges and wages, per the Geneva mandates. He—or she—may even lose his head.

...

The Kandahar interrogators reached the following rule of thumb, reports Mackey: if a type of behavior toward a prisoner was no worse than the way the army treated its own members, it could not be considered torture or a violation of the conventions. Thus, questioning a detainee past his bedtime was lawful as long as his interrogator stayed up with him. If the interrogator was missing exactly the same amount of sleep as the detainee—and no tag-teaming of interrogators would be allowed, the soldiers decided—then sleep deprivation could not be deemed torture. In fact, interrogators were routinely sleep-deprived, catnapping maybe one or two hours a night, even as the detainees were getting long beauty sleeps. Likewise, if a boot-camp drill sergeant can make a recruit kneel with his arms stretched out in front without violating the Convention Against Torture, an interrogator can use that tool against a recalcitrant terror suspect.

Did the stress techniques work? Yes. “The harsher methods we used . . . the better information we got and the sooner we got it,” writes Mackey, who emphasizes that the methods never contravened the conventions or crossed over into torture.

Absolutely, without reservation, Read the Whole Thing.

More:

Even more than Afghanistan, Guantánamo dissipated any uncertainty the detainees might have had about the consequences of noncooperation. Consistent with the president’s call for humane treatment, prisoners received expert medical care, three culturally appropriate meals each day, and daily opportunities for prayer, showers, and exercise. They had mail privileges and reading materials. Their biggest annoyance was boredom, recalls one interrogator. Many prisoners disliked the move from Camp X-Ray, the first facility used at the base, to the more commodious Camp Delta, because it curtailed their opportunities for homosexual sex, says an intelligence analyst. The captives protested every perceived infringement of their rights but, as in Afghanistan, ignored any reciprocal obligation. They hurled excrement and urine at guards, used their blankets as garrotes, and created additional weapons out of anything they could get their hands on—including a sink wrenched off a wall. Guards who responded to the attacks—with pepper spray or a water hose, say—got punished and, in one case, court-martialed.

This isn't the Knightsbridge Ladies Bridge Auxilliary we're dealing with here, guys.

And More...

Gitmo personnel disagreed sharply over what tools interrogators could legally use. The FBI took the most conservative position. When a bureau agent questioning Mohamedou Ould Slahi—a Mauritanian al-Qaida operative who had recruited two of the 9/11 pilots—was getting nothing of value, an army interrogator suggested, “Why don’t you mention to him that conspiracy is a capital offense?” “That would be a violation of the Convention Against Torture,” shot back the agent—on the theory that any covert threat inflicts “severe mental pain.” Never mind that district attorneys and police detectives routinely invoke the possibility of harsh criminal penalties to get criminals to confess. Federal prosecutors in New York have even been known to remind suspects that they are more likely to keep their teeth and not end up as sex slaves by pleading to a federal offense, thus avoiding New York City’s Rikers Island jail. Using such a method against an al-Qaida jihadist, by contrast, would be branded a serious humanitarian breach.

Top military commanders often matched the FBI’s restraint, however. “It was ridiculous the things we couldn’t do,” recalls an army interrogator. “One guy said he would talk if he could see the ocean. It wasn’t approved, because it would be a change of scenery”—a privilege that discriminated in favor of a cooperating detainee, as opposed to being available to all, regardless of their behavior.

Ridiculous. "Tantamount to torture"? Give me a break.

The peaceniks/terrorist-coddlers call even the most humane of "harsh" interrogation techniques a denigration of American values.

Well, I disagree. To not employ some "harsh" techniques is stupid and suicidal, and stupidity and a longing for national suicide are not the sort of American values I wish to champion.

I recognize, however, that these "values" do have their admirers in broad swaths of the leftish-leaning public.

Related: My Pet Jawa attempts to explain, through VERY GRAPHIC PHOTOS, the difference between genuine torture (what they do) versus practices "tantamount to torture" (what we occasionally do).

I don't expect Excitable Andy to get interested. Right now he's taken a sudden and all-consuming interest in the Great Liberator.

Why? Who knows. Maybe he just really likes the Gettysburg Address.


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posted by Ace at 02:18 PM

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