September 07, 2006

Interrogation Tactics: A Geneva Carve-Out For The CIA?

QUESTION: General and Mr. Stimson, some of the tactics that were used, in particular in Guantanamo Bay, that were considered by investigators to be abusive when used together are now prohibited, for example, the use of nudity, hooding, that sort of thing.

In looking at those particular tactics and now not being able to use them, does that limit the ability of interrogators to get information that could be very useful? In particular on one detainee in Guantanamo Bay, some of those tactics that are now prohibited were deemed to be very effective in getting to that information.

Also, are there going to be safeguards to prevent whether it be interrogators or commanders from interpreting the tactics that are approved in ways that could be abusive, as some of those tactics were derived from standard interrogation tactics?

KIMMONS: Let me answer the first question. That is a good question. I think -- I am absolutely convinced -- the answer to your first question is no. No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tell us that.

Moreover, any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress, through the use of abusive techniques, would be of questionable credibility, and additionally it would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used. And we can't afford to go there.

Some of our most significant successes on the battlefield have been -- in fact, I would say all of them, almost categorically all of them, have accrued from expert interrogators using mixtures of authorized humane interrogation practices in clever ways, that you would hope Americans would use them, to push the envelope within the bookends of legal, moral and ethical, now as further refined by this field manual.

We don't need abusive practices in there. Nothing good will come from them.

STIMSON: And let me add another piece to that. Obviously, because of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, the Army Field Manual now is in effect law, the law of the land.

I can tell you, I'm not an interrogation expert. I'm just a lawyer who happened to end up in a policy job. But as a prosecutor in my former life, and when I spend time in Guantanamo talking to the interrogators there, they'll tell you that the intelligence they get from detainees is best derived through a period of rapport-building, long-term rapport-building; an interrogation plan that is proper, vetted, worked through all the channels that General Kimmons is talking about, and then building rapport with that particular detainee.

So it's not like Sipowicz from the TV show where they take them in the back room. You're not going to get trustworthy information, as I under it, from detainees. It's through a methodical, comprehensive, vetted, legal and now transparent, in terms of techniques, set of laydown that allows the interrogator to get the type of information that they need. [emphasis added]

-- Pentagon officials announcing revised/clarified interrogation tactics as enshrined in a revised Army Field Manual today.

We knew that Zubaydah had more information that could save innocent lives, but he stopped talking. As his questioning proceeded, it became clear that he had received training on how to resist interrogation. And so the CIA used an alternative set of procedures. These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution, and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful. I cannot describe the specific methods used -- I think you understand why -- if I did, it would help the terrorists learn how to resist questioning, and to keep information from us that we need to prevent new attacks on our country. But I can say the procedures were tough, and they were safe, and lawful, and necessary.

President Bush, in a speech earlier today.

So the President, in the face of solid U.S. military interrogation doctrine, is attempting to preserve the right to use tactics such as water-boarding and hypothermia with enemy combatants under CIA, rather than U.S. military, control. Even though his own Pentagon officials think these tactics unnecessary and ineffective. Even though enshrining a right to employ such tactics of quasi-torture (Update: Please see important clarification below), such degrading and humiliating techniques, such outrages to personal dignity, among other non-Geneva compliant tactics, is a profound blight on our reputation as global avatar of human rights. And even though it could have corrosive effects on our legal system that far exceed any perceived, chimerical benefits. He and Cheney and Rumsfeld are tenacious, let's at least give them that, in their misguided pursuit of bucking the basic requirements of the civilized world when it comes to interrogation tactics. But there is hope that Bush's cynical ploy to transfer KSM and other unimpeachably bad guys to Guantanamo, so as to help force through flawed military tribunals through Congress (you're either with us or with KSM!) could backfire. Why? Because of three Republican Senators, in the main, namely John McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Warner. And just like we must hope that Uniform Code of Military Justice compliant proceedings more akin to court martials than Bushian kangaroo military tribunals win the day on the Hill (as most JAGs wish, I believe), we must also fight to have the CIA respect the very same tactics the uniformed services will now abide by (though I have some slight residual concerns thereto, of which more another day), in a belated renunciation of Rumsfeld's bastardization of best Army Field Manual interrogation practices. More on all this soon, as there were quite a few more alarming issues embedded in Bush's speech.

MORE: Amen (with thanks to reader RM). It's not that I have a problem with Bush going back to Congress on the tribunal issues, as that's basically what SCOTUS invited him to do. It's going back to Congress in the manner he's done it. Which is to say, with this nakedly transparent political stunt (moving the mastermind of 9/11 to Guantanamo around the time of the fifth year anniversary, and announcing said move with the family of 9/11 victims in the audience, in a raw appeal to emotion), and with Congress wrapping up its session in a manner of a few short weeks. How enemy combatants are to be tried is a matter of the highest national import. It deserves dispassionate, patient and thorough deliberation (this is what a proud, storied and great legislature should do, but alas we have a supine, cowed and mediocre one instead in our current Congress). This issue should not be turned into a political football cynically employed to tar opponents of Bush's proposed tribunals as going soft on KSM--the leading candidate for most despicable terrorist on the planet (save perhaps UBL and Zawahari). But Bush again is employing crude political tactics rather than statesmanship. In this, and so much else (think Harriet Miers), he again and again shows himself to be a profoundly unserious man. Combined with Cheney, Addington, Rove and Rumsfeld's appetite for untrammeled executive power and predilection for skirting violations of international treaty commitments regarding detainee treatement and interrogation norms, we are continuing to sully this nation's honor. But this is not only a question of morality. There is also a utilitarian arguement here, as such policies continue to have us losing hearts and minds in a war on terror that is fundamentally a global counterinsurgency, where to win we ultimately must prevail by showcasing our moral leadership. We aren't doing so convincingly today, and can only hope the remnants of a more statesmanlike Senate (people like John Warner) can walk us back from the brink. These are sad and anguishing times for those of us who wish to preserve America's moral leadership role on the world stage.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: As I mentioned in comments, I was clumsy in my verbiage above. Drafting this in haste late last night, I conflated my concern that Bush was attempting to portray the tactics he is fighting to permit the CIA to employ as nothing more than "quasi-torture" (that is to say, 'torture-lite,' if you will), with my larger point that various tactics not in compliance with Army Field Manual interrogation doctrine should be strictly forbidden. My reference to "quasi-torture" was more to relay a sense that Bush's description of the procedures he seeks to have permitted under American law as: "tough...safe...lawful, and necessary" was a craven attempt to define torture down, and cannot be allowed to stand. The United States is a party to the "Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment" which defines torture as:

[A]ny act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

Sorry to say, but waterboarding and hypothermia firmly fit under this rubric. It would be a profound scandal if we permit a right to torture in American law. Chris Suellentrop, at his informative Opinionater blog in the New York Times, wrote: "Gregory Djerejian, at his Belgravia Dispatch blog, says Bush supports a policy of “quasi-torture.”" Others have picked up my language too, and I again regret the confused verbiage. Let there be no doubt, Bush is fighting to enshrine a right to torture under U.S. law, certainly if the CIA interrogation tactics will continue to involve waterboarding, induced hypothermia, and other such methods. The deafening silence of many of our leading intellectuals, politicians and media figures is therefore a profound disappointment, to say the least.


Posted by Gregory at September 7, 2006 04:33 AM
Comments

The Washington Post has not fallen for Bush's "Hurry, folks, there's not a moment to lose!" medicine-show schtick on this:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/06/AR2006090601752.html

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at September 7, 2006 06:49 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Is the administration actually interested in questionable interrogation techniques or just in the slick optics and political swag that accrues to an imperial president asserting his right to pursue such? The later it seems to me. It's as if you were to play them in chess and their endgame was not to employ a strategy to win but rather to convince a somewhat removed onlooker that they had won regardless of some inconvenient actuality pertaining to the game itself. Strange that such arch, Christ kissing conservatives should have such an existential, almost nihilistic view of reality - although I guess Kafka would maintain it makes perfect sense.

Posted by: John Barth at September 7, 2006 12:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If torture (or whatever you want to call it) is unnecessary and ineffective, and the "soft" techniques are proven to work, can we reasonably infer that the rough treatment is simply to satisfy the emotional needs of those in charge?

Posted by: Quiddity at September 7, 2006 12:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Belgravia Dude,

Waterboarding is torture, as you might expect of anything where they have to strap you down first to keep your panicked body from thrashing uncontrollably. Ask any Spanish Inquisitor.

Sleep deprivation, as set forth in the CIA Phoenix manual and practiced by the CIA and the Soviets, is torture. We're not talking about depriving people of naps; we're talking about deranging them through denying them a human need as basic as food and water.

Hypothermia, through which it appears we've killed one prisoner and come close to killing another, is torture.

Ixnay on the "quasi-torture" talk, willya?

Otherwise, great post.

Posted by: Anderson at September 7, 2006 03:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I absolutely agree that anguish is the correct emotion at this stage of the Bush administration. Clearly, there is no redemption for this crew in sight. I cannot overstate my personal angst at the roads we are traveling down. I can only hope, as you do, that a few statesmen are left to bring us back from the brink of shame and dishonor. I sent emails to all three senators, Warner, McCain and Graham, pleading with them to stand tough against the inevitable onslaught against their bill that will be conducted over the next month or so before the Congressional recess. God help us all.

Posted by: Chris Kade at September 7, 2006 04:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

anderson: my verbiage here was clumsy, i was trying to make a different point involving the "quasi", and it got mixed up with descriptions of tactics like hypothermia and waterboarding that manifestly constitute torture. i will clarify as soon as time allows.

Posted by: greg at September 7, 2006 05:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thanks, Greg. Don't give sleep deprivation short shrift, though. The Soviets appear to've gotten quite a few show-confessions through it, with the CIA thinking they must've "brainwashed" the victims.

Posted by: Anderson at September 7, 2006 07:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Re: Anderson's comment: The Soviets did indeed obtain confessions and denunciations of accomplices through torture, but then Soviet interogators weren't really concerned about the truth of the information they got. They had a quota to fill . . .

Posted by: Steve at September 8, 2006 12:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sounds to me like they're dropping waterboarding among other kinds of torture. From Salon's interview with Ron Suskind.

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2006/09/07/suskind/index.html

What techniques have they dropped?

Death threats, waterboarding, profound deprivation issues, heat, cold, denial of medical attention -- those are now abandoned.

Read the entire thing. It's a must-read.

Posted by: Jeff at September 8, 2006 04:46 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm as much in favor of civilian control of the military as anyone, but doesn't one expect that the civilians will take seriously the advice of the military, especially concerning things like how to run a war? This is more of the same problem that has plagued the Iraq war from the start, and I guess the WOT: the President and his senior staff would rather play politics than do the job right. It permeates their thinking -- 'Mayberry Machiavellis' if you will, all the way through. That supporters of this crowd can ever have used 'not serious' to describe the domestic opposition is a breathtaking inversion.

The only potential solution is a repudiation in the upcoming 'Accountability Moment.' Anything else is a ratification, as they took it in 2004.

Posted by: CharleyCarp at September 8, 2006 12:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Fine post, but...
"It deserves dispassionate, patient and thorough deliberation (this is what a proud, storied and great legislature should do, but alas we have a supine, cowed and mediocre one instead in our current Congress)."

In fact, since Gen. Karpinski was booted from Abu, in 2004 BEFORE the pictures, this has deserved deliberation.

But the Left has been so quick to demonize Bush and any firm interrogation technique as "torture", that it's fair to say the Left has poisoned any thorough deliberation, while also avoiding the reality.

What are boundaries? How much sleep deprivation?

There has been at least one US case of a woman having a heart attack because of "no-knock" raid, part of the War on Drugs. How many have to die before such behavior is considered torture?

You object to Bush: "tough...safe...lawful, and necessary" was a craven attempt to define torture down, and cannot be allowed to stand. -- yet it is his words that I trust on this, more than yours.

I want the tough, legal, and safe interrogation. "severe pain or suffering," is a far more subjective issue, on an individual basis, than death counting. Congress, and especially the Dems in opposition, have utterly failed to clearly state how much NON-severe pain, which is nevertheless painful, is acceptable.

I'd think that any painful procedure where some 9999 out of 10 000 live through it, with no long term physical damage, might be acceptable. I'm not sure waterboarding or hypothermia would be legal or not under this standard; but I think there has been far too little talk of what the right standard should be.

As usual, the intellectual cowards on the Left have no measurable standard, just defeatism throughout a long effort.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at September 8, 2006 02:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It is not a matter of intellectual cowardice on the part of the "left," but the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of proponents of "firm interrogation" that poisons the debate.

I would be grateful if the oxymoronic Liberty Dad and his ilk could explain why they propound methods of getting information that are opposed by military experts on the laws of war and interrogation as being illegal and ineffective.

Posted by: Tom S at September 8, 2006 02:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

To repeat verbatim a comment I made on the thread immediately below: Since we kept torture illegal during two previous wars of national survival in which our enemy didn't reciprocate (the Revolutionary War and WW II), and since we are currently in a conflict in which we create two new jihadists for every one we torture, can we at least agree that -- if torture is ever necessary -- it should be allowed only in extremely rare instances of flat-out national emergency? And that any decision to allow it must be made by MULTIPLE members of a military/judicial committee meeting on an emergency basis (something like the FISA Court), rather than by the fiat of one man -- whether it's the single twerp currently in the Oval Office, or the single twerp currently running the Pentagon?

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at September 8, 2006 04:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"we are currently in a conflict in which we create two new jihadists for every one we torture"

You pulled this "fact" from how deep in your ass Brucie?

How about this one

"we are currently involved in a conflict where we save 1000 innocents for every jihadi we interrogate"

Now how acceptable is it?

Posted by: pogue mahone at September 8, 2006 04:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Why, Pogue, I pulled it from a very large number of military sources who have experience in such things -- most recently, Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence John Kimmons and Deputy Asst. Sec. of Defense Charles Stimson, whose comment yesterday have received a great deal of press coverage: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/06/AR2006090601442.html :

Kimmons: "Even classified techniques, once you use them on the battlefield over time, become increasingly known to your enemies, some of whom are going to be released in due course...

""No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tell us that.

"Moreover, any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress, through the use of abusive techniques, would be of questionable credibility, and additionally it would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used. And we can't afford to go there.

"Some of our most significant successes on the battlefield have been -- in fact, I would say all of them, almost categorically all of them, have accrued from expert interrogators using mixtures of authorized humane interrogation practices in clever ways, that you would hope Americans would use them...We don't need abusive practices in there. Nothing good will come from them."

Stimson: "As a prosecutor in my former life, and when I spend time in Guantanamo talking to the interrogators there, they'll tell you that the intelligence they get from detainees is best derived through a period of rapport-building, long-term rapport-building; an interrogation plan that is proper, vetted, worked through all the channels that General Kimmons is talking about, and then building rapport with that particular detainee.

"So it's not like Sipowicz from the TV show where they take them in the back room. You're not going to get trustworthy information, as I understand it, from detainees. It's through a methodical, comprehensive, vetted, legal and now transparent, in terms of techniques, set of laydown that allows the interrogator to get the type of information that they need."

And, of course, these are precisely the reasons why (as I've said) we didn't authorize torture in the Revolutionary War or WW II, which were also against enemies who intended to flat-out destroy the US and (at least in the case of Imperial Japan) ultimately mass-murder our citizens, and who didn't reciprocate by not torturing our POWs. If you manufacture two or more new enemy soldiers for every one you torture and some of them also have an excellent chance of being in a position at some point in the near future to kill "1000 or more innocents", why, then, you haven't gained very much, have you? Especially if most of the people you interrogate through torture aren't in a position to give away information that would allow you to save anywhere near that many innocents. And especially if, by engaging in frequent torture, you remove any hope that your enemy in this war (Britain, Japan, the entire billion-strong Moslem world) will ever become non-hostile to you in the future.

Which is why, to repeat myself yet again (evidently there are a few members of the mentally retarded for whom even multiple repetition doesn't allow them to understand): "Can we at least agree that -- if torture is ever necessary -- it should be allowed only in extremely rare instances of flat-out national emergency? And that any decision to allow it must be made by MULTIPLE members of a military/judicial committee meeting on an emergency basis (something like the FISA Court), rather than by the fiat of one man -- whether it's the single twerp currently in the Oval Office, or the single twerp currently running the Pentagon?"

Of course, it's become crystal clear at this point that I'm arguing with a hysterical knuckle-dragger (and possibly an adolescent one at that), so I ain't repeatin' this no more.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at September 8, 2006 11:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

One parenthetical piece of advice, Pogue: before you accuse someone of "pulling facts out of their ass", make sure you aren't talking out of yours.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at September 8, 2006 11:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

About Belgravia Dispatch

Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.


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