July 16, 2004

Israeli Interrogators in Iraq?

There have been some reports along these lines, here and there, appearing over the past few months.

Here's the most recent mention I've seen over at Jane's:

The USA needed help conducting mass interrogations of Arabic-speaking detainees. Foreign Report can now reveal that, to make up for this shortfall, the USA employed Israeli security service (Shin Bet) experts to help their US counterparts 'break' their captives.

The USA could have approached other friendly regimes in the Middle East, such as Egypt or Jordan, which have vast experience interrogating Muslim fundamentalists. The Israelis may be brilliant linguists, but they cannot match Arabs speaking their own language. But there is a significant difference between the Egyptian and Jordanian interrogation techniques and those of the Israelis. For the Egyptian and Jordanian secret services, physical torture is an essential part of interrogation and a key element in breaking the prisoner's will and making them co-operative.

In the past, Shin Bet would use torture when it interrogated prisoners. But 20 years ago, an Israeli government committee investigated the security service's practices and the use of torture was subsequently banned, forcing Shin Bet to adopt a variety of techniques that did not cause physical damage. These new methods are much more palatable to US sensibilities. They also brought faster and more convincing results.

Foreign Report has learnt that top Shin Bet interrogation experts were sent to Iraq to help with the most difficult interrogations, such as the captured heads of the Iraqi intelligence - and perhaps with former president Saddam Hussein. US sources say that in spite of the incidences of abuse in Abu Ghraib prison, such events are not representative of the sophisticated methods that Shin Bet used in Iraq.

Now I really don't have a clue how credible this report is.

As far as I know, it could be flat out false from top to bottom.

But let's assume it's true--at least to the extent some Israelis schlepped over to Iraq to assist in the interrogation of high-value detainees.

Let's further assume that the Israeli interrogation tactics are all on the up and up--as opposed to the tortures (sorry, abuses...) that took place at Abu Ghraib.

Also, for the sake of argument, let's say too that Shin Bet interrogations, on several occasions, helped lead to obtaining some highly valuable intel that materially assisted the counterinsurgency effort.

Assuming all this (and yeah, there are a lot of assumptions here), I'd still ask--would the benefit of any prospective Israeli assistance in such interrogations be outweighed by the public relations knock-on effects such a move would have in the Arab world?

Yes, vastly?

No, not at all?

Yes, a bit?

A wash?

Not the right questions being asked?

I'm open to hearing all sides on this issue--though I lean towards, all told, thinking it's a pretty dumb move (if indeed the reports are true).

Particularly as (any interrogation experts out there please chime in if I'm being breathtakingly clueless) couldn't we simply have the Egyptians and Jordanians assist mostly in terms of translation duties--while ensuring they didn't resort to their typical M.O. (at least at detention facilities that hadn't gone FUBAR like Abu Ghraib)?

Speaking of Abu Ghraib, the investigatory process is inching along at a snail's pace.

All told, I'm probably in agreement with Lindsey Graham:

Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said he agreed with Mr. Warner on putting off more hearings, but said investigators must search for culpability among higher-ranking officers and officials. "The idea that only five or six privates and sergeants are legally exposed is unacceptable," Mr. Graham said in a telephone interview.

Damn straight.

Especially given this:

At the briefing on Thursday, the Pentagon also provided senators with updated figures on investigations of the death or abuse of Iraqi prisoners. The military has opened 41 death investigations; 15 are still pending. Of the 135 inquiries into other abuses, 54 are still pending.

That's a lot of deaths, folks.

It's, er, deeply un-American; as the saying goes.

Which makes this deeply galling:

Interest in the issue among senators may be waning. About 10 senators from both parties attended the briefing held on Thursday to update lawmakers on the status of the seven pending inquiries and on the Red Cross reports.

That's simply disgraceful, in my view.

Still, the NYT report contrasts somewhat sharply with this one from the Washington Times:

More hearings will be held involving high-level officials from the former U.S. administration in Iraq regarding prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib, the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee said yesterday.

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, said he hoped to open a hearing as early as next week before the Senate goes on recess with testimony from L. Paul Bremer, the former head of the U.S. occupation in Iraq.

I'm sure our august Senators' attendance % at the hearings will ramp up should Jerry Bremer (as yet not confirmed) be testifying....for one, there will doubtless be more television cameras in the committee chamber...

Posted by Gregory at July 16, 2004 10:45 AM

The presence or absence of Israeli interrogators could have been a net benefit or perhaps a wash, had the entire process been graced with some sense of moral and organizational clarity. Under better circumstances, they could even have served as a salutary professional example to those sadistic, untrained MPs.

As it is, it's just one more strike against us - part of the overall appearance of incompetence, lax discipline, pedantic legalism, and moral buck-passing.

Posted by: Matt at July 16, 2004 01:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ever hear of "good cop, bad cop"?

* * *

"Get him out of here." Two MPs did as they were told, half-leading, half-dragging the red-faced Shin Bet interrogator out of the room.

The young US Army Major gave the Iraqi a wet cloth to hold against his smashed nose. "Look, Saddam," he said, lighting a cigarette and passing it across the table, "you know the US, you used to make fun of our 'weakness'. Well, you're right -- we're not as tough as you are. We don't like to use harsh methods." He shook his head, once. "The Israelis aren't that way. They've lost too many of their own people, they're certain -- certain -- that they're not just fighting terrorism, they fighting for survival."

"The fact is, they're pretty sure your gas weapons are in Syria and Lebanon, and they're just waiting for Hez'bullah to use them. They don't like it."

"I don't blame them a bit. So, you're a survivor, you think about it: talk to us, or we may have to let the Israelis or the Iranians, or the Kurds have you."

"Just think about it."

* * *

I don't think, frankly, that any bad PR from letting Shin Bet help with interrogation is going to make a tiniest bit of difference to our standing in the Arab world. How much worse could it be.

But if they know that we'll bring in Shin Bet to interrogate them, that could be quite intimidating.

Oh, and by the way -- don't make the mistake of thiking the Shin Bet linguists/interrogators are nice Ashkenazim with cute yiddish accents -- they're almost certainly Sephardim who grew up in Egypt, or Yemen, or even Iraq. They speak Arabic like natives because they are natives.

Posted by: Charlie (Colorado) at July 16, 2004 04:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I read an entry by an Arabist professor U of Michigan, Juan Cole, a virulent anti-Israel kind of guy cloaked in intellecutalism. Anyway he immediately jumped all over this from Day 1 and linked to the 'credible' report in Al Jazeera months ago as it propagandized this just as you mentioned they would.

However, another Lebanese Doctoral student and intellectual blogger has been taking apart Mr. Cole and other 'dragonmen' as the they were called under the Ottoman Empire.
Check out some of his entries, I'll copy all links below. He is preparing a post on the depths of deception of linking the Israelis to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal from Day 1 but mentions some of it below.

Backspin entry on the slander of the "connection"

Israeli Connection with Abu Ghuraib Torture?
May 6, 2004
Juan Cole

Israel Connection to Abu Ghraib Scandal?
May 11, 2004
Juan Cole


Dr. Rami and Mr. Khouri
(Takes apart a Daily Star editorial about Iraq that exemplifies the typical Inetllectual Pathologies of Arab world)

Burning Cole

Cole Nidre

Portraits Of a Dragonman

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