Saturday, May 09, 2009

Do interrogators torture?

The following was posted at Jerry Pournelle's day book. (He hates the word "blog", even though he admits he was blogging before almost everyone else.)

Dear Jerry,

Though there have been a trio of letters on the efficacy of torture, would you bear with me and possibly post this? I believe I have something of an insight here.

My qualifications:

I was trained in Interrogation at the United States Army Intelligence Center and School at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

I served as an interrogatior for two and a half years, as well as teaching classes in the Law of War as it applied to POW's, and training line units in POW handling techniques.

Two points on torture as an interrogation technique, and one story:

The "utilitarian" arguments against torture, that it does not work and leads to inaccurate information are, to use a Good Old Untilitarian statement "nonsense on stilts"

False leads? Bad information? The very meat upon which any Intelligence system thrives is Information. Period. The more Information, the Better. Bad information, false leads, that is part of the Equation of Intelligence. That;s WHY we have Analysts! Intell Analysts exist to winnow Good from Bad Information. They are very good at it. Not to mention, that even "Bad" information often is valuable. It can show us what the Enemy is NOT aware of, is NOT doing, and that is often VERY valuable knowledge indeed.


The only good argument against torture is moral and ethical.

It's just wrong. It destroys the souls of all involved.


Now the story:

During the twelve week Interrogator Basic Course, we were incessantly drilled with techniques for tricking, cajoling, persuading and intimidating POWs into giving up vital information. All of that, and we were also constantly warned against "losing our cool" not to give in to the all too human urge to just smack the living daylights out of some smart ass detainee.

We began with twenty-four students. Sixteen graduated. Of the third that "washed out", most did so after the instructors deemed them temperamentally unfit for the job. That is to say, they lost their cool to easily when confronted with non-responsive subjects during mock interrogations.

It was never far from our thoughts, that violence was "verboten" as a questioning technique.

Came Graduation Day for the Interrogation Course.

No one in the classroom for the ceremony except the remaining sixteen students, the instructors, AND:

The head of the school, a Chief Warrant Officer. A thirty-plus year veteran, with "hash marks" the full length of his Class A sleeve, an interrogator had conducted thousands of real interrogations, going back to the Korean War, perhaps even the tail end of World War Two. That was the second time we had heard him speak, the other occasion having been his opening day address to the class, where he basically told us we had been handpicked out of a million man Army to be one of about a thousand specialists in a vital field, So Good Luck!

As he reached the podium, two of the instructor NCO's closed and locked the doors of the classroom, and stood before them.

The CWO looked around the room a moment, I have rarely seen a more serious face.

"For the last twelve weeks, you have been taught every technique the ingenuity of man has been able to devise to gain information from someone without inflicting physical pain. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they work very well. They do not always work. You will someday be forced to use pain. You will, I hope, hate yourself for having done so. But you will do what is needful."

"If anyone of you ever repeats what I have told you, I will deny it."

"Welcome to the club."

It was very quiet as we received our diplomas.

One of the arguments against torture is that a tortured prisoner will say whatever is needed to get the torture to stop, including lies and outright fantasies.

It seems to me, though, intelligence officers are supposed to have tools for sifting through information to weed out the bad and isolate the good. After all, I'm sure prisoners will attempt to pass off false and misleading information under legal interrogation. Informants are in no way guaranteed to be telling the truth, assuming they know it. (A known mole might be fed false intelligence rather than being arrested and telling his handlers they need to recruit someone else.)

Witnesses can misinterpret what they've seen. Ambiguous information can be misinterpreted.

Intelligence officers are supposed to know about these issues, and be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. If they can't do this in the case of a tortured prisoner, why should I believe they can do this anywhere else?

No comments: