Monday, November 17, 2014

The Truth About Interrogation | The Weekly Standard

The Truth About Interrogation | The Weekly Standard

The Central Intelligence Agency repeatedly tortured suspected terrorists, regularly lied about it to Congress and the White House, and, for all the pain and trouble this caused the agency and the United States, didn’t end up extracting a single piece of valuable information not readily available by other means.

That, at least, is the conclusion of the forthcoming Feinstein report, a long and, in certain quarters, much-anticipated review of the CIA’s detainee and interrogation programs during the Bush administration. A steady stream of leaks in news stories over several months has provided the public a preview of its contents.

The goal of those leaks, and the report itself, is not hard to discern: to ensure that the coming debate over enhanced interrogation isn’t so much a debate but a public condemnation of those who conceived and participated in the program.

There are certainly parts of the program that deserve criticism. There were major problems with the way it was conceived, approved, and carried out. There were troubling abuses in the early years, and later some misleading briefings about the enhanced interrogation techniques used. There were conflicts of interest and questionable accounting practices. Some of the public claims about the intelligence derived from enhanced techniques were clearly exaggerated, and at least one of those claims was patently false.

Such matters should be subject to tough, dispassionate, fact-based investigation. Actual failings should be condemned by both Republicans and Democrats, by supporters of the program as well as opponents.

That’s not what happened here.

Instead, the report was produced by the Democratic staff of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, chaired by Dianne Feinstein. Republicans declined to participate.

Feinstein required former CIA directors and deputy directors to sign nondisclosure agreements in order even to see the accusations made against them. Despite the fact that virtually all of the 500-plus-page report has been declassified for release, the Feinstein committee also imposed, as a condition of access to the report, severe restrictions on what those officials may say in their own defense. Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, told The Weekly Standard: “Based on the nondisclosure agreement I signed, I cannot talk to you about the details of the Feinstein report, the Republican rebuttal, or the agency response—all as a condition of my being able to see it.”

In the clearest evidence that the committee was interested in blame rather than truth, the staffers did not seek to interview those involved in the interrogations.

Now, for the first time, one of the lead interrogators is attempting to tell the other side of the story. Writing under the pseudonym Jason Beale, he has produced a provocative 39-page document in an effort to counter the narrative pushed by Democrats and amplified by journalists eager to discredit the program. The document—which Beale says was reviewed, redacted, and cleared by a U.S. government agency—does not reveal Beale’s precise role in the program. A spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency would not confirm that the CIA was the agency that reviewed Beale’s document. And in an email interview, Beale refused even to acknowledge that he conducted interrogations in the CIA program. “The opinions I expressed on interrogations in the document I sent you,” he wrote, “are representative of the insight I’ve gained during my career as an interrogator. While I am aware that you and others may draw some inference from the approved portion of the text as to the basis of my arguments regarding enhanced techniques, I am not presently in a position to elaborate on how I formed those opinions.”

Sources familiar with the program independently confirm that Beale served as a senior interrogator beginning in 2004.

Beale’s document covers many aspects of the debate over enhanced interrogation—the morality of enhanced interrogation techniques, the use of EITs on U.S. servicemen and women during their survival training, the hypocrisy of public officials who approved the program and later pretended that they opposed it, the unearned authority of several top critics of the program, and, most important, the effectiveness of the techniques.

News accounts of the forthcoming Feinstein report make clear that a central claim of that narrative will be its most contentious: The techniques didn’t work. Beale challenges that contention on the basis of his experience in the U.S. military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) course taken by intelligence and military personnel exposed to a high risk of capture. Tens of thousands of Americans have been subjected to EITs as part of their SERE training. Beale participated in the course first as a student, then as an interrogator.
As a student, I learned that I could resist, and occasionally manipulate, a talented interrogator during my numerous “soft-sell” interrogations—the rapport-building, we-know-all, pride-and-ego up/down, do-the-right-thing approaches. I had my story relatively straight, and I simply stuck to it, regardless of how ridiculous or implausible the interrogator made it sound. He wasn’t doing anything to me—there was no consequence to my lies, no matter how transparent.

I then learned the difference between “soft-sell” and “hard-sell” by way of a large interrogator who applied enhanced techniques promptly upon the uttering of my first lie. I learned that it was infinitely more difficult for me to remember my lies and keep my story straight under pressure. I learned that it became difficult to repeat a lie if I received immediate and uncomfortable consequences for each iteration. It made me have to make snap decisions under intense pressure in real time—and fumble and stumble through rapid-fire follow-up questions designed to poke massive holes in my story.

I learned that I needed to practically live my lie if I were to be questioned under duress, as the unrehearsed details are the wild-cards that bite you in the ass. I learned that I would rather sit across from the most talented interrogator on earth doing a soft-sell than any interrogator on earth doing a hard-sell—the information I had would be safer because the only consequences to my lies come in the form of words. I could handle words. Anyone could.

Ask any SERE Level C graduate which method was more effective on him or her—their answer should tell you something about the effectiveness of enhanced techniques, whether you agree with them or not. In my case, I learned that enhanced techniques made me want to tell the truth to make it stop—not to compound my situation with more lies. The only thing that kept me from telling the truth was the knowledge that at some point it had to end—that there were more students to interrogate and only so many hours in a day. Absent that knowledge, I would have caved.

As a TDY [temporary duty] interrogator in the SERE course, I learned that the toughest, meanest, most professional special operations soldiers on earth had a breaking point. Every one of them. And of all the soldiers I interrogated, all of the “breaks” came during hard-sell interrogations—using as many enhanced techniques as necessary to convince the soldier that continuing to lie would result in immediate consequences. It worked—time and again, it worked.
The techniques were effective, Beale claims, not only with U.S. soldiers being prepared for what they might encounter if captured by an enemy, but also with senior al Qaeda prisoners. Defenders of EITs point to the extraction of important information on al Qaeda’s couriers to make their case. The information on one courier in particular—Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti—led to the location of Osama bin Laden’s safe house in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

In a heavily redacted section of his document, Beale writes that the EITs were essential to obtaining that information. Others have reported that two high-value detainees subject to enhanced interrogation—Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi—went to great lengths to conceal information about the courier. That they did so after providing a steady stream of accurate and valuable information suggested to interrogators and analysts that the information about al-Kuwaiti was important. Beale writes:
That high-level detainee would no more have voluntarily sat down across from a debriefer and provided his list of Al Qaeda couriers without having been conditioned to do so than he would have walked ■■■■■■■■■■■■■■ and asked to speak to the CIA debriefer. It simply would not have happened without incentive, and his incentive was to not go back to enhanced techniques. Period. Love it or hate it, that’s the way it worked.
Beale believes that Barack Obama and others briefed on the use of EITs understand that they worked. In support of this view, he notes a subtle but telling change in Obama’s language:
Go back and take a look at the difference between Candidate Obama’s characterization of the efficacy of the interrogation program versus President Obama’s version. Candidate Obama repeatedly stated that enhanced interrogation was not only immoral and un-American, but it didn’t work. People will say anything to make it stop. Every leading interrogator and intelligence professional will tell you that “torture” never works—it produces bad intelligence. That was Candidate Obama.

President Obama told a slightly different story. During his [100th]-day press conference in April 2009, President Obama used an entirely different construct when responding to a question about shutting down the interrogation program: “I am absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do—not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees who were subjected to this treatment, but because we could have gotten this information in other ways, in ways that were consistent with our values, in ways that were consistent with who we are.”

He went on to say, “But here’s what I can tell you—that the public reports and the public justifications for these techniques—which is that we got information from these individuals that were subjected to these techniques—doesn’t answer the core question, which is: Could we have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques? And it doesn’t answer the broader question: Are we safer as a consequence of having used these techniques?”

Finally, this: “And so I will do whatever is required to keep the American people safe, but I am absolutely convinced that the best way I can do that is to make sure that we are not taking shortcuts that undermine who we are.”

Note the difference—it’s important. After being briefed by serious people using actual intelligence information gained from the EIT interrogation program, President Obama knew that he could not continue with the “it never works” campaign rhetoric as President—to do so would have been insulting and objectionable to the national security team who briefed him, and would be a lie. So .  .  . “we don’t know if we could have collected the same information using standard techniques” became the talking point for every administration official on the subject of EITs.

I know. I know that we couldn’t have collected the same information using standard techniques because I was an expert in using standard techniques—I used them thousands of times over two decades—and the notion that I could have convinced the detainees ■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■ to provide closely-held information (or any information at all) without the use of EITs is laughable. There is zero chance. Zero.
In an interview, I pointed out that much of the coming debate will be about the effectiveness of the techniques and asked Beale directly: Were they effective? He made a simple point that he hadn’t made in his document. He noted that those subject to enhanced interrogation haven’t boasted about their ability to withstand the techniques and to withhold valuable information.
That is probably a question best asked of the former detainees—did Abu Zubaydah, Abu Faraj al-Libi, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramsi bin al-Shib, Hambali, Nashiri, or any of their brethren give up protected information during their time in the custody of CIA? If they didn’t they should be proud of their ability to withstand such torturous tactics—I would think they would mock the feeble and misguided efforts of the CIA interrogators to get them to talk, or to make a mistake, rather than claim that such treatment made them say things they later regret. That’s the point of enhanced interrogation—at least from my perspective as a former TDY SERE interrogator—you hope that they say things they will later regret.
Beale wrote his document “to remind the American public that there are two sides to every story” and to make clear “that the upcoming [Senate] report should be read with an understanding that the outcome was predetermined by the political and ideological leanings of the majority, which produced the report.”

He is concerned that the documentation included in the summary report was selected to make the argument that Senate Democrats wanted to make and that information complicating that narrative was deliberately excluded.

“I believe an objective reading of the documents would show that the program was effective,” he wrote, “and I would urge the declassification and release of the entire report and all associated documents so that the American people can make their own decision.”

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.
[Ed. Note: You can read the document here.]

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