Effective Interrogation Without Torture

February 14, 2007 at 1:42 pm | Posted in conservatives, Iraq, Military, Torture | Leave a comment

Hugh Hewitt is a conservative I don’t read nor pay attention to. However, through Andrew Sullivan’s blog, I came across this:

Effective Interrogation Without Torture 101

HH: All right. And you’ve trained a lot of the current American military interrogators who are deployed around the world as well. From the time you began in this human and counterintelligence business to today, how much of the techniques changed as to effective interrogation?

SH: Well, we thought we had it pretty well on track, and that there was a consensus in the discipline that interrogation is a very professionally demanding discipline that requires an understanding of human nature, and essentially how to outsmart and outfox a source who has information that he really doesn’t want to tell you, but it’s your job to get it. And I’d thought for some time that we had a good consensus on that until the Iraq thing came along, and something happened, and people took a wrong turn at the intersection, if you will.

HH: And how did they do that?

SH: Well, there became a notion of what, and I think part of it was because of official policy emanating from the Department of Defense, and then part of it was just that plus osmosis plus the influence of television and the overall pop culture, that interrogators are inquisitors, and that the best way to get information out of people is to “take off the gloves.” And that’s the wrong turn that we took, and it’s a very serious wrong turn, because for a whole variety of reasons, torture and brutality in interrogations is counterproductive.

HH: Does the United States military torture people?

SH: Well, I think if you ask the question has it happened, or have things taken place that are wrong, and that went well over the line, I think the answer is yes, regrettably. Was it a controlled policy, i.e. that what they were doing was something that was sanctioned from on high, my own personal opinion is that some of it was, especially the things that the task force was doing in Iraq with respect to the top fifty of Saddam’s henchmen that they caught, and al Qaeda types. And in some cases, it was just stupid young people with bad leadership and bad skills essentially behaving in an extremely counterproductive and undisciplined fashion, and that’s more what applies to Abu Ghraib.

So Eric, if you are reading this post, here you’ve got an answer to the question of whether or not torture was approved at the highest levels of the American government.

HH: Now specificity matters a lot when we’re talking about terms like this, so I’d like to run down some of the “interrogation techniques” that people have debated, people who don’t know what they’re talking about, and get your opinions on them.

SH: Okay.

HH: Prolonged periods of standing.

SH: Generally speaking, stupid, as are virtually all techniques that involve making a person, you know, trying to get information from a person by making the person physically in a hurt.

HH: Do you consider that, as a professional, torture?

SH: No, I don’t think that’s torture. I don’t think that’s torture, but I think it’s stupid.

HH: How about sleep deprivation?

SH: I never did it, never had to do it. I realize that it’s in the “repertoire” of a lot of people who fancy themselves interrogators in that it breaks down the defenses, the physical and they hope the psychological defenses of a subject. But again, I never had to resort to that stuff in Vietnam, Panama or the Desert.

HH: Is it torture?

SH: I don’t think it’s torture, not in the sense of torture as commonly understood, i.e. water boarding, pulling out fingernails, electric shock, and stuff like that. I just think it’s counterproductive and stupid.

HH: How about the playing of music, either loudly or repeatedly?

SH: I think that’s stupid as well.

HH: Torture?

SH: Depends on how loud, I guess. I mean, I could conceive of a level of decibels in a speaker right next to someone’s ear which is causing…

HH: Physical pain, yeah.

SH: …physical pain, and possibly irreversible damage, and I certainly wouldn’t go there. A lot of these techniques that are on various lists, some of which, you know, have to be approved at a certain level in order to be carried out, I don’t sign up to, even if someone else has.

HH: What about temperature deprivation, you know, extremes of hot and cold, though not of course the sort of extremes that kill people?

SH: Cruel and stupid.

HH: Torture?

SH: Could be, depending on how cold, depending on how hot.

HH: So how do you define torture, Colonel?

SH: Well, everybody’s got their own definition, I guess, but to me, torture is brutal, possibly physically and or psychologically extremely damaging treatment, demeaning, but demeaning to the extreme. And it’s one of those things that as the pundit once said, for me, anyway, I know it when I see it.

HH: Yeah, Justice Stewart in being asked to define pornography said that, I know it when I see it.

SH: Exactly. That’s the famous quote.

Heh, that’s exactly what I’ve been saying, except that I consider sleep deprivation torture, but at least the good colonel thinks at least that it is stupid. But note that even he and Mr. Hewitt both agree Justice Stewart was talking about the definition of pornography with the famous quote “I know it when I see it.”

Now the good colonel highlights how to effectively get information from a detainee. Note as you read this that nothing in his comments relies on any questionable tactic:

SH: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Basically, when a guy is captured, he’s stressed, he is frightened, and he’s probably expecting to be mistreated, because in most societies in the world, that’s the way it works. Disarming him psychologically, by treating him in a manner the opposite of what he expects, extending decent, humane treatment to him, showing concern for himself, his needs, being nimble in assessing and evaluating the person, and recognizing that getting information from someone is developmental, i.e. you won’t get information from someone, generally speaking, just by saying okay, I’m the captor, you’re the prisoner, tell me what you know. You earn it. I like to say that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed probably didn’t give up a lot of the information that he gave up because somebody started water boarding him and beating him up. Instead, they used a very clever approach, and played to his ego and his psychological need to be recognized as the architect of 9/11, and the guy talked. In all of the successful interrogation projects that I’ve ever had anything to do with, extending fundamentally decent treatment to the detainees, we even used to call them guests. And you know, the guards would salute a prisoner if he was an officer, and we give them good food, and we would tell them it was unconditional, regardless of whether they chose to talk with us or not. And that type of an approach has a very high batting average.

On waterboarding:

HH: Col., I’m getting a couple of standard questions. Number one, from pilots who have gone through water boarding training in their survival courses, why do you consider it torture?

SH: Well, water boarding is very much like another technique that was used during the Vietnam War by the Vietnamese, where they put a poncho over the head of the person, and then poured water through the poncho into the mouth, simulating drowning. It’s an inhumane…it’s inhumane treatment, it’s the kind of treatment that is essentially trying to extract information from someone by creating a fear of imminent death, not unlike and analogous to mock executions. We will have made progress in this arena when people realize that the way you get information from someone is to outsmart them, and use guile and stealth and chicanery to trick them into information, or secondarily, and the best way, is to persuade the person that it’s the right thing to do to talk.

HH: Is it effective? Is water boarding effective?

SH: Boy, you know what? I can’t tell you that. I’ve never practiced it. I consider it to be abhorrent, a practice that shouldn’t be practiced by any professional interrogator, and you’re going to have to ask someone other than me. But I, generally speaking, know from experience that when you levy brutality against a person in order to get that person to talk, even if the person hasn’t got anything to say, or doesn’t know what it is that you want, they’ll come up with something to say just to get you to quit doing it.

It is abhorent and evil and counterproductive and not something any righteous individual would either endorse or use.

On taking the gloves off:

even though it feels good to say let’s take the gloves off, and some of your listeners have alluded to that…

HH: Oh, I’m getting lots of that, yup.

SH: Yeah, you get a lot of that. The reality is that number one, we condemn everyone else when they do that, and why should we do it and lower ourselves to that level. And number two, apart from the fact that it’s illegal and immoral, it’s a lousy way to get good information.

A lousy way to get good information. Halleluiah! May all conservatives hear these words and have them seared into their blinded minds!

On Zawahiri and a ticking time bomb scenario:

Jim: Thank you. Colonel Herrington, I’m largely persuaded by what you said. I still need a little more persuading in one little area. Let’s say you have somebody like Osama or al-Zawahiri, and you knew he knew where some really big terrorist hits were going to be. Would you then…plus, they’re fanatics, and they’re much less likely to talk. Would you then use some coercion, or even a lot? Or could you?

SH: Like you, Jim, I’m no fan of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s. But when you get a guy who’s at fanatical as he is, and let’s suppose that he, let’s grant the hypothetical that he has this information between his ears. Rather than try and brutalize it out of him, I’d try every other approach that I could think of, including in his case, ego. That said, no I wouldn’t brutalize him. And my sense of it is that in most cases like that, people who are fanatical jihadists, if you start to really, really apply torture and that sort of stuff to them, if it’s a ticking time bomb scenario, they’re just going to give you false information, send you down a wild goose chase to use up the time that you might have to get where you want to go. So no, I’m not, I won’t cave on that, even though I share your sentiments about this guy.

Note that even having the worst of the worst in his possession, this good colonel does not give in to his passions. He’s a smart man. Would that conservatives learn from him.

Colonel Herrington’s concluding remarks:

I would only say to all of your listeners that there is a very, very sophisticated way of exploiting human sources that’s time tested as being the most effective, and it is not brutalizing people. And when we go the wrong road and we brutalize people, we take an episode, or a series of episodes at a very low level like that stupid Abu Ghraib prison, and we escalate the impact of that conduct to the detriment of our country. And look what has happened to our country and to the support for the war effort simply because of the stupidity of Abu Ghraib. So it’s right to do it the way I’ve proposed, it’s worked, it’s time tested. Almost all professional interrogators know that. And we should go that way.

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