Friday, November 11, 2005

Does Torture Work?

“Erroneous information connecting Iraq and Al Qaeda—and used to bolster support for military action against Iraq—was likely the result of torture.

Newly declassified portions of a Defense Intelligence Agency report—released last Friday by Michigan Senator Carl Levin—show that DIA analysts had doubts about the evidence provided by an Al Qaeda member held prisoner by U.S. personnel.

The New York Times' Douglas Jehl writes:
The document, an intelligence report from February 2002, said it was probable that the prisoner, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, "was intentionally misleading the debriefers" in making claims about Iraqi support for Al Qaeda’s work with illicit weapons.

The story of al-Libi's capture and interrogation has been in the news before (as noted by Laura Rozen and Atrios). In June, Newsweek described al-Libi as "the subject of a bitter feud between the FBI and the CIA over how to interrogate terror suspects." The FBI favored "a carrots-and-no-sticks approach," the Newsweek report explained, while some in the CIA favored "bolder methods." After initially being questioned by FBI officers, al-Libi was handed over to the CIA and taken to Cairo, where he was apparently subjected to "bolder methods" and subsequently produced his false testimony about ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq.

In July's American Prospect, reporter Jason Vest (a 2003 Dart Ochberg Fellow) took an in-depth look at the FBI's approach, interviewing retired veteran FBI agent Jack Cloonan.

Vest writes:
Based on his experiences interviewing Islamist radicals everywhere from New York City to Khartoum, Cloonan believes that interrogations can gather intelligence that’s both operationally actionable and court admissible (“nothing that shocks the conscience of the court,” as he puts it), and holds that torture -- by hands American or foreign -- is rarely ever useful or necessary. Cloonan and a New York Police Department detective secured actionable intelligence from a suspect in the foiled millennium-bombing plot in just six hours on December 30, 1999 -- by following FBI procedure, and by encouraging a suspect to pray during his Ramadan fast. The suspect even agreed to place calls to his confederates, which led to their speedy arrests.

Cloonan cited al-Libi's case as an example of "how uninformed and counterproductive notions have come to dominate the post–9-11 environment." Cloonan told Vest that FBI agents were getting good results using non-coercive methods—"... they start building rapport. And he starts talking about Reid and Moussaoui. They’re getting good stuff ..."—but then the CIA took over:

What Cloonan’s agents told him happened next blew his mind. “My guys told me that a Toyota Tundra with a box in the back pulls up to the building,” he recalls. “CIA of?cers come in, start shackling al-Libi up. Right before they duct tape his mouth, he tells our guys, ‘I know this isn’t your fault.’ And as he’s standing there, chained and gagged, this CIA guy gets up in his face and tells al-Libi he’s going to fuck his mother. And then off he apparently goes to Cairo, in a box.”

Cloonan says CIA of?cials he later spoke with furiously denied al-Libi was actually put in the box. But he seems to consider this at best a matter of hairsplitting, as there was no question as to what kind of situation al-Libi was being delivered to in Egypt.

Related: From May 2004, a Dart Center article, "Bad Apples, Bad Command, or Both?" looks at the psychological roots of atrocities. Experts on war crimes and war psychology discount the notion that abuse and torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib was the work of a few "bad apples." ”

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Frontline: The Torture Question [Real Player, pdf, Windows Media Player]

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/torture/

Experts and pundits continue to debate the myriad of strategies deployed by the United States in the effort to combat terrorism around the world and internally. The Frontline program on PBS has created this website to complement a special edition of their show. This show focused on the question of whether torture is a viable way to obtain effective results in combating terrorism. Visitors can dive right in by watching the program in its entirety, or they may also wish to visit one of the sections providing supplementary information. One particularly compelling area is the section that provides information on how the current administration of President George W. Bush has created a protocol for conducting such investigations. Another very useful section is titled “Behind the Wire” and offers visitors an inside look
into the
U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Perhaps the most moving and intense portion of the site is the discussion section, where visitors can leave feedback and read the impassioned opinions of others who have seen the program.

>From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout Project 1994-2005. http://scout.wisc.edu/
con·cept: Does Torture Work?