I think one of the problems with the torture debate that people normally don’t correct is that the premise that torture works better or quicker than traditional interrogation techniques is a lie. Proponents of torture, or their useful euphemism EITs, frequently invoke the ticking time bomb scenario as a situation when we should be allowed to do "whatever it takes" to get the information from terrorists in our custody to avert a disaster. And usually, unfortunately, people don’t push back on that notion other than maybe to point out that "ticking time bombs" rarely if ever exists. But the point should be made that if anything what you really want SHOULD there be a ticking time bomb scenario is a process that yields accurate information quickly from detainees and that process is the traditional method of interrogation.
I really think people who are pushing for accountability for our government ordering torture, should get intimately aquainted with former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan’s testimony before the Senate a couple of weeks ago.
At that time he said:
In addition the harsh techniques only serves to reinforce what the detainee has been prepared to expect if captured. This gives him a greater sense of control and predictability about his experience, and strengthens his will to resist.
A second major problem with this technique is that evidence gained from it is unreliable. There is no way to know whether the detainee is being truthful, or just speaking to either mitigate his discomfort or to deliberately provide false information. As the interrogator isn’t an expert on the detainee or the subject matter, nor has he spent time going over the details of the case, the interrogator cannot easily know if the detainee is telling the truth. This unfortunately has happened and we have had problems ranging from agents chasing false leads to the disastrous case of Ibn Sheikh al-Libby who gave false information on Iraq, al Qaeda, and WMD.
A third major problem with this technique is that it is slow. It takes place over a long period of time, for example preventing the detainee from sleeping for 180 hours as the memos detail, or waterboarding 183 times in the case of KSM. When we have an alleged "ticking timebomb" scenario and need to get information quickly, we can’t afford to wait that long.
So in a ticking time bomb scenario what you really is the antithesis of EITs/torture unless you want to wait several days with something like sleep deprivation, or risk getting bad information from stuff like waterboarding. But very often we just either cede the argument to the "tough guys" instead of pressing the case that even IF we were facing a time sensitive threat, torture would be the wrong move.
Now Ali Soufan has added even more ammunition for the people, like myself, who believe in the rule of law and also believe that we can’t justify torture. In an interview with Time magazine he reveals how he was able to obtain information from the detainee who was closest to Osama bin Ladin.
Was it walling?
A couple face slaps?
So how did he pull vital information from Abu Jandal?
Some muthafuckin sugar free cookies, thats how.
The most successful interrogation of an Al-Qaeda operative by U.S. officials required no sleep deprivation, no slapping or "walling" and no waterboarding. All it took to soften up Abu Jandal, who had been closer to Osama bin Laden than any other terrorist ever captured, was a handful of sugar-free cookies.
Abu Jandal had been in a Yemeni prison for nearly a year when Ali Soufan of the FBI and Robert McFadden of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service arrived to interrogate him in the week after 9/11. Although there was already evidence that al-Qaeda was behind the attacks, American authorities needed conclusive proof, not least to satisfy skeptics like Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, whose support was essential for any action against the terrorist organization. U.S. intelligence agencies also needed a better understanding of al-Qaeda’s structure and leadership. Abu Jandal was the perfect source: the Yemeni who grew up in Saudi Arabia had been bin Laden’s chief bodyguard, trusted not only to protect him but also to put a bullet in his head rather than let him be captured. (See pictures of do-it-yourself waterboarding attempts.)
Abu Jandal’s guards were so intimidated by him, they wore masks to hide their identities and begged visitors not to refer to them by name in his presence. He had no intention of cooperating with the Americans; at their first meetings, he refused even to look at them and ranted about the evils of the West. Far from confirming al-Qaeda’s involvement in 9/11, he insisted the attacks had been orchestrated by Israel’s Mossad. While Abu Jandal was venting his spleen, Soufan noticed that he didn’t touch any of the cookies that had been served with tea: "He was a diabetic and couldn’t eat anything with sugar in it." At their next meeting, the Americans brought him some sugar-free cookies, a gesture that took the edge off Abu Jandal’s angry demeanor. "We had showed him respect, and we had done this nice thing for him," Soufan recalls. "So he started talking to us instead of giving us lectures."
It took more questioning, and some interrogators’ sleight of hand, before the Yemeni gave up a wealth of information about al-Qaeda — including the identities of seven of the 9/11 bombers — but the cookies were the turning point. "After that, he could no longer think of us as evil Americans," Soufan says. "Now he was thinking of us as human beings."
To get Abu Jandal’s cooperation, Soufan and McFadden laid a trap. After palliating his rage with the sugar-free cookies, they got him to identify a number of al-Qaeda members from an album of photographs, including Mohamed Atta and six other 9/11 hijackers. Next they showed him a local newspaper headline that claimed (erroneously) that more than 200 Yemenis had been killed in the World Trade Center. Abu Jandal agreed that this was a terrible crime and said no Muslim could be behind the attacks. Then Soufan dropped the bombshell: some of the men Abu Jandal had identified in the album had been among the hijackers. Without realizing it, the Yemeni prisoner had admitted that al-Qaeda had been responsible for 9/11: For all his resistance, he had given the Americans what they wanted. "He was broken, completely shattered," Soufan says. From that moment on, Abu Jandal was completely cooperative, giving Soufan and McFadden reams of information — names and descriptions of scores of al-Qaeda operatives, details of training and tactics.
Now I realize that breaking a detainee with sugar free cookies doesn’t lend itself to great sound bites or political ads. But evidently it works well with helping keep our country safe and bringing terrorists to justice.
Better yet it contrasts with torture in such a way to make the claims of people like Dick Cheney absolutely laughable.
So can our mainstream media folks please drop the pretense that the pro torture crowd has a leg to stand on? This debate has been over for a very long time we are just waiting for the YOU to catch up.
And hopefully, at some point, our Justice Department will follow suit.
Crossposted at Smooth Like Remy