May 30, 2007

A Balance of Question

Hatched by Dafydd

A mostly anonymous group of "experts," speaking to the previously unheard-of Intelligence Science Board, has condemned some mostly unnamed methods of interrogation for mostly unspecified reasons. And the President of the United States hasn't even responded yet!

As the Bush administration completes secret new rules governing interrogations, a group of experts advising the intelligence agencies are arguing that the harsh techniques used since the 2001 terrorist attacks are outmoded, amateurish and unreliable.

The psychologists and other specialists, commissioned by the Intelligence Science Board, make the case that more than five years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration has yet to create an elite corps of interrogators trained to glean secrets from terrorism suspects.

According to this glossary, the Intelligence Science Board...

...advises the Director of Central Intelligence and senior Intelligence Community leaders on science, technology, research, engineering, business, organization, social sciences, the humanities, and other matters of interest. The ISB strengthens the capabilities of the Intelligence Community by providing expert advice, unconventional thinking, and early notice of advances in science and serves as a link between the Intelligence Community and the Scientific Community.

Back to the Times story. The primary criticism appears to be that we're not using the same techniques that worked well during World War II against captured German and Japanese prisoners:

President Bush has insisted that those secret “enhanced” techniques are crucial, and he is far from alone.... A 2005 Harvard study supported the selective use of “highly coercive” techniques.

But some of the experts involved in the interrogation review, called “Educing Information,” say that during World War II, German and Japanese prisoners were effectively questioned without coercion.

“It far outclassed what we’ve done,” said Steven M. Kleinman, a former Air Force interrogator and trainer, who has studied the World War II program of interrogating Germans. The questioners at Fort Hunt, Va., “had graduate degrees in law and philosophy, spoke the language flawlessly,” and prepared for four to six hours for each hour of questioning, said Mr. Kleinman, who wrote two chapters for the December report.

Mr. Kleinman, who worked as an interrogator in Iraq in 2003, called the post-Sept. 11 efforts “amateurish” by comparison to the World War II program, with inexperienced interrogators who worked through interpreters and had little familiarity with the prisoners’ culture.

Maybe I'm just hypersensitive; but to me, this testimony reads like a textbook case of academic myopia, where some professor's own minute specialty (World War II interrogation techniques) becomes a "poor King Charles' head," bubbling up in every conversation as the answer to everything.

Perhaps Kleinman also testified about the rather large differences between 20th-century German and Japanese National-Socialist prisoners and 21st-century theocratic, martyrdom-seeking jihadist prisoners; but if so, the Times chooses not to illuminate us.

From what Sachi tells me, under the Japanese code of honor at the time, a soldier was supposed to die rather than allow himself to be captured. If necessary, he was to commit hara kiri, as we saw in the movie Letters From Iwo Jima.

Thus, if they were captured instead, they tended to consider themselves spiritually dead. Their honor already irretrievably lost, they answered questions readily and without evasion, no longer caring whether they lived or died or what happened to their unit or even the Empire of the Rising Sun itself.

And as far as Nazis go, they were more like Baathists than jihadis. Being Socialists, they did not believe in any sort of afterlife; and the high-ranking ones were definitely not into martyrdom.

By contrast, most jihadis really do believe that if they die, especially under torture, they get Paradise and the 72 virgins (or raisins; the text is unclear). It is much more difficult to make such a true believer talk than to make a thoroughly secularized German or Japanese prisoner talk.

(Evidently, female jihadist martyrs go to Paradise and get 72 dwarfs, rather than virgins, hunks, or even raisins; this calls to mind possibilities simultaneously disturbing and hysterically funny. I am honestly not making this up.)

Another track is that we should base our interrogations on techniques used by police detectives and -- I rib you not -- advertising marketers:

The Intelligence Science Board study has a chapter on the long history of police interrogations, which it suggests may contain lessons on eliciting accurate confessions. And Mr. Borum, the psychologist, said modern marketing may be a source of relevant insights into how to influence a prisoner’s willingness to provide information.

“We have a whole social science literature on persuasion,” Mr. Borum said. “It’s mostly on how to get a person to buy a certain brand of toothpaste. But it certainly could be useful in improving interrogation.”

Um... okay.

I see no problem incorporating new techniques into our interrogation procedures; but we do not have the luxury of waiting years, while we locate agents with "graduate degrees in law and philosophy" and who speak Arabic, Turkish, Pashtun, and Farsi "flawlessly," particularly for field interrogations conducted by soldiers. It would certainly be wonderful to have an "elite corps of interrogators" with degrees and decades of practice interrogating jihadis; but what are we to do in the meantime? We need actionable intelligence now, not just next decade.

(But I agree with one point: Let us continue to develop interrogation techniques and that cadre... because we will still need them in the next decade.)

The main thrust of the New York Times' story -- if not of the gaggle of experts -- is made clear in the article (and made clear a second time, just in case you missed the point the first time round):

The Bush administration is nearing completion of a long-delayed executive order that will set new rules for interrogations by the Central Intelligence Agency. The order is expected to ban the harshest techniques used in the past, including the simulated drowning tactic known as waterboarding, but to authorize some methods that go beyond those allowed in the military by the Army Field Manual....

Because the training was developed during the cold war, the techniques later adopted by the C.I.A. and Special Operations officers in Iraq were based, at least in part, on how the Soviet Union and its allies were believed to treat prisoners. Such techniques included prolonged use of stress positions, exposure to heat and cold, sleep deprivation and even waterboarding.

(I wonder: When the president promulgates the executive order -- which will surely be top secret -- and if some disloyal CIA agent leaks it to the Times... would the Times actually publish it, thus alerting jihadists to all the possible interrogation techniques that may be used on them? I guess I don't actually "wonder;" the answer is fairly clear.)

For some unfathomable reason, Leftists are completely unmanned by the very thought of waterboarding, more than by any other interrogation technique. I have had arguments with people who insist that waterboarding, because it is entirely psychological and doesn't actually cause any physical damage, is therefore much more horrific than the physical tortures that Saddam Hussein and sons inflicted upon their enemies. Several opined they would rather have their legs broken than be waterboarded... because at least a person could recover from having his legs broken.

Amusingly enough, however, the Times could not find a single quotable sentence where any of the experts actually condemned waterboarding, either on moral grounds or as ineffective. Nor is the word "waterboarding" or "waterboard" even found in the complete Educing Information report. I wonder how intensely the reporters pushed, trying to get at least one expert to just say the magic words?

In any event, I see very little newsworthy in the Times piece. Or, therefore, in this Big Lizards post. But since the former has gotten a big splash today and may be referred to many times in the future, it's worthwhile letting readers know what is and is not to be found therein.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, May 30, 2007, at the time of 6:46 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this hissing:


The following hissed in response by: LarryD

Check The Smoking Gun for Al Qaeda's torture manual.

Fantasy: Place this manual before these same reporters, and ask them to rate these techniques vs waterboarding. Tell them that any technique they don't condemn will go into our manuals. Tape the process, watching them melt down would be something I'd pay to watch.

The above hissed in response by: LarryD [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 31, 2007 7:28 AM

Post a comment

Thanks for hissing in, . Now you can slither in with a comment, o wise. (sign out)

(If you haven't hissed a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Hang loose; don't shed your skin!)

Remember me unto the end of days?

© 2005-2009 by Dafydd ab Hugh - All Rights Reserved