In his new book Hard Measures, former Director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service Jose Rodriguez claims to set the record straight about the CIA’s use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs), many of which, including waterboarding are considered torture and are illegal under U.S. and international law.
Rodriguez insists that these methods were used to get information out of some of the world’s most notorious terrorists, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the mastermind of 9/11, whose arraignment at Guantanamo is scheduled for this Saturday.
But these assertions just don’t pass muster. One reason might be Rodriguez himself. As professional interrogator Mark Fallon points out, “Like other torture advocates, Rodriguez wasn’t a trained interrogator and lacked meaningful experience with Al Qaeda.”
Rodriguez’s claims that torture worked hinge on a flimsy premise: that KSM, Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and the other so-called high-value detainees who were waterboarded and subjected to other forms of enhanced interrogation needed to be made “complicit” before their interrogations could proceed. According to Rodriguez, these detainees were not cooperative and resisted CIA interrogation when they arrived. As this story goes, after the CIA subjected them to EITs, the detainees became cooperative and started answering questions.
Indeed, the question in Hard Measures is never whether valuable intelligence was gleaned during enhanced interrogation, but whether or not these techniques worked in getting the detainees past the breaking point, after which non-coercive interrogation methods would work.
The unspoken implication here is that lawful interrogation methods work. But they will only work on the super bad guys if they are roughed up first. And once they’re roughed up enough, they’re just an open book.
Except that’s not quite true, either. Rodriguez mentions numerous times that even after rendering the high-value detainees “complicit” through EITs, the CIA still didn’t get all the answers they wanted.
“But wait,” you, a thinking person, might say, “I thought that was the point of waterboarding them. If they aren’t giving you answers, you use EITs, and then they give you all the answers because you made them complicit. If they aren’t giving up everything, why don’t you just enhanced interrogate them some more, until they become super-duper complicit?”
And there’s the rub. According to its advocates, enhanced interrogation works when traditional interrogation won’t, but only so much. In real life, professional interrogators use non-coercive interrogation methods with high-value detainees and get the reliable, actionable information they’re after, without torturing or abusing anyone. And in real life, EITs and torture get you false information. The false link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, a major motivation for the war in Iraq, came largely from interrogations that involved torture.
Professional interrogators who have actually interrogated high-value detainees (unlike Rodriguez) say that threats and pain can actually render those detainees more resistant and make an interrogation more likely to fail.
Follow Law and Security on Twitter: @HRFLawSecurity