Interrogation Success

August 30th, 2009

In How a Detainee Became An Asset, The Washington Post provided objective information on the success achieved using enhanced interrogation techniques in the case of Khalid Sheik Mohammed.  This captured terrorist was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was involved in many other terrorist attacks, was close to Osama bin Laden, and had a wealth of information on Al Qaeda.  He also admitted personally murdering an American journalist, saying, “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl.”

The initial interrogations of Mohammed were relatively benign; he provided little more than information he knew was already known, and he also provided false information.  Once enhanced interrogation techniques were employed, particularly sleep deprivation and waterboarding, he opened up and provided voluminous amounts of accurate, highly valuable intelligence.

The Post obtained its information from recently-released CIA Inspector General reports and other sources.  Excerpts from the report:

After enduring the CIA’s harshest interrogation methods and spending more than a year in the agency’s secret prisons, Khalid Sheik Mohammed stood before U.S. intelligence officers in a makeshift lecture hall, leading what they called “terrorist tutorials.” …

“KSM, an accomplished resistor, provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate or incomplete,” according to newly unclassified portions of a 2004 report by the CIA’s then-inspector general released Monday by the Justice Department.

The debate over the effectiveness of subjecting detainees to psychological and physical pressure is in some ways irresolvable, because it is impossible to know whether less coercive methods would have achieved the same result. But for defenders of waterboarding, the evidence is clear: Mohammed cooperated, and to an extraordinary extent, only when his spirit was broken in the month after his capture March 1, 2003, as the inspector general’s report and other documents released this week indicate.

Over a few weeks, he was subjected to an escalating series of coercive methods, culminating in 7 1/2 days of sleep deprivation, while diapered and shackled, and 183 instances of waterboarding. After the month-long torment, he was never waterboarded again. …

One former U.S. official with detailed knowledge of how the interrogations were carried out said Mohammed, like several other detainees, seemed to have decided that it was okay to stop resisting after he had endured a certain amount of pressure.

“Once the harsher techniques were used on [detainees], they could be viewed as having done their duty to Islam or their cause, and their religious principles would ask no more of them,” said the former official, who requested anonymity because the events are still classified. “After that point, they became compliant. Obviously, there was also an interest in being able to later say, ‘I was tortured into cooperating.'” …

Mohammed told interrogators that after the Sept. 11 attacks, his “overriding priority” was to strike the United States, but that he “realized that a follow-on attack would be difficult because of security measures.” Most of the plots, as a result, were “opportunistic and limited,” according to the summary. …

Mohammed was an unparalleled source in deciphering al-Qaeda’s strategic doctrine, key operatives and likely targets, the summary said, including describing in “considerable detail the traits and profiles” that al-Qaeda sought in Western operatives and how the terrorist organization might conduct surveillance in the United States.

As the report indicates, and as the CIA Inspector General acknowledged, it isn’t possible to know how less-intense interrogation would have worked, especially over a longer period of time.  However, intelligence of value, and especially actionable intelligence, is almost always very time-sensitive.  When a captured enemy combatant initially provides little or no useful information, especially when it’s known beforehand that he has needed information, the intensity of the interrogation must be increased.

Charges of “torture” have become a staple in the unending attacks on the Bush Administration.  The CIA is also under attack by American politicians, and there’s a hue and cry from the left to prosecute officials of the former administration for a wide variety of offenses, real or imagined.  This banana-republic behavior ill serves the country and sets a dangerous precedent of wreaking vengeance on the opposition every time the government changes hands.  Perhaps worse, our national intelligence capabilities may be so damaged by this effort as to be of far less value in contributing to our defense.

Khalid Sheik Mohammed no doubt endured significant stress and discomfort during his interrogations.  Today, however, he lives in good health and comfort in prison at Guantanamo, lacking nothing but his freedom.  The 3,000 people he murdered on 9/11, not to mention others he murdered, are still dead, and their families and friends still suffer the daily trauma of staggering loss.  It’s hard to work up much sympathy for this despicable mass murderer.

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7 Responses to “Interrogation Success”

  1. Lisa |

    Imagine how weak we appear to our adversaries? And, then when the person in the leadership position at the top (Note:I did not say leader) makes political decisions that directly have a deleterious effect on the morale of an entire agency, it begs the question: How much worse will it get?

  2. Tom |

    Lisa, I fear it will get much worse. The Administration has already released information it was seriously warned not to release, after saying they wouldn’t do it they’ve now got a special prosecutor investigating officials of the former administration and field officers as well, attorneys for detainees at Guantanamo have obtained photos of CIA personnel and are showing them to their clients, these personnel may be called as witnesses in Gtmo trials — this stuff is absurd beyond reckoning. No wonder morale is low and people are keeping their heads down out at Langley. This crap has to stop.

    I simply don’t understand — never have — the orthodox far-left view that the police are bad, the military is bad, intelligence operations and the people who conduct them are bad, and the country as a whole is bad. What’s the matter with these people?

  3. Shel |

    What has to stop is criminals torturing people. Morale is low for bank robbers and kidnappers when they get caught. THe CIA was acting illegally. The info they got was worthless. Do you also approve of rape if the rapist can get away with it?
    What has to stop is fat lazy cowards thinking that they are above the basic laws of humanity.

  4. Bo |

    Actually, almost all PROFESSIONAL interrogators are opposed to torture. It is only chicken hawk right wing demogogues and would be-tyrant sycophants that approve of such tactics. The fact that this story is being twisted and used to justify the tyrannical horrors that the Bush junta put into pratice speaks volumes to the lack of understanding and opportunistic stupidity of those who would do so.

  5. Tom |

    Shel: Which criminals are you referring to? What did the CIA do that was illegal, given that they acted on higher-level legal advice? Since the Attorney General has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the matter, it would appear that they don’t know if anything illegal happened. Or maybe they should just check with you, and you can fill them in. Who are you referring to as “fat lazy cowards?” Whoever they are, how do you know they were fat, or lazy, or cowards? Your reference to rape is a non sequitur (you can look that up).

    Bo: When you say that almost all professional interrogators are opposed to torture, I assume you mean the enhanced interrogation techiques under discussion. Do you have an authoritative source for that sweeping statement? A link to a survey, or anything that would substantiate your claim? Who are these “chicken hawk right wing demogogues (sic) and would be-tyrant sycophants” you refer to? What, exactly, were the “tyrannical horrors” of the Bush “junta?”

    I would suggest that you both get back on your meds, clean the spittle off your monitors, and at least try to make rational arguments based on facts. A good dictionary would be helpful, too.

  6. Brian |

    I am curious to know what these Shel and Bo might consider torture. While I agree that popping off fingernails or smashing fingers, toes, testicles, or anything else doesn’t generally produce reliable information, water-boarding and other forms of mental duress (like sleep deprivation among other things) can and do produce reliable information. Ever heard of “good cop, bad cop”?

    Fear is a powerful motivator and is used all of the time. Without it, our criminal justice system would bog down overnight. Fear of protracted prison sentences induces confessions and plea agreements all of the time.

  7. new illuminati |

    He opened up like a sewer, spouting all kinds of claptrap – anything to get the torture to stop. And intelligence knew that people would fall for this garbage and released it to the press. Torture elicits all sorts of info, and little is ever trustworthy or useful – as numerous (military and other) studies have shown.
    I’d be a little less concerned how WEAK you thought others saw you as being when most of the civilised world is shaking their heads and calling you barbarians behind your backs.
    You need friends a lot more than you do enemies – friend!

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