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Abuse has no place in interrogation policy

COMMENTARY | July 29, 2008

Two veteran intelligence officials write that this country has a long history of successful interrogations – based on seduction, not coercion. Torture not only violates our core values, but leads to misinformation.

By Steven Kleinman and Haviland Smith
compass2100@mac.com and twopond@comcast.net

Fifteen former interrogators and senior intelligence officials with more than 350 years collective field experience in the military, the FBI and the CIA, spanning the period from World War II to Afghanistan and Iraq, gathered last month for a two-day conference in Washington D.C. organized by Human Rights First. When it was done, we agreed on the following set of principles related to on torture and interrogation:

1. Non-coercive, traditional, rapport-based interviewing approaches provide the best possibility for obtaining accurate and complete intelligence.

2. Torture and other inhumane and abusive interview techniques are unlawful, ineffective and counterproductive. We reject them unconditionally.

3. The use of torture and other inhumane and abusive treatment results in false and misleading information, loss of critical intelligence, and has caused serious damage to the reputation and standing of the United States. The use of such techniques also facilitates enemy recruitment, misdirects or wastes scarce resources, and deprives the United States of the standing to demand humane treatment of captured Americans.

4. There must be a single well-defined standard of conduct across all U.S. agencies to govern the detention and interrogation of people anywhere in U.S. custody, consistent with our values as a nation.

5. There is no conflict between adhering to our nation’s essential values, including respect for inherent human dignity, and our ability to obtain the information we need to protect the nation.

Interrogation is the process of obtaining intelligence and/or information from detainees.  Over the many years it has been practiced by this country in World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, it has become clear that coercive interrogation techniques not only do not work, but are often counterproductive.

Once a detainee is in our custody, the process of successfully obtaining what intelligence he has, is at its very best, a process of seduction during which the detainee is developed as a potential source of information.  This involves a solid understanding of what motivates the detainee and an ability to use that motivation to the interrogator’s advantage.

For anyone who has been involved in a seduction, it will be immediately clear that coercion simply will not work. What works is the exact opposite – a careful and thoughtful exchange of ideas and attitudes that will help the interrogator find a path to the desired intelligence.

Coercive techniques do not build mutual understanding, rapport and respect, the bases of successful interrogation.  In the world of terrorism, terrorists are taught to expect that the US will torture them.  Coercive techniques of any sort will be confirmation of that expectation and will thus harden their resolve not to divulge anything of value.  On the other hand, humane handling will be disarming and disorienting for any such detainee, leaving him open to non-coercive manipulation          

Careful, non-coercive handling of the detainee from the moment of his apprehension is critical. Once in our custody, if any sort of coercion is applied to a detainee, the likelihood of a subsequent non-coercive approach being successful is just about over. 

The FBI has never sought permission to use coercion on its detainees simply because they know it does not work and they can succeed without it.  The same is true with the Pentagon for the same reason and also because military use of coercive methods it is in violation of the Geneva Conventions and invites torture when and if its own personnel are detained by an enemy.

When people are tortured they will tell the interrogator what they believe he wants to hear, or lie, simply to put an end to the torture.  That puts the interrogator at the mercy of the detainee.  Misinformation and disinformation are logical, often dangerous outcomes of coercive techniques.

We are now often told that coercive interrogation has produced actionable information, however, some of what has been produced under torture may have been at best inaccurate and at worst, deliberately false. 

There is no way of knowing what results could have been achieved if a detainee who has been tortured had been humanely handled with non-coercive interrogation techniques from the moment of his capture.  Such detainees often have the kind of massive, messianic ego that is easily manipulated by a really good interrogator.

Finally, there is the question of who we Americans really are.  It is simply inconsistent with everything we say we stand for to indulge in coercive interrogation techniques.  Even if they worked, which they do not, what kind of nation have we become in the eyes of the rest of the world as practitioners of torture?  That is not an image that is likely to produce significant intelligence, let alone promote our worldwide interests.

Society against One Night Stands
Posted by Sparky
09/01/2009, 03:51 PM

Kleinman (K) believes “rapport-based interviewing approaches provide the best possibility for obtaining accurate and complete intelligence”

To preface my rebuttal, torture is morally repugnant. Beating prisoners, attacking them with dogs, starving, freezing and mock executions have no place in a moral society. There is no definitive list to describe man’s depravity and evil in war, but at least I offer examples of heinous acts to highlight K’s vagaries.

So, what are these coercive techniques K talks about? Why doesn’t he define coercion? He lumps things disjunctively – Torture and coercion or his paradigm of rapport and kindness, for K there is no gray area, yet he gives no examples and attempts no definitions.

To be fair to K I offer a widely accepted definition of coercion – “Coercion is defined as acts of violence or intimidation, including physical or mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to other inhumane treatment, designed to induce another to act against one’s will.” Have I cleared the waters? Oh no, so let’s add a definition of threat while we are at it – “A declaring of one’s intention to cause harm or loss to another’s person or property or to limit one’s freedom to act in a lawful voluntary manner (a threat to kidnap). A threat may be made by innuendo or suggestion, as well as by explicit language, and may be the basis of criminal or civil liability. Mere words, however, have been held not to constitute an assault.” Will this definition be accepted by our government? The international community? Is the issue K discusses as black and white as he asserts?

Why does he argue the ineffectiveness of coercion (once again undefined)? If torture was efficacious would we turn up the amps and volts without losing sleep? He continues to decry torture, not from a moral vantage point, but from a strategic one, he wants to profit from it. If prisoner abuse was his only agenda I would have no problem with K’s rhetoric. On a side note, K applauds the FBI for taking the high road and hints at their credibility in the field of interrogation. Point of fact- most FBI agents couldn’t interrogate themselves out of a wet paper bag. A few are damned good, but as an organization? Forget about it.
K’s thoughts on coercion:
(K) “Coercive techniques do not build mutual understanding, rapport and respect, the bases of successful interrogation.”
So if I tell a jihadist cutting off heads has ramifications and not divulging his knowledge of the location of fellow head cutter-offers may influence his future and I do this in a loud unfriendly voice, have I been bad? Was it an argument designed to facilitate an exploration of options or a threat designed to induce another to act against one’s will? Only the interrogator knows what motivated his argument. The purpose is to change the terrorist’s viewpoint and his will and collect intelligence information. At the tactical level this must be done quickly. The offended terrorist may not like or respect me, but he has a human nature like mine and values his freedom, favorite foods and friends. The reality is the interrogator does not send a terrorist to prison, the process is regulated by legal statutes that are generally in accordance (if not more humane) with the system of jurisprudence the terrorist has lived under all his life.
(K) “In the world of terrorism, terrorists are taught to expect that the US will torture them.”
Often the hardened terrorist will have knowledge of the Manchester document and the Al Qaeda Manual and consider the interrogator to be simply a “clerk” weak and impotent. K’s use of universal expressions to promote his argument is simplistic at best.
(K) “Coercive techniques of any sort will be confirmation of that expectation and will thus harden their resolve not to divulge anything of value. On the other hand, humane handling will be disarming and disorienting for any such detainee, leaving him open to non-coercive manipulation”
An undefined blanket statement, although the “of any sort” segment really adds force… The only true insight into K’s value system here is that coercion is not humane. His thoughts on defining coercion are still unclear at best and once again K uses post hoc fallacies that shame his Alma-Mata.
“Careful, non-coercive handling of the detainee from the moment of his apprehension is critical. Once in our custody, if any sort of coercion is applied to a detainee, the likelihood of a subsequent non-coercive approach being successful is just about over.”
Will every terrorist react the same way? According to K, yes.
K’s fallacious arguments founded on undefined terms make it difficult for me to believe his concept of coercion and mine mirror each other.
Mr Kleinman knows the Spec Ops community was very successful in countering Al Qaida in Iraq. This was accomplished part-in-parcel by gathering intelligence in a high op tempo environ which often precluded his paradigm of rapport and kindness. Does this mean it was done by torture and coercion? The fact of the matter is that intelligence was gathered from the enemy in mercantile fashion. There were many similarities between interrogations of Al Qaeda operatives and criminal interrogations conducted by New York City police. Detainees were sensitized (intellectually) to the value of the information they had, their potential culpability and how perishable that information was in the bartering process. Culturally they understood this very well and how providing information might affect their future outside of a prison cell. This constitutes psychological pressure and is certainly not in line with K’s seduction. K must return to his moral lexicography to explore the significance of psychological pressure and its relationship to coercion. Does K equate psychological pressure to coercion? Remember his either or view of interrogation, if you are not building a relationship with kindness you are torturing someone. He equates coercion to torture, assigning moral value to unexplored terms. I might agree with him, if he only defined his terms.

He would argue there is no proof that the interrogation methods used were effective and then argue his methods would have been more effective. He would probably argue that sticking a finger up his nose meant it no longer was in existence. According to K there is no other way than his and he desperately wants you to focus on the straw man in the dichotomy of his polemic - allowing for no other system of interrogation. It’s K’s way or you will be vilified.

The military needed a watchdog and whistle blower and it worked. If you grab a prisoner’s arm during an interrogation you will be relieved from you duty, permanently – I watched it happen in a Special Operations facility. Moral oversight in our nation’s conflicts must be perennial not the flavor of the day, but it should not be used to usher in a myopic system of intelligence gathering designed by a man with limited experience and a score to settle.

Mr. Kleinman has an agenda and a naïve one at that – to shape the policy of interrogation by limiting the interrogator’s repertoire and applying kindness and rapport uniformly across the intelligence community. His motivation could be legion; his career curtailed for being a whistle-blower, a desire to be upwardly mobile again or simple bragging rights over a glass of whine. Maybe he wants to be the go to guy, the guru of interrogations, I have no idea. If he would present a definition of coercion akin to the one I presented, he would discover new avenues and more creativity in the interrogation process than what he currently espouses.

Posted by Gavin Neil
11/23/2010, 11:00 PM

I didn't want to let Sparky's comment go unanswered. It is a typically nonsensical response.

First, Sparky introduces unecessary confusion into the debate by basing his 'argument' on the 'problem' that a clear definition of torture was not provided. This is simply untrue, as the word "torture", which has a few well-accepted definitions, was only complemented by "inhumane and abusive" as adjectives, arguable broadening the subject somewhat but not beyond recognition.

Having problematized the definition of the subject matter ("what is torture, anyway?" Sparky then increases the confusion a bit by selecting some dictionary definitions and swapping in successive defintions as adjectives for other words in the prior defintions, ensuring (like a game of telephone) that the final product will be at best confused and more likely barely recognizeable.

Having thus ensured that we will not examine the actual thesis (the efficacy and justification of torture), S then poses a typical series of rhetorical questions to further problematize the theory. For example, suggesting that the author requires 'all terrorists to behave the same', which is obviously not necessary in order for him to make a claim that non-coercive methods are superior. He similarly make spurious comparisons between torture generally and cases of battlefield or police violence (which are not, in turn, outright justified, even if the analogy is accepted).

Finally, of course, Sparky finishes with the personal attack on the motives of the author. Certainly, anyone who writes against torture must be personally motivated by the profit they can make by this non-torture world, perhaps as an interrogation guru?

Thank you, Sparky, for providing us with such a typical series of fallacious and irrational arguments to hold up as a lesson in bad thinking. Lacking reason, many supporters of torture will make similar moves so I trust we will all be prepared!

crap slayer
Posted by tiredofmorons
07/07/2011, 06:15 PM

gavin neal is an idiot. he doesn't know Steve kleinman or anything about interrogation. He refuted nothing and remains clueless. Gavin provided no definition of torture or coercion and is ignorant of the fact that four lawyers in a room will give five separate definitions - if Gavy has a clear definition - he should put up - or shut up.

The flawed thinking of the administration's torture advocates
Steven Kleinman wants to know why the president's legal advisers were so intent on rationalizing the violation of longstanding law in order to adopt an approach –- coercion -- that experienced interrogation practitioners agree is not just ineffective, but counterproductive.

'When presented with the choice of getting smarter or getting tougher, we chose the latter.'
Steven Kleinman asks Congress: Why did the special operations community in Iraq in 2003 find it necessary -- and appropriate -- to request interrogation support from an organization whose mission was, and is, to teach resistance to interrogation?

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