Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Enhanced Distortion

(Download this document)

Kenneth M. O’Brien


In the unending effort to rehabilitate the image of the Bush Administration, Conservative apologists rushed to use the occasion of Bin Laden’s demise to justify the “enhanced interrogation” techniques used and subsequently abandoned by the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld triumvirate.

They virtually tripped over one another to seize upon a statement by CIA Director Leon Panetta which they saw as validating their position.

In an interview on NBC Panetta said, "They used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of these detainees, but I'm also saying that, you know, the debate about whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches, I think is always going to be an open question."

If you take the statement at face value, it hardly constitutes a ringing endorsement of such tactics and certainly not the causal link that those advocating using such methods would like you to believe that it does.

In contrast, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain, said, “So far I know of no information that was obtained, that would have been useful, by ‘advanced interrogation.’ In fact, according to published reports … some of the key people who knew about this courrier denied it,” said Senator McCain, careful to note that he was not relaying information from Panetta’s classified session with Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committee members.

“Where there is published information in the various newspapers and media that the information about this courrier was intercepted conversation between two individuals — that’s as far as I know,” the top Republicans on the Armed Services Committee added. “I stand on the side of the United States and by the Geneva conventions, of which we are signatories, which we were in violation of by waterboarding.”

In order to truly evaluate the value of such techniques, perhaps the most objective alternative is to examine the “best practices” that are taught to our intelligence professionals who actually conduct such interrogations.

In pursuit of this goal I will turn to a training manual developed by the National Defense Intelligence College titled “Educing Information”.

The following are a series of quotes from this text. Readers can evaluate the extent to which they reflect prevailing opinion by downloading the document at the above cited link.

“There is little or no research to indicate whether [coercive] techniques succeed…. [B]ut the preponderance of reports seems to weigh against their effectiveness…. Psychological theory…and related research suggest that coercion or pressure can actually increase a source’s resistance and determination not to comply” (pg xxiii)

“To judge from the ways governments have used interrogation, there is a
pervasive belief that coercive interrogation can intimidate terrorists and their
supporters in ways that enhance the effectiveness of interrogations and perhaps
even reduce the underlying terrorist threat….ominously, foreign prosecutors could bring charges against U.S. officials and troops before international tribunals (e.g., charges of war crimes for U.S. conduct in third countries)…. Given a continuing terrorist threat, the United States must obtain information through interrogations, but it must do so without undermining the purposes of the very effort that interrogations are supposed to serve.” (pp. 10-15)

In regard to this passage, it is worthwhile to note the events of February 5, 2011, as reported by Reuters.     “Former President George W. Bush has canceled a visit to Switzerland, where he was to address a Jewish charity gala, due to the risk of legal action against him for alleged torture, rights groups said on Saturday…. Criminal complaints against Bush alleging torture have been lodged in Geneva, court officials say.”

The potential mechanisms and effects of using coercive techniques or torture for gaining accurate, useful information from an uncooperative source are much more complex than is commonly assumed. There is little or no research to indicate whether such techniques succeed in the manner and contexts in which they are applied. Anecdotal accounts and opinions based on personal experiences are mixed, but the preponderance of reports seems to weigh against their effectiveness.” (pg. 35)

Throughout this manual, it is repeatedly observed that there is little evidence that coercive techniques (i.e. enhanced interrogation or torture) yield any useful results. But, those who want to live in the Jack Bauer universe where macho tactics are believed to yield results apparently cannot be persuaded otherwise.

I guess all that we can ultimately do is to keep tabs on where former advocates of these techniques in the previous Administration choose to travel overseas.

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