Monday, April 27, 2009

Another Official Torture Document Comes to Light

The lede from an article by Peter Finn and Joby Warrick in Saturday's WaPo:

The military agency that provided advice on harsh interrogation techniques for use against terrorism suspects referred to the application of extreme duress as "torture" in a July 2002 document sent to the Pentagon's chief lawyer and warned that it would produce "unreliable information."

The document (PDF) was a two-page attachment to one of a bunch of memos that were written when the CIA interrogation program was being formalized. Parts of it were quoted in the Senate Armed Services Committee report released last week, the article says, and the WaPo apparently just got their hands on a copy of the whole thing.

It's hard to tell from reading the article what to make of this. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) is reported as saying he thinks that the attachment was "ignored" or "suppressed" shortly after it was submitted, and is quoted as saying that this was "part of a pattern of squelching dissent." Finn and Warrick say no one has been able to find out how high up it was passed. Various anonymous spokespeople are saying various top dogs didn't see it. So, I could believe it was a butt-covering exercise by the Pentagon, who weren't thrilled to be asked to help set the rules for the CIA's interrogators, or I could believe that the military really truly did not want any part of codifying a program of torture, thought the very idea was stupid, tried to say so, and then some apparatchik somewhere along the line took it upon him- or herself to give the bosses plausible deniability and stopped it from going any higher.

Reading the document itself makes me think the latter; i.e., at least whoever wrote it thought torturing was wrong for operational reasons alone. (The introduction makes plain the intent to focus only on this aspect and not "the myriad legal, ethical, or moral implications of torture.") This part seems pretty much like a straight slap at the 24-porn crowd who were running the show, albeit in a tone of voice more measured than my own:

The requirement to obtain information from an uncooperative source as quickly as possible-in time to prevent, for example, an impending terrorist attack that could result in loss of life-has been forwarded as a compelling argument for the use of torture. Conceptually, proponents envision the application of torture as a means to expedite the exploitation process. In essence, physical and/or psychological duress are viewed as an alternative to the more time-consuming conventional interrogation process. The error inherent in this line of thinking is the assumption that, through torture, the interrogator can extract reliable and accurate intelligence.

Some good specifics:

As noted previously, upwards of 90 percent of interrogations have been successful through the exclusive use of a direct approach, where a degree of rapport is established with the prisoner. Once any means of duress has been purposefully applied to the prisoner, the formerly cooperative relationship can not be reestablished. In addition, the prisoner's level of resolve to resist cooperating with the interrogator will likely be increased as a result of harsh or brutal treatment.

For skilled interrogators, the observation of subtle nonverbal behaviors provides an invaluable assessment of the prisoner's psychological and emotional state. This offers important insights into how the prisoner can be most effectively leveraged into compliance. Further, it often enables the interrogator to form a reasonably accurate assessment of the prisoner's veracity in answering pertinent questions. The prisoner's physical response to the pain inflicted by an interrogator would obliterate such nuance and deprive the interrogator of these key tools.

The rest of it says things you would almost think wouldn't need to be said; e.g., people being tortured will say anything to make it stop, and if word gets out that we're torturing, then US personnel abroad are going to pay the price. On the other hand, having these solicited recommendations on the record means nobody can say "I didn't know." Or it should mean that, which is why Sen. Levin's thought that this document was purposely not passed up the chain has merit.

The document is titled "Operational Issues Pertaining to the Use of Physical/Psychological Coercion in Interrogation." It was produced by the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, the branch of the military that does SERE training, which among other things means teaching pilots and others how to resist harsh interrogation. (Two-page PDF, same link as above, via the WaPo article's sidebar.)

(h/t: digby, via Glenn Greenwald)

No comments: