Intelligence: January 10, 2005

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The media attention given to prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, and the question of using any kind of "torture" at all, has caused the U.S. government to order their troops and intelligence people to back off on the use of any strenuous persuasion when trying to get information. Any unapproved (even if retroactive) methods will result in the interrogator being prosecuted. Protests from pressure groups (many are more anti-American than anti-torture) want to ban interrogation methods (which some define as torture) that are commonly used by police interrogators, as well as lawyers (either in court or while taking depositions). So now, troops not only have to risk their lives in the war on terror, but their freedom as well, to gather information. Al Qaeda has long told its members that the Americans cannot use a lot of the interrogation methods common in the Moslem world (the most severe tortures imaginable, as well as seizing family members and torturing them as well, plus group punishment.) Al Qaeda advised its member to just play dumb, or simply dont say anything, and you would be safe from any American interrogations. What al Qaeda missed was the fact that there were other interrogation techniques, basically mind games, which, when used by an experienced practitioner, could get results. Unfortunately, there were few experienced practitioners who knew the languages and cultural quirks of the terrorist suspects. So American interrogators were left to use more primitive methods, or get very little information.

A further complication is that you cannot defend yourself by pointing out how valuable the information obtained via "vigorous interrogation" was, and how many lives were saved. Most of the data obtained from any interrogation is but one of many pieces that, eventually, get fitted together with other bits to produce something useful. For obvious reason, all the information is kept classified. So providing compelling, or unclassified, success stories of interrogations for the media is often impossible. But for the media and those who believe Saddam should have been left alone, torture is always bad, and is a popular issue to get behind if you want to ban it. You cant defend it openly, and even doing so off to the side can be dangerous to ones reputation and political prospects. As the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

 


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