Intelligence: Political Handicaps

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December 20, 2005: The U.S. Congress has reached an agreement on what wording to use in what has been called a "torture amendment". Earlier this year, the Senate voted to enact restrictions on the treatment of detainees in the war on terror by a 90-9 vote, adding it as an amendment to the $440 billion defense appropriations bill. This amendment is due to extensive media coverage of alleged abuses by the 82nd Airborne Division during one of the battles around Fallujah. As has been the case in the past, media coverage has overhyped these abuses, while omitting key facts. The abuses are currently under investigation - and often what has not been noted is that many of the allegations (such as those from the FBI surrounding Guantanamo Bay) have been shown to have no basis in fact. Abuses that did occur were addressed (in some cases, investigations felt further action should have been taken, but that does not detract from the fact that abuses at Guantanamo Bay were promptly addressed). It should also be noted in any discussion of alleged abuse that al Qaeda's manuals tell operatives to falsely claim abuse has occurred (again, something that the media and human rights groups apparently have failed to notice).

This redundant (the U.S. Army's Intelligence and Interrogation Handbook already points out that torture and degrading treatment are forbidden) legislation is only going to make the job of interrogators harder. Knowing about the new law and the fact that there is a media circus that has attracted the attention of Congress will cause some interrogators to hold back and not use certain techniques that may be successful (like the ones used against Mohamed al Khatani). This will mean that some intelligence will not be gathered. The failure to gather intelligence means that it is more likely that troops will be killed - or worse, another terrorist attack could be carried out on U.S. soil.

This case of Congressional overreaction and micromanagement has the potential to complicate efforts to get vital intelligence, particularly about imminent threats. A classified annex was prepared for the Army's interrogation manual as part of a revision, which included lessons learned from the interrogation of detainees like Khatani captured during the war on terrorism. This hearkens back President Lyndon Baines Johnson giving orders to a tail gunner on a B-52 during the Pueblo incident in 1968, only this time the micromanagement could be coming from a committee of 534 (with one vacancy in the House of Representatives), of which only 140 (or 26.4 percent) have had any military service at all.

The end result is that now, the interrogators will hold back, fearful of being caught up in a media or political controversy. Once the provision formally passes, interrogators could find themselves with one hand tied behind their back. - Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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