The Corner

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Subject: Army Interrogation Manual


An e-mail from some who knows the Army Field Manual (excuse the typos in here):


As both a former interrogator and Army lawyer, I can tell you that the Army Field Manual on interrogation is anything but specific — in fact, its almost as sparse and full of platitudes as the McCain Amendment. The first problem is that the manual presumes two things: 1) the interrogator is a military person and the UCMJ applies to their activities in the interrogation booth; and 2) the subject of the interrogation has rights under the Third Geneva Convention (which gives full POW rights, as opposed to the Fourth Convention or Common Article 3, which give more limited rights and don’t recognize the subject’s combatant immunity).

The second problem is that the manual outlines interrogation approaches, not techniques. The difference is significant. “Fear Up”, “Direct Approach”, “Pride & Ego Down” are mere frameworks for getting a subject to talk. The approach used is chosen after evaulating all the available information about the subject and building a sort-of psychological profile of the subject. All roads must lead towards a subject willing to talk, the question is which road is the shortest and most effective for this particular subject.

Techinque is merely the method used to carry out the approach. For Fear Up, I may use banging on the table. For Pride & Ego down, I may attack his manhood by using a female interrogator. For Change of Scenery, I might bring in a chess board instead of a clip board, or change his diet from halal hot meals to halal MREs.

The techniques available are only as limited as the imagination of the interrogator, and the Army Field Manual does not resolve this. The problem with this entire debate (as Andy McCarthy has ably pointed out), is that there is no clear definition of where the lines exist, and everyone’s personal definition depends who’s ox is being gored. What is coercion? What is inhumane? I advised my interrogator-clients that 18 USC 2340, et. seq., the Torture Statute, is the best place to start.

The intelligence community already has the broad tools they need to conduct appropriate interrogations. What they need is better application of existing law and policy, vigorous oversight, and absolute accountability.

As for your waterboarding vs. belly slap question, I used to ask interrogators how they think they’d be treated if captured by an enemy force that nominally followed the Geneva Conventions: they’d expect to be lied to, pushed around and touched harshly, yelled at, have their unique religious or cultural values exploited, and be subject to environmental changes (hot/cold conditions). Under those conditions, no one would seriously argue that their GC rights were being violated. However, they should also expect that they would not be subject to severe physical or mental pain, use of psychotropic drugs, or threats of death to either themselves or their comrades or families. That would be torture.

BTW, two issues you ought to be discussing: 1) when discussing the “ticking time bomb” and McCain’s inference that anyone who used torture in that circumstance would be forgiven by public acclamation instead of tried and punished, you ought to be asking where LTC Allen West fits into this issue. He saved the lives of US soldiers by firing a pistol near an interrogation subject, using the threat of death as impetus for him to identify sniper teams waiting at that moment to kill his troops. Instead of acclamation, he was effectively cashiered and drummed out of the Army. Further, his subject was never even touched or physically harmed. As an interrogator, am I willing to risk my career and my freedom with the hope that my decision to lean hard on or hurt a subject who might have life-or-death information will not be second-guessed? Any interrogator who thinks they won’t be second guessed in today’s environment is either a fool or clearly not reading the Washington Post.

2) Here’s a real-world scenario that interrogators face every day: the dagger on the table vs. the dagger in my boot. It would be a threat of imminent death or severe injury (and hence, torture) for me to place weapon on the table between me and the subject during the interrogation. However, can create the impression (without saying so) that there is a dagger in my boot which might be employed at any time unless the subject tells me what I want to know? This can be much more powerful and effective than merely beating on and threatening a subject. Waterboarding advocates think they’re doing the latter, but are really doing the former.

For an interesting discussion of this, you need to read Mark Bowden’s Atlantic article from back in 2003, as well as securing yourself a copy of the CIA’s old Kubarak manual, where they create pretty workable boundaries that don’t sound so egregious as the mess made by the Bybee “torture” memo…