I was down there Wednesday with a group of journalists (I wrote a column about it here) and we briefly witnessed a couple of interrogations on video. Nothing too eventful. They use exclusively soft techniques now. Which makes sense if you are dealing with people who have been in your custody for years and don’t necessarily have urgent information. Also, it’s a DoD facility and the military shouldn’t be in the business of tough interrogations, which are best left to the CIA in special circumstances (this was the original, widely reviled Cheney position when the McCain Amendment first came up–now vindicated by the detainee compromise).
At Gitmo, the detainees sit in plush La-Z Boy chairs when they are being interrogated and are offered drinks and the chance to see movies on DVD by their interrogators, who struggle to establish a rapport with them. Sometimes it works. We were told that about 15% of the detainees cooperate with the interrogations. Again, this isn’t such a problem if you’re not dealing with an urgent situation. But if you have a KSM who might have information about ongoing plots, you don’t have years to sit around hoping he eventually decides to talk to you from a La-Z Boy chair. Even the McCain folks acknowledge, I take it, that the “shock the conscience” standard has some flexibility depending on circumstances. And I doubt, deep down, that McCain’s conscience is shocked that we waterboarded KSM to get extremely important intelligence from him.
Overall, if every American could visit Gitmo, I’m guessing about 85% of them would think we’re doing a great job in difficult circumstances. In this war, we are faced with a sliver of people who are incorrigible fanatics who will never give up their diseased ideology, and those are the kind of people in Gitmo. If they are given an inch, they will use it to try to harm, or better yet, kill any American at hand. Some conservatives think they are being coddled. I think that’s nonsense. It’s not pleasant business being held in a cell in a maximum security prison for 20-something hours a day, and decent meals, a Koran, uninterrupted prayer time, and an hour or two of exercise is not enough to make it a luxurious experience.
The guards down there have my deepest admiration. They work by an ethic of restraint, no matter what the provocation, knowing that their slightest mis-step can and will be used against us in the propaganda war. They work 12-hour shifts in the most depressing circumstances imaginable. The detainees routinely throw feces, urine, and other bodily fluids on them. When that happens, they are offered the day off. But we were told that they almost never take it, returning right back to be with their comrades. Every American should be grateful for what they do.