Friday, April 24, 2009
More on Interrogational Torture
[Philip Zelikow, a professor of history at the University of Virginia, was the counselor of the State Department from 2005 to 2006 and the executive director of the 9/11 commission. He contributes to the Shadow Government blog at ForeignPolicy.com. Zelikow writes, in an op-ed in today's NYT:]
That is one reason the methods of torment do not stack up well against proved alternatives that rely on patience and skill. In setting up this program, officials do not seem to have thoughtfully considered those alternatives. The Intelligence Science Board, a federal advisory group, published a report in 2006 illustrating how those in charge of interrogations could have more thoroughly looked at options. The Israelis and British also have a huge amount of painfully acquired experience in using those alternatives, including in some cases where they really did have ticking bombs, either Palestinian or Irish. Neither of those countries can lawfully adopt the C.I.A. program revealed in the Justice Department memos; the Israeli Supreme Court has spoken to these issues in exceptionally eloquent opinions.
The United States has plenty of its own experience to consider, in law enforcement (remember the frenzy a generation ago over the Supreme Court’s Miranda decision requiring suspects to be read their rights?) as well as in war. In World War II, the United States and Britain had special programs for “high value” captives. Thousands of lives were at stake. Yet, even in a horrifyingly brutal war, neither government found it necessary to use methods like the ones in this C.I.A. program. George Marshall would not have needed a lawyer to tell him whether such methods were O.K.
More recent history is also revealing. America inadvertently carried out an experiment in how best to question Qaeda captives. On the one side there was the C.I.A. effort, while on the other there was the military-run program against Al Qaeda in Iraq. The Iraq program, organized by the Joint Special Operations Command, was reformed after the Abu Ghraib scandals. It respected basic international standards. It used teams made up of experts from the military, the C.I.A. and law enforcement. The F.B.I. did not have to stay away, as it did from the C.I.A.’s “enhanced” interrogations.
Qaeda captives in Iraq were hard cases, often more seasoned in violence than captives taken elsewhere. Yet the program in Iraq was and remains highly successful. I was impressed when I observed it in 2005 as part of a wider look at our intelligence efforts. I know that Joint Special Operations Command leaders told the White House that they could interrogate captives effectively under the higher standards.
There is another variable in the intelligence equation: the help you lose because your friends start keeping their distance. When I worked at the State Department, some of America’s best European allies found it increasingly difficult to assist us in counterterrorism because they feared becoming complicit in a program their governments abhorred. This was not a hypothetical concern.
A thoughtful inquiry parsing the pros and cons is necessary — but it may not end up finding much, if any, net intelligence value from using extreme methods. It should also consider the future of the C.I.A.: over the long haul, it might be best for the agency if its reputation rested on outstanding professional standards and patient expertise.