5 years ago
I have been loath to weigh in on the issue of torture, waterboarding, the intelligence gleaned from such methods, and in general the whole issue of detainees in the war on terror. I feel that there are too many people weighing in who don’t know enough information to be useful, and I don’t need to add to that number. Regarding waterboarding I must rely on friends of mine who have undergone the procedure in SERE training. One friend in particular informs me that it is terrifying, but in his opinion, not torture. As those who go through SERE training know, you spend some time doing not only that, but also spend some time in a 55 gallon barrel.
But as my friend also informs me, “I would tell them anything they wanted to hear in order to stop the process.” So the question naturally arises as to the usefulness of the procedure and whether actionable intelligence is really gleaned. But we can add to this knowledge with the experience of Khalid Sheik Mohammed.
After enduring the CIA’s harshest interrogation methods and spending more than a year in the agency’s secret prisons, Khalid Sheik Mohammed stood before U.S. intelligence officers in a makeshift lecture hall, leading what they called “terrorist tutorials.”
In 2005 and 2006, the bearded, pudgy man who calls himself the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks discussed a wide variety of subjects, including Greek philosophy and al-Qaeda dogma. In one instance, he scolded a listener for poor note-taking and his inability to recall details of an earlier lecture.
Speaking in English, Mohammed “seemed to relish the opportunity, sometimes for hours on end, to discuss the inner workings of al-Qaeda and the group’s plans, ideology and operatives,” said one of two sources who described the sessions, speaking on the condition of anonymity because much information about detainee confinement remains classified. “He’d even use a chalkboard at times.”
These scenes provide previously unpublicized details about the transformation of the man known to U.S. officials as KSM from an avowed and truculent enemy of the United States into what the CIA called its “preeminent source” on al-Qaeda. This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques.
“KSM, an accomplished resistor, provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate or incomplete,” according to newly unclassified portions of a 2004 report by the CIA’s then-inspector general released Monday by the Justice Department.
The debate over the effectiveness of subjecting detainees to psychological and physical pressure is in some ways irresolvable, because it is impossible to know whether less coercive methods would have achieved the same result. But for defenders of waterboarding, the evidence is clear: Mohammed cooperated, and to an extraordinary extent, only when his spirit was broken in the month after his capture March 1, 2003, as the inspector general’s report and other documents released this week indicate.
Over a few weeks, he was subjected to an escalating series of coercive methods, culminating in 7 1/2 days of sleep deprivation, while diapered and shackled, and 183 instances of waterboarding. After the month-long torment, he was never waterboarded again.
“What do you think changed KSM’s mind?” one former senior intelligence official said this week after being asked about the effect of waterboarding. “Of course it began with that.”
Mohammed, in statements to the International Committee of the Red Cross, said some of the information he provided was untrue.
“During the harshest period of my interrogation I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop. I later told interrogators that their methods were stupid and counterproductive. I’m sure that the false information I was forced to invent in order to make the ill-treatment stop wasted a lot of their time,” he said.
So we have learned that on the most significant targets in the history of using this method it caused poor information to be gleaned at first, but much more significant information to be gleaned later due to a change in attitude. It was the change in attitude that was important.
Whatever an individual decides concerning the issue of specific procedures, I still believe that far too many people now know far too much about U.S. black operations. Bill Clinton eviscerated the CIA human intelligence capabilities, and Obama is finishing the job.
Obama intended from the beginning to target the CIA with investigations. Leon Panetta, who is said to be opposed to certain CIA programs in which high value targets are assassinated, is making matters worse. In fact, the damage may have already been done and the situation made irreversible.
I would never compare my few years as an Army Intelligence Special Agent to the careers of committed CIA operatives, but I harbor no doubt that if I were one of them, I would be looking for a way out. My immediate focus would be on protecting myself, my family and the identities of the foreign nationals with whom I worked. I would be operating as if secrets no longer exist. Risk taking would cease. My reports would be gleaned from newspaper articles.
Whatever else one might conclude about the state of the CIA and the unecessary public investigations, they are effecting a disembowelment of the very intelligence agency that is supposed to protect American interests. And it appears to be all by design.