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THE PERSUADERS: Torture Interrogation

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  • ummyakoub
    THE PERSUADERS Mark Bowden, Guardian, 10/19/03 http://observer.guardian.co.uk/magazine/story/0,11913,1066041,00.html When does coercion become torture? Since
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 23, 2003
      Mark Bowden, Guardian, 10/19/03

      When does coercion become torture? Since September 11 new methods of
      interrogation have been deployed to counter the threat of terrorism -
      but how far should we go? In this compelling dispatch, award-winning
      author Mark Bowden asks if the treatment of captured al-Qaeda
      suspects is in danger of becoming a breach of common humanity

      Sunday October 19, 2003
      The Observer

      Rawalpindi, Pakistan: on what may or may not have been a Saturday, on
      what may have been 1 March, in a house in this city that may have
      been this squat two-storey white one belonging to Ahmad Abdul Qadoos,
      with big, grey-headed crows barking in the front yard, the notorious
      terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was roughly awakened by a raiding
      party of Pakistani and American commandos. Anticipating a gunfight,
      they entered loud and fast. Instead, they found him asleep. He was
      pulled from his bed, hooded, bound, hustled from the house, placed in
      a vehicle and driven quickly away.

      Here was the biggest catch yet in the war on terror. Sheikh Mohammed
      is considered the architect of two attempts on the World Trade
      Center: the one that failed, in 1993, and the one that succeeded so
      catastrophically, eight years later. He is also believed to have been
      behind the attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998,
      and on the USS Cole two years later, and behind the murder last year
      of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, among other things.
      An intimate of Osama bin Laden, Sheikh Mohammed has been called the
      operations chief of al-Qaeda, if such a formal role can be said to
      exist in such an informal organisation. Others have suggested that a
      more apt designation might be al-Qaeda's 'chief franchisee'.

      Whatever the analogy, he is one of the organisation's most important
      figures, a burly, distinctly modern, cosmopolitan 37-year-old man
      fanatically devoted to a medieval form of Islam. He was born to
      Pakistani parents, raised in Kuwait and educated in North Carolina to
      be an engineer, before he returned to the Middle East to build a
      career of bloody mayhem.

      Some say that Sheikh Mohammed was captured months before the 1 March
      date announced by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Abdul
      Qadoos, a pale, white-bearded alderman in this well-heeled
      neighbourhood, told me that Sheikh Mohammed was not there 'then or
      ever'. The official video of the snatch appears to have been faked.
      But the details are of minor importance. Whenever, wherever and
      however it happened, nearly everyone now agrees that Sheikh Mohammed
      is in US custody, and has been for some time. In the first hours of
      his captivity the hood came off and a picture was taken. It shows a
      bleary-eyed, heavy, hairy, swarthy man with a full black moustache,
      thick eyebrows, a dark outline of beard on a rounded, shaved face,
      three chins, long sideburns and a full head of dense, long, wildly
      moussed black hair. He stands before a pale, tan, chipped wall,
      leaning slightly forward, like a man with his hands bound behind him,
      the low cut of his loose-fitting white T-shirt exposing matted curls
      of hair on his chest, shoulders and back. He is looking down and to
      the right of the camera. He appears dazed and glum.

      Sheikh Mohammed is a smart man. There is an anxious, searching
      quality to his expression in that first post-arrest photo. It is the
      look of a man awakened into nightmare. Everything that has given his
      life meaning - his role as husband and father, his leadership, his
      stature, plans and ambitions - is finished. His future is months,
      maybe years, of imprisonment and interrogation, a military tribunal
      and almost certain execution. You can practically see the wheels
      turning in his head, processing his terminal predicament. How will he
      spend his last months and years? Will he maintain a defiant silence?
      Or will he succumb to his enemy and betray his friends, his cause and
      his faith?

      If Sheikh Mohammed felt despair in those first hours, it didn't show.
      According to a Pakistani officer who sat in on an initial ISI
      interview, the al-Qaeda sub-boss seemed calm and stoic. For his first
      two days in custody he said nothing beyond confirming his name. A CIA
      official says that Sheikh Mohammed spent those days 'sitting in a
      trance-like state and reciting verses from the Koran'. On the third
      day he is said to have loosened up. Fluent in the local languages of
      Urdu, Pashto and Baluchi, he tried to shame his Pakistani
      interrogators, lecturing them on their responsibilities as Muslims
      and upbraiding them for co-operating with infidels.

      'Playing an American surrogate won't help you or your country,' he
      said. 'There are dozens of people like me who will give their lives,
      but won't let the Americans live in peace anywhere in the world.'
      Asked if Osama bin Laden was alive, he said, 'Of course he is alive.'
      He spoke of meeting with bin Laden in 'a mountainous border region'
      in December. He seemed smug about US and British preparations for war
      against Saddam Hussein. 'Let the Iraq war begin,' he said. 'The US
      forces will be targeted inside their bases in the Gulf. I don't have
      any specific information, but my sixth sense is telling me that you
      will get the news from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait.' Indeed, in
      the following months, al-Qaeda carried out a murderous attack in
      Saudi Arabia.

      On that third day, hooded once more, Sheikh Mohammed was driven to
      Chaklala Air Force base in Rawalpindi and turned over to US forces.
      From there he was flown to the CIA interrogation centre in Bagram,
      Afghanistan, and from there, some days later, to an 'undisclosed
      location' (a place the CIA calls 'Hotel California') - presumably a
      facility in another co-operative nation, or perhaps a specially
      designed prison aboard an aircraft carrier.

      It doesn't much matter where, because the place would not have been
      familiar or identifiable to him. Place and time, the anchors of
      sanity, were about to come unmoored. He might as well have been
      entering a new dimension, a strange new world where his every word,
      move and sensation would be monitored and measured; where things
      might be as they seemed, but might not; where there would be no such
      thing as day or night, or normal patterns of eating and drinking,
      waking and sleeping; where hot and cold, wet and dry, clean and
      dirty, truth and lies, would all be tangled and distorted.

      Intelligence and military officials would talk about Sheikh
      Mohammed's state only indirectly, and conditionally. But by the time
      he arrived at a more permanent facility he would already have been
      dog tired, hungry, sore, uncomfortable and afraid - if not for
      himself, then for his wife and children, who had been arrested either
      with him or some months before, depending on which story you believe.
      He would have been warned that lack of co-operation might mean being
      turned over to the more direct and brutal interrogators of some third
      nation. He would most likely have been locked naked in a cell with no
      trace of daylight. The space would be filled night and day with harsh
      light and noise, and would be so small that he would be unable to
      stand upright, to sit comfortably, or to recline fully. He would be
      kept awake, cold and probably wet. If he managed to doze, he would be
      roughly awakened. He would be fed infrequently and irregularly, and
      then only with thin, tasteless meals. Sometimes days would go by
      between periods of questioning, sometimes only hours or minutes. The
      human mind craves routine, and can adjust to almost anything in the
      presence of it, so his jailers would take care that no semblance of
      routine developed.

      Questioning would be intense - sometimes loud and rough, sometimes
      quiet and friendly, with no apparent reason for either. He would be
      questioned sometimes by one person, sometimes by two or three. The
      session might last for days, with interrogators taking turns, or it
      might last only a few minutes. He would be asked the same questions
      again and again, and then suddenly be presented with something
      completely unexpected - a detail or a secret that he would be shocked
      to find they knew. He would be offered the opportunity to earn
      freedom or better treatment for his wife and children. Whenever he
      was helpful and the information he gave proved true, his harsh
      conditions would ease. If the information proved false, his treatment
      would worsen. On occasion he might be given a drug to elevate his
      mood prior to interrogation; marijuana, heroin and Sodium Pentothal
      have been shown to overcome a reluctance to speak, and
      methamphetamine can unleash a torrent of talk in the stubbornest
      subjects, the very urgency of the chatter making a complex lie
      impossible to sustain. These drugs could be administered
      surreptitiously with food or drink, and, given the bleakness of his
      existence, they might even offer a brief period of relief and
      pleasure, thereby creating a whole new category of longing - and new
      leverage for his interrogators.

      Deprived of any outside information, Sheikh Mohammed would grow more
      and more vulnerable to manipulation. For instance, intelligence
      gleaned after successful al-Qaeda attacks in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia
      might be fed to him, in bits and pieces, so as to suggest foiled
      operations. During questioning he would be startled regularly by
      details about his secret organisation - details would be drawn from
      ongoing intelligence operations, new arrests, or the interrogation of
      other captive al-Qaeda members. Some of the information fed to him
      would be true, some of it false. Key associates might be said to be
      co-operating, or to have completely recanted their allegiance to
      jihad. As time went by, Sheikh Mohammed's knowledge would decay,
      while that of his questioners improved. He might come to see once-
      vital plans as insignificant, or already known. The importance of
      certain secrets would gradually erode.

      Isolated, confused, weary, hungry, frightened and tormented, Sheikh
      Mo-hammed would gradually be reduced to a seething collection of
      simple needs, all of them controlled by his interrogators. The key to
      filling all those needs would be the same: to talk.

      These days, we hear a lot about America's overpowering military
      technology; about the professionalism of its warriors; about the
      sophistication of its weaponry, eavesdropping and telemetry, but
      right now the most vital weapon in its arsenal may well be the art of
      interrogation. To counter an enemy who relies on stealth and
      surprise, the most valuable tool is information, and often the only
      source of that information is the enemy himself. Men, like Sheikh
      Mohammed, who have been taken alive in this war, are classic
      candidates for the most cunning practices of this dark art.
      Intellectual, sophisticated, deeply religious and well trained, they
      present a perfect challenge for the interrogator. Getting at the
      information they possess could allow us to thwart major attacks,
      unravel their organisation, and save thousands of lives. They and
      their situation pose one of the strongest arguments in modern times
      for the use of torture.

      Torture is repulsive. It is deliberate cruelty, a crude and ancient
      tool of political oppression. It is commonly used to terrorise
      people, or to wring confessions out of suspected criminals who may or
      may not be guilty. It is the classic short cut for a lazy or
      incompetent investigator. Horrifying examples of torturers' handiwork
      are catalogued and publicised annually by Amnesty International,
      Human Rights Watch and other organisations that battle such abuses
      worldwide. One cannot help sympathising with the innocent, powerless
      victims showcased in their literature.

      But professional terrorists pose a harder question. They are locked
      boxes containing potentially life-saving information. Sheikh Mohammed
      has his own political and religious reasons for plotting mass murder,
      and there are those who would applaud his principled defiance in
      captivity. But we pay for his silence in blood.

      The word 'torture' comes from the Latin verb torquere, 'to twist'.
      Webster's New World Dictionary offers the following primary
      definition: 'The inflicting of severe pain to force information and
      confession, get revenge, etc'. Note the 'severe', which summons up
      images of the rack, thumbscrews, gouges, branding irons, burning
      pits, impaling devices, electric shock and all the other devilish
      tools devised by human beings to mutilate and inflict pain on others.

      All manner of innovative cruelty is still commonplace, particularly
      in Central and South America, Africa and the Middle East. Saddam
      Hussein's police force burnt various marks into the foreheads of
      thieves and deserters, and routinely sliced tongues out of those
      whose words offended the state. In Sri Lanka, prisoners are hung
      upside down and burnt with hot irons. In China they are beaten with
      clubs and shocked with cattle prods. In India, the police stick pins
      through the fingernails and fingers of prisoners. Maiming and
      physical abuse are legal in Somalia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria,
      Sudan and other countries that practise sharia law; the hands of
      thieves are lopped off, and women convicted of adultery may be stoned
      to death. Governments around the world continue to employ rape and
      mutilation, and to harm family members, including children, in order
      to extort confessions or information. Civilised people everywhere
      readily condemn these offences.

      Then there are methods that, some people argue, fall short of
      torture. Called 'torture lite', these include sleep deprivation,
      exposure to heat or cold, the use of drugs to cause confusion, rough
      treatment (slapping, shoving or shaking), forcing a prisoner to stand
      for days at a time or to sit in uncomfortable positions, and playing
      on his fears for himself and his family. Although excruciating for
      the victim, these tactics generally leave no permanent marks and do
      no lasting physical harm.

      The Geneva Convention makes no distinction: it bans any mistreatment
      of prisoners. But some nations that are otherwise committed to ending
      brutality have employed torture lite under what they feel are
      justifiable circumstances. In 1987, Israel attempted to codify a
      distinction between torture, which was banned, and 'moderate physical
      pressure', which was permitted in special cases. Indeed, some police
      officers, soldiers and intelligence agents who abhor 'severe' methods
      believe that banning all forms of physical pressure would be
      dangerously naive. Few support the use of physical pressure to
      extract confessions, especially because victims will often say
      anything (to the point of falsely incriminating themselves) to put an
      end to pain. But many veteran interrogators believe that the use of
      such methods to extract information is justified if it could save
      lives - whether by forcing an enemy soldier to reveal his army's
      battlefield positions or forcing terrorists to betray the details of
      ongoing plots. As these interrogators see it, the wellbeing of the
      captive must be weighed against the lives that might be saved by
      forcing him to talk. A method that produces life-saving information
      without doing lasting harm to anyone is not just preferable, it
      appears to be morally sound. (Hereafter, I will use 'torture' to mean
      the more severe, traditional outrages and 'coercion' to refer to
      torture lite, or moderate physical pressure.)

      There is no clear count of suspected terrorists now in US custody.
      About 680 were detained at Camp X-Ray, the specially constructed
      prison at Guantanamo, on the southeastern tip of Cuba. Most of these
      are now considered mere foot soldiers in the Islamist movement, swept
      up in Afghanistan during the swift rout of the Taliban. They come
      from 42 nations. Scores of other detainees, considered leaders, have
      been or are being held at various locations around the world: in
      Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Jordan, Morocco, Yemen,
      Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand and Iraq, where US forces now
      hold the top echelon of Saddam Hussein's dismembered regime. Some
      detainees are in disclosed prisons, such as the facility at Bagram
      and a camp on the island of Diego Garcia. Others - upper-tier figures
      such as Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Rashim al-Nashiri,
      Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Tawfiq bin Attash - are being held at
      undisclosed locations.

      It is likely that some captured terrorists' names and arrests have
      not yet been revealed; people may be held for months before their
      arrests are staged. Once a top-level suspect is publicly known to be
      in custody, his intelligence value falls. His organisation scatters,
      altering its plans, disguises, cover stories, codes, tactics and
      communication methods. The maximum opportunity for intelligence
      gathering comes in the first hours after an arrest, before others in
      a group can possibly know that their walls have been breached.
      Keeping an arrest quiet for days or weeks prolongs this opportunity.
      If 1 March was in fact the day of Sheikh Mohammed's capture, then the
      cameras and the headlines were an important intelligence failure. The
      arrest of the senior al-Qaeda figure Abu Anas Liby, in Sudan in
      February 2002, was not made public until a month later, when US
      efforts to transfer him to custody in Egypt were leaked to a
      newspaper. So, again, there is no exact count of suspected terrorists
      in custody. In September last year, testifying before the House and
      Senate Intelligence Committees, Cofer Black, the US State
      Department's co-ordinator for counterterrorism, said that the number
      who have been detained was about 3,000.

      Is the US torturing these prisoners? Three inmates have died in US
      custody in Afghanistan, and reportedly 18 prisoners at Guantanamo
      have attempted suicide; one prisoner there survived after hanging
      himself, but remains unconscious and is not expected to revive. Shah
      Muhammad, a 20-year-old Pakistani who was held at Camp X-Ray for 18
      months, told me that he repeatedly tried to kill himself. 'They were
      driving me crazy,' he said.

      Public comments by administration officials have fuelled further
      suspicion. An unnamed intelligence official told The Wall Street
      Journal: 'What's needed is a little bit of smacky-face. Some al-Qaeda
      just need some extra encouragement.'

      Describing the clandestine war, Black said, 'This is a highly
      classified area.

      All I want to say is that there was "before 9/11" and "after 9/11".
      After 9/11 the gloves came off.' He was referring to the overall
      counterterrorism effort, but in the context of detained captives the
      line was suggestive. A story in December 2002 by Washington Post
      reporters Dana Priest and Barton Gellman described the use of 'stress
      and duress' techniques at Bagram, and an article in The New York
      Times in March described the maltreatment of prisoners there. That
      month, Irene Kahn, the secretary-general of Amnesty International,
      wrote a letter of protest to President Bush:

      'The treatment alleged falls clearly within the category of torture
      and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which
      is absolutely prohibited under international law... [We] urge the US
      government to instigate a full, impartial inquiry into the treatment
      of detainees at the Bagram base and to make the findings public. We
      further urge the government to make a clear public statement that
      torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of suspects
      in its custody will not be tolerated under any circumstances, and
      that anyone found to have engaged in abuses will be brought to

      In June, at the urging of Amnesty and other groups, President Bush
      reaffirmed America's opposition to torture, saying, 'I call on all
      governments to join with the United States and the community of law-
      abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating and prosecuting all
      acts of torture... and we are leading this fight by example.'

      A slightly more detailed response had been prepared two months
      earlier by the Pentagon's top lawyer, William J Haynes II, in a
      letter to Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch.
      Haynes wrote: 'The United States questions enemy combatants to elicit
      information they may possess that could help the coalition win the
      war and forestall further terrorist attacks upon the citizens of the
      United States and other countries. As President Bush reaffirmed
      recently to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,
      United States policy condemns and prohibits torture. When questioning
      enemy combatants, US personnel are required to follow this policy and
      applicable laws prohibiting torture.'

      Haynes's choice of words was careful - and telling. The human rights
      groups and the administration are defining terms differently. Yet few
      would argue that getting Sheikh Mohammed to talk doesn't serve the
      larger interests of mankind.

      If there is an archetype of the modern interrogator, it is Michael
      Koubi. The former chief interrogator for Israel's General Security
      Services, or Shabak, Koubi probably has more experience than anyone
      else in the world in the interrogation of hostile Arab prisoners,
      some of them confirmed terrorists and religious fanatics - men, he
      says, 'whose hatred of the Jews is unbridgeable'. Koubi has blue eyes
      in a lean, crooked face. His nose has been broken twice and now ends
      well to the right of where it begins, giving him a look that is
      literally off-centre. His wisdom, too, is slightly off-centre,
      because Koubi has a uniquely twisted perspective on human nature. For
      decades he has been experimenting with captive human beings,
      cajoling, tricking, hurting, threatening and spying on them, steadily
      upping the pressure, looking for cracks at the seams.

      I met Koubi at his home on the beach in Ashkelon, just a short drive
      north of the border with the Gaza Strip, in whose prisons he worked
      for much of his career. He is comfortably retired from his Shabak job
      now, a grandfather three times over, and works for the municipal
      Inspection and Sanitation Department.

      There are still many things he is not free to discuss, but he is
      happy to talk about his methods. He is very proud of his skills,
      among them an ability to speak Arabic so fluently that he can adopt a
      multitude of colloquial flavours. Koubi came to his career as an
      interrogator through his love of language. He grew up speaking
      Hebrew, Yiddish and Arabic, and he studied Arabic in high school,
      working to master its idiom and slang. He also had a knack for
      reading the body language and facial expressions of his subjects, and
      for sensing a lie. He is a skilled actor who could alternately
      befriend or intimidate a subject. Blending these skills with the
      tricks he had learnt over the years for manipulating people, Koubi
      didn't just question his subjects, he orchestrated their emotional

      To many, including many in Israel, Koubi and the unit he headed are
      an outrage. The games they played and the tactics they employed are
      seen as inhumane, illegal and downright evil. It is hard to picture
      this pleasant grandfather as the leader of a unit that critics accuse
      of being brutal, but then, charm has always been as important to
      interrogation work as toughness or cruelty - perhaps more important.
      Koubi says that only in rare instances did he use force to extract
      information from his subjects; in most cases it wasn't necessary.

      'People change when they get to prison,' Koubi says. 'They may be
      heroes outside, but inside they change. The conditions are different.
      People are afraid of the unknown. They are afraid of being tortured,
      of being held for a long time. Try to see what it is like to sit with
      a hood over your head for four hours, when you are hungry and tired
      and afraid, when you are isolated from everything and have no clue
      what is going on.' When the captive believes that anything could
      happen - torture, execution, indefinite imprisonment, even the
      persecution of his loved ones - the interrogator can go to work.
      Under pressure, he says, nearly everyone looks out first and foremost
      for number one.

      Every large part of who a man is depends on his circumstances. No
      matter who he is before his arrest, his sense of self will blur in
      custody. Isolation, fear and deprivation force a man to retreat, to
      reorient himself and to reorder his priorities. For most men, Koubi
      says, the hierarchy of loyalty under stress is 1) self, 2) group, 3)
      family, 4) friends. In other words, even the most dedicated terrorist
      (with very rare exceptions), when pushed hard enough, will act to
      preserve and protect himself at the expense of anyone or anything
      else. 'There's an old Arab saying,' Koubi says. '"Let one hundred
      mothers cry, but not my mother - but better my mother than me".'

      With older men the priorities shift slightly. In middle age the
      family often overtakes the group (the cause) to become the second
      most important loyalty. Young men tend to be fiercely committed and
      ambitious, but older men - even men with deeply held convictions, men
      admired and emulated by their followers - tend to have loves and
      obligations that count for more. Age frays idealism, slackens zeal
      and cools ferocity. Abstractions lose ground to wife, children and
      grandchildren. 'Notice that the leaders of Hamas do not send their
      own sons, daughters and grandchildren to blow themselves up,' Koubi

      So it is often the top-level men, like Sheikh Mohammed, who are
      easier to crack. Koubi believes that having the al-Qaeda leader's
      wife and children in custody gives his interrogators powerful
      leverage. The key is to find a man's weak point and exploit it. For
      Koubi, the three critical ingredients of that process are
      preparation, investigation and theatre.

      Preparing a subject for interrogation means softening him up.
      Ideally, he has been pulled from his sleep - like Sheikh Mohammed -
      early in the morning, roughly handled, bound, hooded (a coarse,
      dirty, smelly sack serves the purpose perfectly), and kept waiting in
      discomfort, perhaps naked in a cold, wet room, forced to stand or to
      sit in an uncomfortable position. He may be kept awake for days prior
      to questioning, isolated and ill-fed. He may be unsure where he is,
      what time of day it is, how long he has been or will be held. If he
      is wounded, as Abu Zubaydah was, pain medication may be withheld; it
      is one thing to cause pain, another to refuse to relieve it.

      Mousa Khoury, a Palestinian businessman, knows the drill all too
      well. A slender 34-year-old man with a black goatee and thinning
      hair, he is bitter about the Israeli occupation and his experiences
      in custody. He has been arrested and interrogated six times by
      Israeli forces. He was once detained for 71 days.
      'My hands were cuffed behind my back and a potato sack was put over
      my head,' he says. 'My legs were cuffed to a tiny chair. The chair's
      base was 10cm by 20cm. The back was 10cm by 10cm. It was hard wood.
      The front legs were shorter than the back ones, so you were forced to
      slide forward on it; only your hands were bound at the back. If you
      sat back, the back of the chair dug into the small of your back. If
      you slumped forward, you were forced to hang by your hands. It was
      painful. They would take you to the toilet only after screaming a
      request 100 times.' He could think about only one thing: how to make
      the treatment stop. 'Your thoughts go back and forth and back and
      forth, and you can no longer have a normal stream of consciousness,'
      he says.

      Preparing an interrogator means arming him beforehand with every
      scrap of information about his subject. US Army interrogation manuals
      suggest preparing a thick 'dummy file' when little is known, to make
      it appear that the interrogator knows more than he does. Nothing
      rattles a captive more than to be confronted with a fact he thought
      was secret or obscure. It makes the interrogator seem powerful, all-
      knowing. A man's sense of importance is wounded, and he is slower to
      lie, because he thinks he might be caught at it.

      There are many ways that scraps of information - gathered by old-
      fashioned legwork or the interrogation of a subject's associates -
      can be leveraged by a clever interrogator into something new. Those
      scraps might be as simple as knowing the names of a man's siblings or
      key associates, the name of his girlfriend, or a word or phrase that
      has special meaning to his group. Uncovering privileged details
      diminishes the aura of a secret society, whether it is a social club,
      a terrorist cell or a military unit. Joining such a group makes an
      individual feel distinct, important and superior, and invests even
      the most mundane of his activities with meaning. An interrogator who
      penetrates that secret society, unravelling its shared language,
      culture, history, customs, plans and pecking order, can diminish its
      hold on even the staunchest believer. Suspicion that a trusted
      comrade has betrayed the group - or the subject himself - undermines
      the sense of a secretly shared purpose and destiny. Armed with a few
      critical details, a skilled interrogator can make a subject doubt the
      value of information he has been determined to withhold. It is one
      thing to suffer in order to protect a secret, quite another to cling
      to a secret that is already out. This is how a well-briefed
      interrogator breaches a group's defences.

      Koubi believes that the most important skill for an interrogator is
      to know the prisoner's language. Working through interpreters is at
      best a necessary evil. Language is at the root of all social
      connections and plays a critical role in secret societies like Hamas
      and al-Qaeda. A shared vocabulary or verbal shorthand helps to cement
      the group.

      'I try to create the impression that I use his mother tongue even
      better than he does,' Koubi says. 'There's no accent, no mistaken
      syntax. I speak to him like his best friend speaks to him. I might
      ask him a question about a certain word or sentence or expression,
      how it is used in his culture, and then I will demonstrate that I
      know more about it than he does. This embarrasses him very much.'

      Once a prisoner starts to talk, rapid follow-up is needed to sort
      fact from fiction, so that the interrogator knows whether his subject
      is being co-operative or evasive, and can respond accordingly.
      Interrogation sessions should be closely observed (many rooms
      designed for this purpose have one-way mirrors), and in a well-run
      unit a subject's words can sometimes be checked out before the
      session is over. Being caught so quickly in a lie demonstrates the
      futility of playing games with the interrogator, and strengthens his
      hand. It shames and rattles the subject. When information checks out,
      the interrogator can home in for more details and open up new avenues
      of exploration.

      Religious extremists are the hardest cases. They ponder in their own
      private space, performing a kind of self-hypnosis. They are usually
      well educated. Their lives are financially and emotionally tidy. They
      tend to live in an ascetic manner, and to look down on nonbelievers.
      They tend to be physically and mentally strong, and not to be
      influenced by material things - by either the incentives or the
      disincentives available in prison. Often the rightness of their cause
      trumps all else, so they can commit any outrage - lie, cheat, steal,
      betray, kill - without remorse. Yet under sufficient duress, Koubi
      says, most men of even this kind will eventually break - most, but
      not all. Some cannot be broken.

      'They are very rare,' he says, 'but in some cases the more aggressive
      you get, and the worse things get, the more these men will withdraw
      into their own world, until you cannot reach them.'

      Mousa Khoury, the Palestinian businessman who has been interrogated
      six times, claims that he never once gave in to his jailers. Koubi
      has no particular knowledge of Khoury's case, but he smiles his
      crooked, knowing smile and says, 'If someone you meet says he was
      held by our forces and did not co-operate at all, you can bet he is
      lying. In some cases men who are quite famous for their toughness
      were the most helpful to us in captivity.'

      A good interrogator is a deceiver. One of Koubi's tricks was to walk
      into a hallway lined with 20 recently arrested, hooded,
      uncomfortable, hungry and fearful men, all primed for interrogation,
      and shout commandingly, 'OK, who wants to co-operate with me?' Even
      if no hands, or only one hand, went up, he would say to the hooded
      men, 'OK, good. Eight of you. I'll start with you, and the others
      will have to wait.' Believing that others have capitulated makes
      doing so oneself much easier. Often, after this trick, many of the
      men in the hall would co-operate. Men are herd animals, and prefer to
      go with the flow, especially when moving in the other direction is

      In one case Koubi had information suggesting that two men he was
      questioning were secretly members of a terrorist cell and knew of an
      impending attack. They were tough men, rural farmers, very difficult
      to intimidate or pressure, and so far neither man had admitted
      anything under questioning. Koubi worked them over individually for
      hours. With each man he would start off by asking friendly questions
      and then grow angrier and angrier, accusing the subject of
      withholding something. He would slap him, knock him off his chair,
      set guards on him, and then intervene to pull them off. Then he would
      put the subject back in the chair and offer him a cigarette,
      lightening the mood. 'Let him see the difference between the two
      atmospheres, the hostile one and the friendly one,' Koubi says.
      Neither man budged.

      Finally, Koubi set his trap. He announced to one of the men that his
      interrogation was over. The man's associate, hooded, was seated in
      the hallway outside the room. 'We are going to release you,' Koubi
      said. 'We are pleased with your co-operation. But first you must do
      something for me. I am going to ask you a series of questions, just a
      formality, and I need you to answer "Yes" in a loud, clear voice for
      the recorder.' Then, in a voice loud enough for the hooded man
      outside in the hall to hear, but soft enough so that he couldn't make
      out exactly what was being said, Koubi read off a long list of
      questions, reviewing the prisoner's name, age, marital status, date
      of capture, length of detainment, and so forth. These were regularly
      punctuated by the prisoner's loud and co-operative 'Yes'. The charade
      was enough to convince the man in the hall that his friend had

      Koubi dismissed the first man and brought in the second. 'There's no
      more need for me to question you,' Koubi said. 'Your friend has
      confessed the whole thing.' He offered the second prisoner a
      cigarette and gave him a good meal. He told him that the information
      provided by his friend virtually ensured that they would both be in
      prison for the rest of their lives... unless, he said, the second
      prisoner could offer him something, anything, that would dispose the
      court to leniency in his case. Convinced that his friend had already
      betrayed them both, the second prisoner acted promptly to save
      himself. 'If you want to save Israeli lives, go immediately,' he told
      Koubi. 'My friends went with a car to Yeshiva Nehalim [a religious
      school]. They are going to kidnap a group of students...' The men
      were found in Erez, and the operation was foiled.

      A skilful interrogator knows which approach will best suit his
      subject; and just as he expertly applies stress, he continually opens
      up these avenues of escape or release. This means understanding what,
      at heart, is stopping a subject from co-operating. If it is ego, that
      calls for one method. If it is fear of reprisal or of getting into
      deeper trouble, another method might work best. For most captives a
      major incentive to keep quiet is simply pride. Their manhood is being
      tested, not just their loyalty and conviction. Allowing the subject
      to save face lowers the cost of capitulation, so an artful
      interrogator will offer persuasive rationales for giving in: others
      already have, or the information is already known. Drugs, if
      administered with the subject's knowledge, are helpful in this
      regard. If a subject believes that a particular drug or 'truth serum'
      renders him helpless, he is off the hook. He cannot be held
      accountable for giving in. A study cited in George Andrews's book
      Mkultra found that a placebo - a simple sugar pill - was as effective
      as an actual drug up to half of the time.

      Koubi layered his deception so thick that his subjects never knew
      exactly when their interrogation ended. After questioning, captives
      usually spent time in a regular prison, which the Israelis had bugged
      with a system that was disguised well enough to appear hidden, but
      not well enough to avoid discovery. In this way prisoners were led to
      believe that only certain parts of the prison were bugged. In fact,
      all of the prison was bugged. Conversations between prisoners could
      be overheard anywhere, and were closely monitored. They were an
      invaluable source of intelligence. Prisoners who could hold out
      through the most intense interrogation often let their guard down
      later when talking to comrades in jail.

      To help such inadvertent confessions along, Koubi had yet another
      card to play. Whenever an interrogated subject was released to the
      general prison, after weeks of often gruelling questioning, he was
      received with open arms by fellow Palestinians who befriended him and
      congratulated him for having endured interrogation. He was treated
      like a hero. He was fed, nursed, even celebrated. What he didn't know
      was that his happy new comrades were working for Koubi.

      Koubi calls them 'birdies'. They were Palestinians who, offered an
      incentive such as an opportunity to settle with their families in
      another country, had agreed to co-operate with Shabak. Some days or
      weeks after welcoming the new prisoner into their ranks, easing his
      transition into the prison, the birdies would begin to ask questions.
      They would debrief the prisoner on his interrogation sessions. They
      would say, 'It is very important for those on the outside to know
      what you told the Israelis and what you didn't tell them. Tell us,
      and we will get the information to those on the outside who need to
      know.' Even prisoners who had managed to keep important secrets from
      Koubi spilled them to his birdies.

      'The amazing thing is that by now the existence of the birdies is
      well known,' Koubi says, 'and yet the system still works. People come
      out of interrogation, go into the regular prison, and then tell their
      darkest secrets. I don't know why it still works, but it does.'

      Despite the hue and cry over mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo,
      two former Pakistani inmates there - Shah Muhammad and Sahibzada
      Osman Ali - told me that except for some roughing up immediately
      after they were captured, they were not badly treated at Camp X-Ray.
      They both felt bored, lonely, frustrated, angry and helpless (enough
      for Shah Muhammad to attempt suicide), but neither believed that he
      would be harmed by his American captors, and both regarded the
      extreme precautions (shackles, handcuffs, hoods) that so outraged the
      rest of the world as comical. 'What did the American soldiers think I
      could do to them?' asked Sahibzada, who stands about 5ft 8in and
      weighs little more than 11st.

      he perfect model of an interrogation centre would be a place where
      prisoners lived in fear and uncertainty, a place where they could be
      isolated or allowed to mingle freely, as the jailer wished, and where
      conversations anywhere could be overheard. Interrogators would be
      able to control the experience of their subjects completely, shutting
      down access to other people, or even to normal sensation and
      experience, or opening up that access. Subjects' lives could be made
      a misery of discomfort and confusion, or restored to an almost normal
      level of comfort and social interaction within the limitations of
      confinement. Hope could be dangled or removed. Co-operation would be
      rewarded, stubbornness punished. Interrogators would have ever-
      growing files on their subjects, with each new fact or revelation
      yielding new leads and more information - drawn from field
      investigations (agents in the real world verifying and exploring
      facts gathered on the inside), the testimony of other subjects,
      collaborators spying inside the prison, and surreptitious recordings.
      The interrogators in this centre would have the experience and the
      intuition of Koubi.

      erious interrogation is clearly being reserved for only the most
      dangerous men, such as Sheikh Mohammed. So why not lift the fig leaf
      covering the use of coercion? Why not eschew hypocrisy, clearly
      define what is meant by 'severe', and amend bans on torture to allow
      interrogators to coerce information from would-be terrorists?

      This is the crux of the problem. It may be clear that coercion is
      sometimes the right choice, but how does one allow it, yet still
      control it? Sadism is deeply rooted in the human psyche. Every army
      has its share of soldiers who delight in kicking and beating bound
      captives. Men in authority tend to abuse it - not all men, but many.
      As a mass, they should be assumed to lean toward abuse. How does a
      country best regulate behaviour in its dark and distant corners, in
      prisons, on battlefields and in interrogation rooms, particularly
      when its forces number in the millions and are spread all over the

      In considering a change in national policy, one is obliged to
      anticipate the practical consequences. So if we formally lift the ban
      on torture, even if only partially and in rare, specific cases (the
      attorney and author Alan Dershowitz has proposed issuing 'torture
      warrants'), the question will be, can we ensure that the practice
      does not become commonplace - not just a tool for extracting vital,
      life-saving information in rare cases, but a routine tool of

      A pertinent case study exists in Israel. Israel has been a target of
      terror attacks for many years, and has wrestled openly with the
      dilemmas they pose for a democracy. In 1987 a commission led by the
      retired Israeli Supreme Court justice Moshe Landau wrote a series of
      recommendations for Michael Koubi and his agents, allowing them to
      use 'moderate physical pressure' and 'non-violent psychological
      pressure' in interrogating prisoners who had information that could
      prevent impending terror attacks. The commission sought to allow such
      coercion only in 'ticking-bomb scenarios' - that is, when the
      information withheld by the suspect could save lives.

      Twelve years later, the Israeli Supreme Court effectively revoked
      this permission, banning the use of any and all forms of torture. In
      the years following the Landau Commission recommendations, the use of
      coercive methods had become widespread in the Occupied Territories.
      It was estimated that more than two-thirds of the Palestinians taken
      into custody were subjected to them. Koubi says that only in rare
      instances, and with court permission, did he slap, pinch, or shake a
      prisoner - but he happens to be an especially gifted interrogator.
      What about the hundreds of men who worked for him? Koubi could not be
      present for all those interrogations. Every effort to regulate
      coercion failed. In the abstract it was easy to imagine a ticking-
      bomb situation, and a suspect who clearly warranted rough treatment.
      But in real life where was the line to be drawn? Should coercive
      methods be applied only to someone who knows of an immediately
      pending attack? What about one who might know of attacks planned for
      months or years in the future?

      'Assuming you get useful information from torture, then why not
      always use torture?' asks Jessica Montell, the executive director of
      B'Tselem, a human rights advocacy group in Jerusalem. 'Why stop at
      the bomb that's already been planted and at people who know where the
      explosives are? Why not people who are building the explosives, or
      people who are donating money, or transferring the funds for the
      explosives? Why stop at the victim himself? Why not torture the
      victims' families, their relatives? If the end justifies the means,
      then where would you draw the line?'

      And how does one define 'coercion', as opposed to 'torture'? If
      making a man sit in a tiny chair that forces him to hang painfully by
      his bound hands when he slides forward is acceptable, then what about
      applying a little pressure to the base of his neck to aggravate that
      pain? When does shaking or pushing a prisoner, which can become
      violent enough to kill or seriously injure a man, cross the line from
      coercion to torture?

      Montell has thought about these questions a lot. She is 35, a slender
      woman with scruffy short brown hair, who seems in perpetual motion,
      directing B'Tselem and tending baby twins and a four-year-old at
      home. Born in California, she emigrated to Israel partly out of
      feelings of solidarity with the Jewish state and partly because she
      found a job she liked in the human-rights field. Raised with a kind
      of idealised notion of Israel, she now seems committed to making the
      country live up to her ideals. But those ideals are hardheaded.
      Although Montell and her organisation have steadfastly opposed the
      use of coercion (which she considers torture), she recognises that
      the moral issue involved is not a simple one.

      She knows that the use of coercion in interrogation did not end
      completely when the Israeli Supreme Court banned it in 1999. The
      difference is that when interrogators use 'aggressive methods' now,
      they know they are breaking the law and could potentially be held
      responsible for doing so. This acts as a deterrent, and tends to
      limit the use of coercion to only the most defensible situations.

      'If I, as an interrogator, feel that the person in front of me has
      information that can prevent a catastrophe from happening,' she
      says, 'I imagine that I would do what I would have to do in order to
      prevent that catastrophe from happening. The state's obligation is
      then to put me on trial, for breaking the law. Then I come and
      say, "These are the facts that I had at my disposal. This is what I
      believed at the time. This is what I thought necessary to do." I can
      evoke the defence of necessity, and then the court decides whether or
      not it's reasonable that I broke the law in order to avert this
      catastrophe. But it has to be that I broke the law. It can't be that
      there's some prior licence for me to abuse people.'

      In other words, when the ban is lifted, there is no restraining lazy,
      incompetent, or sadistic interrogators. As long as it remains illegal
      to torture, the interrogator who employs coercion must accept the
      risk. He must be prepared to stand up in court, if necessary, and
      defend his actions. Interrogators will still use coercion, because in
      some cases they will deem it worth the consequences. This does not
      mean they will necessarily be punished. In any nation the decision to
      prosecute a crime is an executive one. A prosecutor, a grand jury or
      a judge must decide to press charges, and the chances that an
      interrogator in a genuine ticking-bomb case would be prosecuted, much
      less convicted, is very small.

      Candour and consistency are not always public virtues. Torture is a
      crime against humanity, but coercion is an issue that is rightly
      handled with a wink, or even a touch of hypocrisy; it should be
      banned but also quietly practised. Those who protest against coercive
      methods will exaggerate their horrors, which is good: it generates a
      useful climate of fear. It is wise of the US to support international
      agreements banning torture, and it is wise for American interrogators
      to employ whatever coercive methods will work. It is also smart not
      to discuss the matter with anyone.

      If interrogators step over the line from coercion to outright
      torture, they should be held personally responsible. But no
      interrogator is ever going to be prosecuted for keeping Khalid Sheikh
      Mohammed awake, cold, alone, hungry and uncomfortable. Nor should he



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