Tuesday, December 18, 2007

CIA, the Military, Congress and Interrogation

Stuart Taylor is always worth reading and today he explains why, even if the military restricts its field personnel to certain interrogation techniques, handcuffing the CIA with restrictive regulations makes no sense. Thus, he decries Congress' new attempt to force the CIA to treat all interrogation subjects with kid gloves.

The CIA . . . has a small cadre of highly trained professional interrogators operating far from combat zones and under close supervision. These attributes provide some insurance against the admittedly grave danger that individual interrogators will get carried away and, for example, freeze a detainee nearly to death when they had been authorized only to keep him uncomfortably cold during a two-hour session.

That's why the CIA gets custody of only the relatively small number of terrorist leaders, none of them POWs, who seem most likely to have potentially lifesaving information. Since 9/11, for example, the CIA has used "enhanced" interrogation techniques on only about 30 detainees.

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The current push to subject the CIA to the same restraints as the military may reflect congressional unawareness of just how restrictive the new Army field manual is. It not only prohibits practices that violate international or criminal law, such as waterboarding, mock executions, inducing hypothermia, electric shock, and burns. It also prohibits any technique other than those on a list of 19 that allows various forms of trickery but excludes threats, intimidation, an unfriendly poke in the chest, and much more.

Consider Section 8-35. The heading, "Emotional Fear-Up Approach," sounds ominous. But the section specifies that an interrogator "must be extremely careful that he does not threaten or coerce" a detainee or "act as if he is out of control or set himself up as the object or focal point of the [detainee's] fear. If Congress binds the CIA to provisions such as this, it will not only be prohibiting a light slap in a Qaeda leader's face; it will also be prohibiting a threat to slap him.

Does Congress really want to make it unlawful for the CIA to threaten to slap Osama bin Laden (if he is captured) in the face? Or to put him through the indignity of being served MREs until he cooperates?

Then again, the solution Taylor proposes has some entirely unsatisfying aspects -- most notably making the CIA's own manual public:

So instead of binding the CIA to the Army field manual, Congress should require it to make public its own list of permitted and prohibited interrogation techniques, perhaps with a classified appendix to avoid giving terrorists a road map for resisting. Congress should then codify the CIA manual as law, with any changes that Congress may consider necessary.

That appendix suggestion is naive -- far from Taylor's normal level of pragmatism. However, he's right that:

This CIA manual should allow yelling, threats, and other intimidation techniques that clearly do not rise to the level of torture or violate Geneva's Common Article 3.

Leading experts on the laws of war have also suggested persuasively that Congress should make a special provision for emergencies, allowing the president to authorize specified interrogation techniques for specified detainees that may violate Geneva -- but not the torture ban. To ensure political accountability, the president should be required to give the Intelligence committees a written finding detailing both his justifications and the authorized techniques.

It should also specifically allow waterboarding. There's entirely too much whining and crying about how this interrogation method is torture -- the fact remains that the subject is not physically harmed nor in danger of severe injury (the technique is monitored by medical personnel). But it is coercive. And in a war such as the one the US is fighting, such options are necessary.

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