Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"the utter lack of sophistication and circus-like atmosphere..."

Every time someone says that the United States does not torture, remember this one salient point:

The CIA has acknowledged waterboarding [Abu] Zubaydah, in part out of concern that he had information that could prevent another imminent attack.

That is all the proof one needs in order to show that the US government tortures.

The larger revelations found in the Justice Department audit of the system in which detainees were handled raise troubling questions about the tactics and the mindset of the people who were charged with keeping America safe. Did they, unwittingly, endanger America even more by operating well outside the boundaries of common sense and decency?

The report, written by Glenn Fine, the Inspector General of the US Justice Department, reached several disturbing conclusions:

While the Inspector General's report "...found no instances in which an FBI agent participated in clear detainee abuse..." it blamed the FBI for failing to give clear instructions to its agents in the field.

The split, pitting the FBI against the CIA and Pentagon, came to a head over the treatment of the so-called 20th hijacker Muhammad al-Qahtani. Qahtani is accused by the government of attempting to enter the United States in August 2001 to be a muscle hijacker on one of the planes used in the 9/11 attacks. He was turned away at the Orlando airport and not allowed entry into the country.

Fine's report raises troubling questions about CIA and Pentagon interrogators whose use of snarling dogs, short shackles, mocking of the Quran and other abuses of detainees overseas appear to have overstepped what U.S. courts would allow in collecting evidence.

At the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, FBI agents in 2002 openly clashed with military interrogators bent on "aggressively" interrogating al-Qahtani by confronting him with agitated dogs and keeping him awake for continuous 20-hour interviews daily.

Didn't the US Military just apologize for desecrating a Koran in Iraq? Why the change of heart, one wonders.

The most glaring aspect of the revelations in this report are not that the US tortures detainees--we've become accustomed to learning that about our government. What stands out like a sore thumb, at least to me, is the rejection of proven methods for interrogation:

Such tactics "have been employed only when traditional means of questioning - things like rapport-building - were ineffective," CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said Tuesday.

In al-Qahtani's case, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said no evidence of torture has ever surfaced after extensive internal reviews. Al-Qahtani, designated as an additional hijacker for the 2001 attacks, was forced to wear a bra, dance with another man and behave like a dog while at Guantanamo Bay, according to a 2005 Pentagon report.

Whitman also said he was unaware of any Pentagon actions that would have delayed the Justice report. Fine's audit, however, describes seven months of foot-dragging and negotiating by the Pentagon over how much information in the report should be classified or otherwise shielded from public review. The 438-page report issued Tuesday is only sparsely blacked-out.

The report surveyed over 1,000 agents, interviews with hundreds of other witnesses and a review of more than a half-million documents. It concluded FBI agents in nearly all cases refused to participate in harsh interrogations and left the room when they were ongoing.

Agents also were fairly vigilant about reporting their concerns to their superiors, the report shows.

At Guantanamo Bay, two FBI agents "had concerns not only about the proposed techniques but also about the glee with which the would-be (military) participants discussed their respective roles in carrying out these techniques, and the utter lack of sophistication and circus-like atmosphere within this interrogation strategy session," the report found.

Within the system, there has emerged a few leaders who are trying to resist the CIA and the Bush Administration. We have seen this with the lawyers who have refused to go forward with the trials, and we're also seeing it with the men who have been brought in to clean up the mess:

Interrogators at Guantanamo got intelligence from detainees that helped U.S. troops in Afghanistan attack Taliban fighters last summer — and they did it through casual questioning and not torture, the military's chief interrogator [there] said.

In a rare interview with The Associated Press, veteran interrogator Paul Rester complained that his profession has gotten a bad reputation due to accounts of waterboarding and other rough interrogation tactics used by the CIA at "black sites."

Lawyers for Guantanamo detainees, however, allege their clients have been subjected to temperature extremes, sleep deprivation and threats at this U.S. military base in southeast Cuba.

Wearing a blue-striped business shirt without a tie and looking more like a harried executive than a top interrogator, Rester groused that his line of work is "a business that is fundamentally thankless."

He sat hunched over a table in a snack room inside the building where the top commanders keep their offices. In an attempt to keep personnel from blabbing about intelligence-gathering, a poster showed a picture of a hooded gunman and the words: "Keep talking. We're listening" — today's version of the World War II-era admonishment that "Loose lips sink ships."

"Everybody in the world believes that they know how we do what we do, and I have to endure it every time I turn around and somebody is making reference to waterboarding," Rester said. He insisted that Guantanamo interrogators have had many successes using rapport-building and said that technique was the norm here.

For security reasons, he would only discuss one of the successes, and that was only because his boss, Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, had already described it in a speech last month. Buzby said several detainees, using poster board paper and crayons, drew detailed maps of the Tora Bora area in eastern Afghanistan that enabled coalition forces to wipe out safe houses, trenches and supplies last summer as Taliban forces were returning to the stronghold they had abandoned more than five years ago.

Rapport-building actually works. But it is slow, tedious and not very glamorous to "make nice" with the enemy and use a more "diplomatic" way to getting information out of them.

It's not hard to see why anything relating to "talking" or "diplomacy" or "common sense" is universally rejected by the Bush Administration.

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