Tag: torture

The Strategic Corporal

Retired Generals Charles Krulak and Joseph Hoar have an op-ed over at the Miami Herald making some important arguments against using “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Krulak served as Commandant of the Marine Corps and Hoar served as CENTCOM Commander. CENTCOM is short for Central Command, the regional military command responsible for the Middle East.

Krulak and Hoar endorse the Interrogation Task Force’s recommendation that all future detainee interrogations be conducted within the guidelines in the Army Field Manual on Interrogation. In doing so, they make a point that may be difficult to see unless you have been a leader in the military: condoning torture, or any mistreatment of prisoners, erodes discipline in a military organization.

Rules about the humane treatment of prisoners exist precisely to deter those in the field from taking matters into their own hands. They protect our nation’s honor.

To argue that honorable conduct is only required against an honorable enemy degrades the Americans who must carry out the orders. As military professionals, we know that complex situational ethics cannot be applied during the stress of combat. The rules must be firm and absolute; if torture is broached as a possibility, it will become a reality. Moral equivocation about abuse at the top of the chain of command travels through the ranks at warp speed.

Krulak is no stranger to this topic. In a 1999 article, The Strategic Corporal: Leadership in the Three Block War, Krulak highlighted the difficulty of deploying to low-intensity conflicts and the challenges that enlisted Marines (and soldiers) will face. In a single conflict, a unit could be engaged in humanitarian aid on one block, quelling a riot on the next, and fighting pitched urban combat on the third. Small units led by a corporal may have to take on captain-sized problems. Krulak stressed the importance of leadership and character at the lowest level so that when an officer is not present, low-level leaders will act with the necessary initiative and decision-making skills. The cornerstone for all of this is character.

Honor, courage, and commitment become more than mere words. Those precious virtues, in fact, become the defining aspect of each Marine. This emphasis on character remains the bedrock upon which everything else is built. The active sustainment of character in every Marine is a fundamental institutional competency – and for good reason.

Torture apologists may be found aplenty inside the Beltway, but those who have worn the uniform know better.

State Secrets, State Secrets Are No Fun

Despite Barack Obama’s frequent paeans to the value of transparency during the presidential campaign, his Justice Department has incensed civil liberties advocates by parroting the Bush administration’s broad invocations of the “state secrets privilege” in an effort to torpedo lawsuits challenging controversial interrogation and surveillance policies. Though in many cases the underlying facts have already been widely reported, DOJ lawyers implausibly claimed, not merely that particular classified information should not be aired in open court, but that any discussion of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” of detainees to torture-friendly regimes, or of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping, would imperil national security.

That may—emphasis on may—finally begin to change as of October 1st, when new guidelines for the invocation of the privilege issued by Attorney General Eric Holder kick in. Part of the change is procedural: state secrets claims will need to go through a review board and secure the personal approval of the Attorney General. Substantively, the new rules raise the bar for assertions of privilege by requiring attorneys to provide courts with specific evidence showing reason to expect disclosure would result in “significant harm” to national security. Moreover, those assertions would have to be narrowly tailored so as to allow cases to proceed on the basis of as much information as can safely be disclosed.

That’s the theory, at any rate. The ACLU is skeptical, and argues that relying on AG guidelines to curb state secrets overreach is like relying on the fox to guard the hen house. And indeed, hours after the announcement of the new guidelines—admittedly not yet in effect—government attorneys were singing the state secrets song in a continuing effort to get a suit over allegations of illegal wiretapping tossed. The cynical read here is that the new guidelines are meant to mollify legislators contemplating statutory limits on state secrets claims while preserving executive discretion to continue making precisely the same arguments, so long as they add the word “significant” and jump through a few extra hoops. Presumably we’ll start to see how serious they are come October. And as for those proposed statutory limits, if the new administration’s commitment to greater  accountability is genuine, they should now have no objection to formal rules that simply reinforce the procedures and principles they’ve voluntarily embraced.

McCarthy’s World

The NYC/Denver terrorism investigation has Andy McCarthy all riled up.

In this article at National Review, McCarthy says that the risks associated with terrorism require a domestic preventive detention regime where investigators can go to a court with something less than probable cause and detain individuals without charge until they can gather the evidence for an indictment.

This is a pretty bold proposition, given the fact that he lays out in this post on The Corner the power that investigators already have to detain material witnesses while gathering evidence. Not to mention the power to detain allegedly dangerous individuals picked up on relatively minor charges such as lying to federal agents, the current disposition of the NYC/Denver suspects.

Then McCarthy comes full circle in this post, claiming that if this is the fault of a “law enforcement” mindset in counterterrorism, it may be time to consider a domestic intelligence agency akin to Britain’s MI-5. He also blasts the use of non-coercive interrogation “that the Left insists are just as reliable in a ticking-bomb situation as the CIA’s coercive methods.”

There are several problems with this take on domestic counterterrorism.

The first is that the decision to involve a New York imam in the investigation, a step that compromised the operation and forced investigators to make early arrests before all of the co-conspirators could be identified, was made by an intelligence organization, the NYPD’s Intelligence Division. This is not the cops of the Counterterrorism Bureau, the law enforcement officers that work with the FBI in the Joint Terrorism Task Force, but a separate intelligence department run by a former CIA official who is openly hostile to the Bureau. The same type of folks that McCarthy wants to put in charge of domestic counterterrorism.

Second, McCarthy’s plug for coercive interrogation is the path advocated in the early years of the Bush administration. This has the deleterious effect (beyond statutory bans on torture and constitutional rights prohibiting the same) of making anything you get from the “third degree” inadmissible in court. To get around this you would have to ask courts to generate a doctrine that allows for evidence collected as a result of coercive interrogation to be admitted in spite of clear constitutional violations. I don’t see any way that this does not seep into general law enforcement, where any potential future crime justifies beating information or confessions out of suspects. This is rolling back civil liberties a hundred years or so.

Third, a domestic prevention regime is destined to run into the problems that the British encountered in Northern Ireland. IRA detainees that were subjected to “special interrogation techniques” and held without charge staged a hunger strike to protest being treated as criminals instead of detainees; their jailers had taken away their civilian clothes and made them wear prison uniforms. As former FBI Agent and counterterrorism expert Mike German says in his book, Thinking Like a Terrorist:

The reasons for the hunger strike reveal much about the IRA and about terrorists in general. They didn’t strike over the anti-Catholic discrimination that led to the civil rights movement. They didn’t strike over the RUC’s police abuse or the stationing of British troops in Northern Ireland. They didn’t strike over being arrested without charges, interned, and tortured. They didn’t strike over indefinite detentions or even over Bloody Sunday. They knew all those things helped their cause. They went on hunger strike because the British government was going to make them look like criminals.

If you fear Islamic terrorists, let investigators do their job and find the people who would harm the public. This is a problem that will be solved over decades of diligent investigation, sitting on wiretaps, infiltrating cells, and prosecuting dangerous people. Distorting the domestic criminal justice system out of hysteria over potential attacks will make martyrs out of detainees and torture victims and encourage a broader spectrum of people to violence.

This Is Your Brain on Torture

We’ve all heard the argument that a subject under torture—or whatever this week’s euphemism is—may begin fabricating whatever they believe the interrogator wants to hear just to get the agony to stop.  Now neuroscientists are suggesting that inflicting too much pain and stress on a subject may not just induce them to lie; it may cause them to lose track of what’s true and false altogether:

Fact One: To recall information stored in the brain, you must activate a number of areas, especially the prefrontal cortex (site of intentionality) and hippocampus (the door to long-term memory storage). Fact Two: Stress such as that caused by torture releases the hormone cortisol, which can impair cognitive function, including that of the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. Studies in which soldiers were subjected to stress in the form of food and sleep deprivation have found that it impaired their ability to recall personal memories and information, as this 2006 study reported. “Studies of extreme stress with Special Forces Soldiers have found that recall of previously-learned information was impaired after stress occurred,” notes O’Mara. “Water-boarding in particular is an extreme stressor and has the potential to elicit widespread stress-induced changes in the brain.”

Stress also releases catecholamines such as noradrenaline, which can enlarge the amygdale (structures involved in the processing of fear), also impairing memory and the ability to distinguish a true memory from a false or implanted one. Brain imaging of torture victims, as in this study, suggest why: torture triggers abnormal patterns of activation in the frontal and temporal lobes, impairing memory. Rather than a question triggering a (relatively) simple pattern of brain activation that leads to the stored memory of information that can answer the question, the question stimulates memories almost chaotically, without regard to their truthfulness.

In brief, the subject may lose genuine memories, and come to believe that their confabulations are authentic ones. The full literature review, from Trends in Cognitive Science, can be downloaded in PDF form here.

Weekend Links

  • Is public option a private insurer killer? Larry McNeely and Michael Cannon debate.
  • Podcast: Should the government have the power to punish you for speaking your mind? Many Americans think it should…so long as it’s people with whom they don’t agree.

How Much for a Schlub?

Over at The Corner, Rich Lowry put up a post on detainee interrogations that I responded to. Follow-up posts are available here and here.

Jay Nordlinger steps in to offer the view that, with terrorists, the difference between a “schlub” and a “monster” isn’t much. A pathetic radical can cause a lot of damage with just a little bit of luck.

This may be true, but there is a valuable ends-means calculation that must be considered (also addressed in Julian Sanchez’s post here).

How many times must we use coercive interrogation and get nothing, suffering the inevitable backlash in public opinion and enemy recruiting, for each intelligence success? If you are willing to torture a dozen/hundred/thousand men for each schlub, you will motivate a sufficient number of monsters to make a small tactical victory a pyrrhic one at best, and a strategic debacle at worst.

The big picture trends against torture, or any use of force that crosses the line between mutual combat and violating human rights, or the use of indiscriminate force. The attack on September 11, 2001 crossed that line, and we justifiably responded with military action. The use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EIT’s) crossed that line, and the enemy used it as propaganda fodder.

The British faced a parallel situation in Northern Ireland in 1971. After employing mass arrests that stoked the fires behind the IRA, the Brits employed “special interrogation techniques.” Former FBI Special Agent and successful terrorist group infiltrator Mike German covers this in his book, Thinking Like a Terrorist (citing Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA):

Among the methods used on the internees were the “five techniques”: placing a hood over the head; forcing the internee to stand spreadeagled against a wall for long periods; denying regular sleep patterns; providing irregular and limited food and water; and subjecting people to white noise in the form of a constant humming sound.

Sound familiar? Violence in Northern Ireland increased as a result of these practices. The Brits crossed the line again on Bloody Sunday when they fired into a crowd of peaceful protestors (possibly a response to IRA gunfire at British paratroopers). The tide shifted in favor of the IRA until they broke the unwritten rules of the game on Bloody Friday, detonating twenty-two bombs in Belfast that killed nine people. Tactically masterful, but a political disaster.

The Bush administration changed tactics in its second term in office, discarding EIT’s and moving away from physical coercion of detainees. This was a sensible decision, and there is no reason for the Obama administration to change course.

Lowry and Interrogation

Veronique de Rugy put up a post at The Corner referencing Rich Lowry’s defense of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and my response. Rich has since responded.

With regard to the apprehension of Uzair Paracha, an Al Qaeda facilitator in New York, it seems likely that the apprehension of Majid Khan in Pakistan four days after Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s (KSM) apprehension came from material picked up with KSM and not from interrogation. The key here is that when Majid Khan was in Pakistan, Paracha was pretending to be Majid Khan in communications with immigration officials. Detective work was probably what brought this guy under the microscope.

However, I’m willing to lay that aside because, as Rich points out, there is probably more to the story that shouldn’t be declassified. As I said on Bill O’Reilly’s show, we cannot end this argument until we have declassified all of the dead ends we pursued, which has some serious strategic drawbacks. The CIA recently asserted in court that it cannot reveal any more without compromising sources and methods.

Rich also says that my preferred method of interrogation is “dangling the promise of reduced sentences.”

This is not my preferred method, but it is one that ought to be available to interrogators. Under the Army Field Manual, an interrogator cannot promise anything in the court system. As Matthew Alexander points out in his book, the Iraqi Central Criminal Court has the death penalty attached to almost all of what we consider “material support of terrorism.” I am saying that the Prisoner’s Dilemma is an effective tool if a lesser included offense is on the table so that the first to squeal gets a few years and the others get the noose.

But let’s not discount the lawful interrogation techniques. When I attended SERE, the psychological techniques were far more compelling than the physical ones. We were all young and tough, but the mind tricks that turned brothers in arms against each other were downright disturbing.