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|Posted March 9, 2008|
|YES, GO ON In film noir like "Knock on Any Door." in 1949, they knew how to make people talk.|
By SCOTT SHANE
HOW do you get a terrorist to talk? Despite the questioning of tens of thousands of captives in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last six years, and a high-decibel political battle over torture, experts say there has been little serious research to answer that crucial question.
The Bush administration has yet to fill the void, instead getting enmeshed in a defense of waterboarding which the Central Intelligence Agency says it has not used in five years but which critics have seized on as a powerful symbol of how not to conduct war. And Congress, for its part, has skipped over the question in passing a bill (knowing that it would be vetoed by President Bush) that bans harsh interrogations but requires the C.I.A. to use only the tactics listed in the Armys playbook.
Certainly the debate is rich in emotion, with each side claiming the moral heights: You approve torture! Youre coddling terrorists! But the arguments have been scant on science to back them up.
We dont have any idea other than anecdote or moral philosophy what really works, said Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution, author of Law and the Long War: The Future of Justice in the Age of Terror, set to be published in June.
There is the Army Field Manual 2-22.3, officially titled Human Intelligence Collector Operations. It eschews coercion and instead offers general advice on behavior (People tend to want to talk when they are under stress and respond to kindness and understanding during trying circumstances). It offers 19 approaches to interrogation that Congress wants the C.I.A. to stick to, including Mutt and Jeff, or good cop, bad cop; We Know All, in which the interrogator pretends merely to be confirming details of a story he knows already; Rapid-Fire Questioning, to produce contradictions that can then be challenged; Ego Up, in which flattery produces a bond; and False Flag, in which an American interrogator poses as one from another nation. The principles are familiar to anyone whos watched enough police procedurals.
But the manuals inherited wisdom has not been updated to reflect decades of corporate analysis of how to influence consumers. Behavioral economists have dissected decisionmaking, and academic psychologists have studied political persuasion, but their lessons have not informed the interrogators art either. Nor has there been a systematic effort to analyze the successes and blunders of the interrogations carried out since the attacks of 2001.
Steven M. Kleinman, a colonel in the Air Force reserve and a veteran interrogator in Iraq and elsewhere, says the government spends billions on spy satellites but almost nothing on studying interrogation. This is true, he said, despite a broad consensus that interrogation might be the best source of information on an elusive, low-tech, stateless foe like Al Qaeda.
We need to bring scientific standards for interrogation to the same level of sophistication that we bring to satellite imagery and intercepting communications, said Mr. Kleinman, who has studied the American interrogation programs used for high-level German and Japanese prisoners during World War II, which he judges superior to those developed since 2001.
Both Mr. Wittes and Mr. Kleinman occupy a middle ground of sorts in the standoff between Congress and the White House. They are outspoken opponents of the harshest methods used by the C.I.A. in 2002 and 2003. But they also argue that the Congressional bill imposing the Armys methods would make bad policy in the long run by stifling creativity and deterring serious study of a critical subject.
Mr. Kleinman said he envisioned a new intelligence agency or subagency devoted solely to interrogation sponsoring research, conducting training and building a team of sophisticated interrogators with linguistic and psychological skills. He speaks of creating a high-level interrogation center in the United States where settings could be customized for a particular suspect, Hollywood-style, whether its a Bedouin tent or a suite at the Waldorf.
The overriding principle should be: Make it as easy as possible for someone to cooperate with you, he said. If we want someone to re-create in minute detail something that happened three years ago, how can we help them remember?
Mr. Kleinman said such a center would be wired for video and audio recording, in part to assure that interrogators follow the rules but also to let analysts with various kinds of expertise return to the suspects exact words and body language.
In a quiet effort to shift public talk from the past (waterboarding) to the future, a panel of experts, named by the Intelligence Science Board, which advises the intelligence agencies, has been pressing the administration to begin research on identifying the most effective, humane ways of questioning terrorist suspects. Robert A. Fein, a Harvard psychologist who heads the group, made such a presentation to 70 officials at the White House in January. According to people who have heard his talks, Dr. Fein, who declined to comment for this article, is concerned that even the word interrogation is tainted by torture. He uses the term intelligence interviewing for the skills he promotes.
All the talk of comfortable conditions, helping terrorists remember and preserving sessions on videotape stands in almost comic contrast to the C.I.A.s approach in 2002, which resorted to exposure to heat and cold, bombardment with noise, sleep deprivation and waterboarding.
A C.I.A. spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, said the agencys methods have proven to be very effective, producing information that has led to the capture of terrorists and the disruption of their operations. All the methods were lawful, he said, noting that the program has evolved over time.
The argument against the use of pain or physical torture is practical as well as moral. From the Spanish Inquisition to Pol Pots Cambodia, brutal interrogations have been used to force confessions, often without regard to truth.
The government stopped sponsoring interrogation research in the 1970s, after Congressional investigators uncovered gruesome accounts of mind control experiments with drugs like LSD. In the polarized atmosphere of the waterboarding debate, it remains to be seen whether Congress or the public will endorse a carefully regulated program to find new ways of persuading people to give up their secrets.
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, Week in Review, of Sunday, March 9, 2008.
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