Interesting piece from Walter Pincus reflecting anxiety within CIA that the nation will lose intelligence now that the Obama administration is requiring the CIA to use the Army Field Manual on Interrogations as a template for questioning detainees. There’s this bit of pushback to the concept of ending torture:

Another intelligence official, who also asked not to be identified, said waterboarding and other harsh techniques "were meant to get hardened terrorists to a point where they were willing to answer questions." That capability, the official said, "is now gone."

Perhaps that’s what they were meant to do, but according to Ali Soufan, the FBI agent who interrogated Abu Zubaydah without torturing him, that’s not what they did. Soufan wrote in April and testified last week that he interrogated the al-Qaeda detainee in the spring of 2002 by using iterative, rapport-building techniques — though abusive techniques were used against Soufan’s wishes, according to Red Cross documents, among others — and they yielded "information regarding the role of [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed] as the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and lots of other information that remains classified." When "harsh techniques" were introduced, Abu Zubaydah "shut down and stopped talking," Soufan told a Senate judiciary committee panel last week.

Yet the CIA did not maintain a cadre of skilled interrogators before 9/11, which may explain why senior agency officials were so receptive to claims from psychologists affiliated with the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape program that reverse-engineering techniques used to strengthen captured U.S. troops’ resistance to torture would be a valuable intelligence-collection tool. This proposal that Pincus reports appears to be designed to rectify that:

The CIA has also recommended to the presidential task force studying future rules for interrogation that the agency, FBI and Defense Department establish a joint interrogation training center so that all agencies understand the rules under which they operate.

On the face of it, that would appear to provide an institutional bulwark against interrogators even seeking to engage in torture, since FBI and military interrogators are forbidden from doing so.

Crossposted to The Streak.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

1 Comment