Incompetence or Malevolence? Take Your Pick.

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

Today, a news story that neatly captures the moral failings of Bush’s war on terror:

The military trainers who came to Guantánamo Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class on a chart showing the effects of “coercive management techniques” for possible use on prisoners, including “sleep deprivation,” “prolonged constraint,” and “exposure.”

What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners.

The recycled chart is the latest and most vivid evidence of the way Communist interrogation methods that the United States long described as torture became the basis for interrogations both by the military at the base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and by the Central Intelligence Agency.

[…]

The chart also listed other techniques used by the Chinese, including “Semi-Starvation,” “Exploitation of Wounds,” and “Filthy, Infested Surroundings,” and with their effects: “Makes Victim Dependent on Interrogator,” “Weakens Mental and Physical Ability to Resist,” and “Reduces Prisoner to ‘Animal Level’ Concerns.”

The only change made in the chart presented at Guantánamo was to drop its original title: “Communist Coercive Methods for Eliciting Individual Compliance.”

This actually isn’t all that new. It’s covered in Charlie Savage’s book, Takeover. The moral failing here is bad enough. But the ineptitude doesn’t end there. The whole purpose of the Air Force study was to figure out how the Chinese were able to elicit false confessions from American soldiers and pilots during the Korean War. U.S. special forces troops are put through these interrogation techniques during training so they’ll recognize them–not so they won’t give up classified information, but so they won’t submit to giving fake information for propaganda purposes, as happened in Korea.

Those techniques were then adopted at Guantanamo. Which leaves us with one of two possibilities. The first is that this administration is so incompetent that it was foolishly using techniques the military has known for decades lead to false confessions in a bumbling effort to collect real intelligence. That would be bad enough. But at least that would indicate mere incompetence. The second possibility is even scarier: The administration knew the history of these techniques but adopted them anyway, because it wanted confessions it could then trumpet to the public as successes in the war on terror–and they didn’t much care whether or not they were false.

As Savage writes in his book, high-level military interrogation experts tried to explain to political leaders in the Bush administration that they had misunderstood the origin and effect of these techniques. They were rebuffed by political appointees hellbent on expanding presidential power.

Gelles, Kleinman, and other interrogation experts tried to raise alarms internally about the dangers and ineffectiveness of the SERE-style coercive techniques, but they were ignored and threatened. Civilian decision makers inside the Bush-Cheney administration viewed such criticisms as an attack on its claims of presidential power. And they dismissed the complaints as nothing more than another example of the misguided worries of a “law enforcement” mind-set too often focused on fathering evidence that could be used in a civilian courtroom to understand that different rules apply in wartime.

Ron Suskind notes in his book The One Percent Doctrine that many of the false alarms we’ve had over impending terrorist attacks in recent years came from the use of these techniques against low-level al-Qaeda member Abu Zubaydah (he was basically the organization’s travel agent), who told his interrogators whatever he thought they wanted to hear to stop them from torturing him. So we got all of those false warnings about pending terrorist attacks on “shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, and water systems.”

So this administration’s stubborn, tunnel-visioned quest to expand presidential power has caused it to adopt inept interrogation methods, in part because what better way to show the Congress, the human rights groups, and the UN that they have no power to stop this White House than to adopt the most brutal techniques available? Who cares if they work! In the process, they’ve managed to elicit false information from terror suspects, leading to false panics and the waste of potentially billions of dollars in heightened security expenditures after those false alarms have gone out.

“Terrorism” by definition is an effort to use a few attacks to induce unwarranted and irrational fear across an entire population. The aim is get the terrorist’s target to alter its policies, waste its resources, and change its way of life in an irrational response to an enemy without the resources for a more traditional war.

This administration isn’t fighting terror. They’re helping perpetuate it.

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39 Responses to “Incompetence or Malevolence? Take Your Pick.”

  1. #1 |  Zeb | 

    “You’re giving the enemy exactly what they want.”

    Exactly what I have said since sometime in late 2001. I don’t think that Al Qaeda could have hoped for a better outcome from 9-11.

  2. #2 |  HtownGuy | 

    We should fight a war on terror. I just think we’re looking in the wrong direction…..

  3. #3 |  PiledhighDeep | 

    There was also a quite a bit of political usefulness in these false warnings. Seems I remember a lot of terror warnings in the first 10 mos. of 2004 that seemed to peter out around the 3rd of Nov.

  4. #4 |  Danno49 | 

    Does anybody else remember a time when there was an ‘us’ and ‘them’? I’m looking in the rearview and I can’t see it anymore.

    This is truly shameful. Time to reboot, folks. It is not who we really are, not by a long shot. Thank God the architects of this pseudo-fascism are almost out of here . . . I just hope McCain doesn’t win in November. The nightmare will continue and may, in fact, even get worse.

  5. #5 |  claude | 

    “Does anybody else remember a time when there was an ‘us’ and ‘them’?”

    Yes, but “us” somehow managed to become “them”.

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  7. #7 |  Windypundit | 

    This is “who we really are.” It’s who everybody is when left to their animal instincts.

    But we used to try to be better.

  8. #8 |  Jim Collins | 

    I noticed the reference to SERE in the article. It is a shame that some of you couldn’t take the class. It might enlighten you to how much BS is being spouted by the media and give you an idea what real torture might be like.

  9. #9 |  HtownGuy | 

    This is “who we really are.” It’s who everybody is when left to their animal instincts.

    But we used to try to be better.

    I’m afraid this is who the Federal Government is, and the only way to put it back on a leash is for one or more states to take severe action. Oklahoma has given it lip-service, but if they or some other states don’t hurry it’s over.

    Worse, now that we outsource much fighting private contractors, the fed has mercenaries without civic concerns on-call. And those mercenaries are opening facilities in California and Illinois in addition to the North Carolina conpound.

  10. #10 |  Radley Balko | 

    #8 —

    Did you read the post? Those are the methods they’re using at Gitmo.

  11. #11 |  Danno49 | 

    #5 Claude and #7 Windypundit –

    With all due respect, it is not who I am nor, I would venture a teeny guess, is it most of the people who read this blog. And you probably already knew that but I had to say it as a former supporter of this regime. I don’t want my name anywhere near it. I did enough already with casting my vote for the president-select.

  12. #12 |  Mikestermike | 

    Hmm. My guess was that they thought they could torture just enough to get Bin Laden quickly. Because if they got him, the populace wouldn’t care how. It would have just been written up in NYT best-sellers some years afterwards.

    But…they couldn’t get Bin Laden…so they kept on torturing and grabbing people…more torture, more people…kinda like those cocaine ads from the 80s.

    “We torured so we can get more intel, so we could get more prisoners, so we could do more torture, so we could get more intel, so we could get more prisoners…..”

  13. #13 |  Lee | 

    It seems everyone has their one issue with BushCo.

    This is mine.

    I might not vote for any Republican again because of this.

    It is digusting what these cowards have done to our country.

  14. #14 |  HtownGuy | 

    I might not vote for any Republican again because of this.

    It is digusting what these cowards have done to our country.

    You’re going to have to avoid the Democrats as well (think Obama will reign in these shiny new powers?), and the Libertarian Party too come to think of it (Bob Barr voted for severely unconstitutional items like the PATRIOT ACT and the Lautenberg Amendment).

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  16. #16 |  Lee | 

    HtownGuy,

    I’m specifically refering to torture, to which Obama has always been opposed. IIRC (which I could be wrong) the torture votes were pretty much down party lines.

    In a sadistic way I really hope Obama, if elected, keeps most of the executive powers just to watch the Republicans complain about it.

  17. #17 |  CIA retitles study of communist torture techniques with new politically correct name, recycles for interrogation at Guantanamo | Popehat | 

    […] Via […]

  18. #18 |  HtownGuy | 

    In a sadistic way I really hope Obama, if elected, keeps most of the executive powers just to watch the Republicans complain about it.

    Hey Lee, I think you mean ‘masochistic’.

  19. #19 |  Lee | 

    Yeah I did…I always get those to switched.

  20. #20 |  Marty | 

    these people expedited the fall of Russia and now they’re toppling us… all thanks to our incompetent leaders.

  21. #21 |  Lee | 

    err to=two

  22. #22 |  Jim Collins | 

    Yes I read the post. Compairing what they do at Gitmo to what the North Koreans did is assinine. I’m not going to even mention what the North Vietnamese did.

  23. #23 |  La Rana | 

    Shorter Jim Collins:

    “You are stupid and wrong but I can’t tell you why”

    Perhaps we should aggressively interrogate him for an explanation.

  24. #24 |  Jim Collins | 

    When they start wiring hands instead of using handcuffs, when they start dislocating joints, when they start beating the soles of prisioner’s feet until their bones break, when they start drilling teeth without Novicane, at Gitmo let me know, until then don’t compair Gitmo to North Korea.

  25. #25 |  Tokin42 | 

    The chart was for training interrogators in a SERE course. Anyone who has ever gone through one will tell you it’s pretty unpleasant. Yes, some of the same principles are used by real interrogators working on guantanamo detainees (like sleep depravation) but that isn’t what this class was training people for. I’m a firm believer in the overall ineptness of most governmental agencies, especially the CIA, but anyone who believes our military recycles 50 year old charts for actual training purposes is in need of serious help. Nice job getting all worked up about it though.

    Crawford may back me up on this, but I have dozens of books and manuals dealing with army interrogation techniques that go back almost 30 years. I can assure you the training these folks go through is very thorough and continually updated. One of the few bright spots in the Iraq war has been how quickly the military has adapted to current terrorist tactics. The efficiency at incorporating current lessons learned into actual training would amaze anyone who served in the military just a few decades ago. My best friend is an infantry drill sergeant, reservist, who has more than 30 years total experience and active for more than 20. From 2003 to early 2007 he spent on active duty training troops. He spent a year at home and was then re-activated. He spent almost 4 straight months receiving newer training they’ve added in just the last year alone.

  26. #26 |  Tokin42 | 

    Ironically, here’s a great link I just found on Instapundit. I’ll leave the Http portion out because this blog seems to have an issue with adding links sometimes and just dumps the post:

    http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/08/hitchens200808?currentPage=1

    It’s a better argument, but I still disagree with the conclusion that the US should NEVER waterboard.

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  28. #28 |  CK | 

    At NO time did the current administration wish to capture Osama.
    Certainly not during the interim between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. At large he is a potent boogieman, captured he is just another guy in prison waiting for the wheels of justice to arrive at a sentence. And in other news, the triple axel of evil is now a single point of oil.

  29. #29 |  Edintally | 

    #7 When did we ever try to do better?

    #11 One of the hardest things to do is find fault with who you are fundamentally. It IS how you are, it’s how I am, it’s especially how the Federal Government is. Every time something happens that we don’t like, whether its a perceived national emergency or just a simple attempt at keeping the status quo alive, we suddenly have no need for the rule of law. Instead of wrapping ourselves within the power and dignity of the Constitution, we simply fold it up, put it in a desk drawer, and ignore it. Instead of feigned indignation, you should feel shame. I do. We all should.

    #24 Are we starting to rank torture techniques now? Techniques used which make a person think they are going to die are more acceptable than techniques merely causing pain, however horrific they may be?

    #26 It’s not a “better” argument. It’s THE argument against all torture.

    We may never achieve what the founding fathers set out. But we should expend every energy in trying. The “war”, the fear, the torture, the patriot act…all of these things move us away from the dream. They weaken us not only in the eyes of other countries and peoples. They weaken us in our own eyes. Open yours.

  30. #30 |  old | 

    The second possibility is even scarier: The administration knew the history of these techniques but adopted them anyway, because it wanted confessions it could then trumpet to the public as successes in the war on terror–and they didn’t much care whether or not they were false.

    I am voting for this one.

    Tokin42, Jim Collins,
    From the article, it looks to me like, the military was over ruled by bureaucrats.

    Gelles, Kleinman, and other interrogation experts tried to raise alarms internally about the dangers and ineffectiveness of the SERE-style coercive techniques, but they were ignored and threatened. Civilian decision makers inside the Bush-Cheney administration viewed such criticisms as an attack on its claims of presidential power.

  31. #31 |  Guantanamo Interrogation Techniques | 

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  32. #32 |  Danno49 | 

    #29 Edintally –

    I understand what you are saying. And I am ashamed. However, I will stick to my guns when I say it is not how I am. It truly isn’t. I have asked myself many times what I would do if I found myself in the same situations that those in charge of our government are. After reflection, I find I would do the exact opposite of what they have a good portion of the time. And specifically to the point here, torturing people is not something I would ever consider. And truly civilized people wouldn’t, either. It’s about as barbaric as it gets and while I do have my faults, I am capable of identifying what those are in a brutally honest way.

    I can tell you with all certainty that if I was faced with a situation where one of the options was torturing a fellow human being, I would rather die than lower myself to degrading another person like that. And myself in the process.

    Now, I might make fun of their clothes or something . . .

    Cheers

  33. #33 |  Edintally | 

    Danno

    If you are standing up, I’ll stand up. If we get a few more people we might actually have a movement.

    /que Alice’s Restaurant

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_7C0QGkiVo

    ;)

  34. #34 |  JohnMcC | 

    Just a thing I noticed reading the comments above from an ideological and political distance from the libertarianism that distinquishes this (very good btw) blog: collective guilt. On my side of things we are mostly cool with that (offical apologies for slavery etc). Never thought I’d hear libertarians and conservatives talking about it among themselve.

    Not a pointed comment, no controversy. Just an observation.

  35. #35 |  Danno49 | 

    Some things are just wrong and need to be acknowledged as such. I have always felt the majority of folks here get that bit of humanism. And it gives me great comfort at times. I used to think that it was a feeling reserved in the political arena for those who leaned more left than right. But that was my brainwash in effect there. It’s great to know it’s mostly simple human compassion tempered with justice. At least that’s how I interpret it.

  36. #36 |  Edintally | 

    I think I’ve already been labeled the blog Socialist. :)

    If I HAD to define myself in a political sense, Secular Humanism seems to fit the best. Even if we can’t agree on all things, we can agree on at least one thing. One thing is a start.

  37. #37 |  markm | 

    Lee:” the torture votes were pretty much down party lines.”

    Except McCain very definitely voted against it. There are plenty of issues where he’s as wrong as can be, and some where he manages to be even more against freedom than the socialists now infesting the Democratic party, but not torture.

  38. #38 |  Edintally | 

    But didn’t McCain approve of waterboarding? Or are we still holding to the position that waterboarding isn’t torture?!

  39. #39 |  Phelps | 

    “Terrorism” by definition is an effort to use a few attacks to induce unwarranted and irrational fear across an entire population. The aim is get the terrorist’s target to alter its policies, waste its resources, and change its way of life in an irrational response to an enemy without the resources for a more traditional war.

    This is a terrible definition of terrorism. Terrorism is just another step down the guerrilla continuum. When you do not have enough support from the people around you to carry out a guerrilla campaign, you launch terrorism attacks that aim to provoke collective punishment, leading to more public support for your cause, which enables you to move up from terrorist to guerrilla.

    We’ve done a damned good job of avoiding collective punishment, despite the efforts by many anti-(this)war activists to push the myth that we are engaging in it.

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