Thursday, April 30, 2009


Torture: A Comment

Torture is an iffy proposition.

If torture does not yield good information, then what is the point of it?

1. This boils down to how one selects the prisoner to be subjected to hard interrogation. It is obvious that few line soldiers possess much in the way of actionable intelligence. So, the first objective is to establish the stature of the prisoner in the ranks of the enemy.
2. For the current brand of terrorists, this is not an easy task, since they wear no uniforms, have no insignia, and their buddies will usually not give their leaders away. It thus takes time to ferret out who the bossman is from a group of captives. It may be necessary to use some limited hard methods simply to get to the bossman.
3. Once the bossman in identified, there is still the problem that even he may have very limited knowledge of the grander scheme of terrorist operations. What this leads to is a very careful development of the command structure of the terrorists over time and through many interrogations, and identification of those who must possess significant intelligence. In this, the low level bossman may be able to help a bit.
4. Slowly and painfully the command structure is defined, with or without hard interrogations, and the main leaders are targeted for capture.
5. It is when a “superboss” is captured that interrogations become prolonged and serious, since the probability of finding actionable intelligence is highest with such a person. Here is where hard interrogation methods may well be employed more fully.
6. Since much of the important information such a major leader possesses is extremely time sensitive, it is necessary to find out all he knows about imminant operations quickly, before the enemy reacts to his capture and changes things to minimize the impact on their operations.
7. The interrogations may succeed or fail to produce good intelligence, for quite a large variety of reasons. When they succeed, it can be spectacular; when they fail, it can be one of the most frustrating situations imaginable for all concerned. This is true regardless of the methods used.
8. The one thing that seems to be true is that the interrogators will find out over a long period of time most of the life history of the captive, where he has been during his lifetime, what he has been trained to do, and the names of just about everyone he knows. Whether any of this information leads to real actionable intelligence is problematical. Some bits of information may turn out to be useful when correlated with other sources.
9. The answer, then, is: despite high expectations, especially of saving lives, and despite a careful identification of the probable knowledge of the captive, we do not know going in what the result of any form of interrogation may be, and the possible failure to garner anything of importance is always present.

Yet, it is reported that significant intelligence has been forthcoming from our captives at Gitmo. I imagine that the detailed facts about this will not emerge for some considerable time.

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