Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ali Soufan "Snopes" Cheney

All through my reading of the Senate Armed Services report on detainee treatment (Levin report), I kept scratching my head, wondering where did Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld get the idea that they should be using SERE techniques for interrogating al Qaeda prisoners? Civilian contractors were involved, we knew. But today we got more.

From former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan's statement at today's 2-1/2 hour Senate Judiciary Committee hearing (video):
In summary, the Informed Interrogation Approach outlined in the Army Field Manual is the most effective, reliable, and speedy approach we have for interrogating terrorists. It is legal and has worked time and again.

It was a mistake to abandon it in favor of harsh interrogation methods that are harmful, shameful, slower, unreliable, ineffective, and play directly into the enemy's handbook. It was a mistake to abandon an approach that was working and naively replace it with an untested method. It was a mistake to abandon an approach that is based on the cumulative wisdom and successful tradition of our military, intelligence, and law enforcement community, in favor of techniques advocated by contractors with no relevant experience.

The mistake was so costly precisely because the situation was, and remains, too risky to allow someone to experiment with amateurish, Hollywood style interrogation methods- that in reality- taints sources, risks outcomes, ignores the end game, and diminishes our moral high ground in a battle that is impossible to win without first capturing the hearts and minds around the world. It was one of the worst and most harmful decisions made in our efforts against al Qaeda. [Emphasis mine.]
The former FBI interrogator testified from behind a screen to protect his identity. It didn't protect Cheney from incoming fire, though. As someone who interrogated Abu Zubaydah, as someone who was there, i.e., not basing opinions on written or verbal reports from subordinates, Soufan debunked many of the intelligence successes Cheney claims for his torture program. Soufan said Zubaydah gave up the names of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Jose Padilla under the standard Informed Interrogation Approach.

Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) was left to angrily walk a very shaky tightrope between formally disapproving of the "enhanced techniques" and trying to stomp down any suggestions of criminality that might require drawing up formal charges against Cheney, et. al.

Soufan had nothing nice to say about the $1000 a day "outside contractors with no expertise in intelligence operations, investigations, terrorism, or al Qaeda" who interfered with his interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. Soufan didn't name names, but one supposes that he's referring to "voodoo scientists" Bruce Jessen and Jim Mitchell, recently re-outed by ABC News:
Both men declined to speak to ABC News citing non-disclosure agreements with the CIA. But sources say Jessen and Mitchell together designed and implemented the CIA's interrogation program.

"The whole intense interrogation concept that we hear about, is essentially their concepts," according to Col. Steven Kleinman, an Air Force interrogator.

Both Mitchell and Jessen were previously involved in the U.S. military program to train pilots how to survive behind enemy lines and resist brutal tactics if captured.
Read: SERE trainers.
But it turns out neither Mitchell nor Jessen had any experience in conducting actual interrogations before the CIA hired them.

"They went to two individuals who had no interrogation experience," said Col. Kleinman. "They are not interrogators."
Soufan said in his testimony today that the contractors employed harsh techniques over the objections of the FBI and CIA interrogators on the scene:
Throughout this time, my fellow FBI agent and I, along with a top CIA interrogator who was working with us, protested, but we were overruled. I should also note that another colleague, an operational psychologist for the CIA, had left the location because he objected to what was being done.
How in the hell, I keep asking myself, are contractors in any position to "overrule" government officials in such matters? Scott Horton, chair of the New York City Bar Association's International Law Committee, suggested in Salon two years ago that "the decision to introduce and develop these methods was made at a very high level." Der Spiegel confirmed that just yesterday:
[Soufan] ... asked Mitchell who had authorized him to use the aggressive methods. Mitchell responded that he had received approval from the "highest levels" in Washington. All this happened in April 2002, four months before the Bush administration issued its first torture memorandum to legally justify the interrogation techniques.
No wonder Dick Cheney's everywhere defending his little shop of horrors.

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