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Interrogators are lauding President Obama for signing an executive order that will shut down secret CIA prisons and place the use of coercive interrogation techniques completely off limits.

"[The order] closes an unconscionable period in our history, in which those who knew least, professed to know most about interrogations," said Joe Navarro, a former special agent and supervisor with the FBI.

"Some die-hards on the right - who have never interrogated anyone -- are already arguing that forcing interrogations to be conducted within army field manual guidelines is a step backward and will result in 'coddling' dangerous terrorists," retired Colonel Stuart Herrington, who served for more than 30 years as a military intelligence officer, said soon after the order was signed. "This is a common, but uninformed view. Experienced, well-trained, professional interrogators know that interrogation is an art. It is a battle of wits, not muscle. It is a challenge that can be accomplished within the military guidelines without resorting to brutality."

The way interrogation works is largely misunderstood by the general public and some senior policy makers, according to Navarro, Herrington and other intelligence professionals.

"Interrogation is not like a faucet that you can turn on - and the harder you turn, the more information will pour out," explains Herrington, who conducted a classified review of detention and interrogation practices in Iraq for the U.S. Army.

* * * * * *

Getting a suspected terrorist to talk is much more subtle than what one typically sees in the movies or on TV. A new book, "How to Break A Terrorist" by Matthew Alexander (a pseudonym), provides an inside look at how interrogation can yield more information if it is done humanely.

Alexander developed the intelligence that led U.S. forces to Al Zarqawi, the former chief of Al Qaeda in Iraq. While some were using abusive techniques to try to crack detainees, Alexander used a smarter, more sophisticated approach. He learned what the detainees cared about and then used that information to get what he wanted.

For example, his first big break came when he interrogated a cleric who was an Al Qaeda operative. The cleric said he would like to "slit" Alexander's throat "and watch you die" when the interrogation began. Three days later he gave up critical info that led directly to Zarqawi.

What changed? Alexander learned, through patient questioning, that the detainee had joined Al Qaeda to keep his family safe. The cleric identified key Al Qaeda hiding places as soon as Alexander showed that he could - and would - protect the cleric's family.

Another recently published book, "Mission: Black List #1" by Staff Sergeant Eric Maddox, shows how the author, an interrogator stationed in Tikrit, developed the intelligence that led to the capture of Saddam Hussein. Maddox was hunting one of the most wanted men in Iraq. Like Alexander he did not try to "break" detainees by beating them up; he talked to them.

Maddox was an information junkie who patiently interrogated hundreds of detainees and slowly pieced together a picture that led him to Saddam. He also intuitively understood that, if possible, you want the detainees to not only answer your questions, but also tell you which questions to ask. He induced a detainee who was a close friend (and former driver) of one of Saddam's closest confidants to join his "team." The former driver joined Maddox in interrogations. Detainees "broke" the moment that Maddox and the former driver started interrogating them.

As Maddox and Alexander have proved, these are the sorts of techniques that work in the interrogation booth. Professional interrogators believe that the President's action not only returned the U.S. to high ground, they refocused U.S. intelligence operations on techniques that are effective.

* * * * * *

"The quality and quantity of intelligence we can gather will now begin to increase," said Torin Nelson, an intelligence professional who served as an interrogator with the U.S. Army and private military contractors.

To illustrate how torture can lead to poor intelligence, Nelson cites the case of Al Libi, a detainee who was tortured and, under duress, gave misinformation about a connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda. (Secretary Colin Powell quoted intelligence gained from Al Libi as justification to go to war with Iraq.)
Nelson, president of the Society for Professional Human Intelligence, said that he hoped we could end debate about whether or not torture works and instead work on providing interrogators with the training and resources they need to do their jobs effectively.

"The challenge we face does not have to do with so-called 'enhanced interrogation techniques,' " said Nelson. "We don't want those. What we do need is to build a world-class interrogation corps. To do that, we need to pay more attention to recruiting, training, and managing interrogators. President Obama's executive order is an important first step but there is still more to do."

Originally posted to David Danzig on Thu Jan 22, 2009 at 06:30 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  very nice summary (8+ / 0-)

    You need a tip jar.

  •  Congrats to Human Rights First! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dharmafarmer, soms, sherijr, DParker

    When I saw the Generals today with Obama, it was a beautiful sight --- the culmination of years of determined effort.

  •  Matthew Alexander. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DorothyT, soms

    "Go well through life"-Me (As far as I know)

    by MTmofo on Thu Jan 22, 2009 at 06:40:37 PM PST

  •  Great specific examples... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    G2geek, DParker

    of how effective interrogation can be conducted. At least from these examples, it appears to be an art based on not debasing those interrogated, while leading to cooperation.

  •  It's not just about interrogation (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The Detainee System itself is a form of torture

    Rejecting so-called "enhanced interrogation" and closing Gitmo make a good start, but it is only a start.

    It is time for us all to drive torture all the way back past the line in the sand that mustn't be crossed.

    That line is this:

    The Detainee System itself.

    Holding prisoners WITHOUT CHARGES, INDEFINITELY, in an extra-legal limbo (save for the kangaroo court system Bush/Gonzalez/Addington or whoever dredged it up from the Inquisition) is IN ITSELF a form of psychological torture as defined by the Geneva Conventions!

    No distinction as to seriousness is made between physical and psychological torture. They are equally unacceptable.

    And that many detainees have been attempting to starve themselves to death in order to make the point and even escape the torture of never ending detention is proof -- and it gets very little press.

    Bush's Torture Machine could not exist without the Bush Detainee System.

    I write this because it is sad that Americans still are sucked into the false debate (quite the debate of those awakening from a militarist/police state fog) about torture being merely an inefficient 'method of interrogation', when in reality it is a VERY efficient method of intimidation, framing scapegoats, and wresting total agreement from the tortured and general public alike. Americans have to move on and oppose torture because it is inhumane, cruel, disgusting and uncivilized, and not because maybe it fails to meet militarist, imperialist, or so-called defense-against-terrorism goals.

    End the Bush Detainee System now.

    Thanks for your diary.  

  •  Some idiots asked, during the press conference (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Phoenix Woman, G2geek

    today, whether Obama talked with any military commanders/intel people who disagree with his position that GTMO should be closed. Torture doesn't work, and GTMO is an embarrassment and a failure; therefore, you should not talk to anyone who thinks it should stay open. Basic. These cats asked what Obama knows that CIA director doesn't know-- how about, how NOT to destroy the Constitution?

    Don't make first Grandma Robinson whip out the wooden spoon!

    by noabsolutes on Thu Jan 22, 2009 at 07:05:18 PM PST

  •  Thank you for this! n/t (0+ / 0-)

    Visit for Minnesota news as it happens.

    by Phoenix Woman on Thu Jan 22, 2009 at 07:38:23 PM PST

  •  Here's the HuffPo link (0+ / 0-)

    Visit for Minnesota news as it happens.

    by Phoenix Woman on Thu Jan 22, 2009 at 07:43:24 PM PST

  •  Excellent, clear, succinct and perceptive (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:


    Sugar and vinegar:  The old saw was true and old in 2001 but somehow there were people in positions of authority - sociopathic sadists mostly - who hadn't heard of it.

  •  Learning to Interrogate From Movies and TV (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NNadir, Geoff D

    Is like learning to drive by watching Jeep commercials.

    True bipartisanship is prosecuting criminals regardless of Party.

    by The Baculum King on Thu Jan 22, 2009 at 07:51:26 PM PST

    •  Hey, I LIKE that locution. (0+ / 0-)

      "learn to drive by watching Jeep commercials."

      I think I'll steal it sometime.

      •  The Main Advice I Give SUV Owners (0+ / 0-)

        Is to quit watching Jeep commercials on TV, they get people killed.

        Torture is a wonderful tool for revenge, but it's like using a screwdriver to loosen a nut when used for interrogation, wrong tool.

        Don't ask how I know this.

        True bipartisanship is prosecuting criminals regardless of Party.

        by The Baculum King on Thu Jan 22, 2009 at 08:08:01 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

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