May 18, 2007

Getting Terrorists to Talk

Interesting article in the Atlantic about the intelligence team that cracked Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s inner circle - without using torture:
The interrogation methods employed by the Task Force were initially notorious. When the hunt started, in 2003, the unit was based at Camp Nama, at Baghdad International Airport, where abuse of detainees quickly became common. According to later press reports in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other news outlets, tactics at Nama ranged from cruel and unusual to simply juvenile—one account described Task Force soldiers shooting detainees with paintballs. In early 2004, both the CIA and the FBI complained to military authorities about such practices. The spy agency then banned its personnel from working at Camp Nama. Interrogators at the facility were reportedly stripping prisoners naked and hosing them down in the cold, beating them, employing “stress positions,” and keeping them awake for long hours. But after the prisoner-abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib came to light in April 2004, the military cracked down on such practices. By March of last year, 34 Task Force members had been disciplined, and 11 were removed from the unit for mistreating detainees. Later last year, five Army Rangers working at the facility were convicted of punching and kicking prisoners.

The unit was renamed Task Force 145 in the summer of 2004 and was moved to Balad, where the new batch of gators began arriving the following year. According to those interviewed for this story, harsh treatment of detainees had ended. Physical abuse was outlawed, as were sensory deprivation and the withholding or altering of food as punishment. The backlash from Abu Ghraib had produced so many restrictions that gators were no longer permitted to work even a standard good cop/bad cop routine. The interrogation-room cameras were faithfully monitored, and gators who crossed the line would be interrupted in mid-session.
The press, in exposing Abu Ghraib, seems to have discouraged the Administration's initial tendency towards resorting to torture. So I guess the good thing about being PR-sensitive is that the press can help correct ethical lapses.