After the Waterboarding
The article's most important fact is this: All of this questioning occured after his torture by American intelligence officers and their surrogates.
Following that, the rest of the article reads like a paean to softer interrogation practices, such as building rapport, using incentives (like fruit and cookies) and establishing a long-term relationship between the questioner and the captive:
The interrogator, Deuce Martinez, a soft-spoken analyst who spoke no Arabic, had turned down a C.I.A. offer to be trained in waterboarding. He chose to leave the infliction of pain and panic to others, the gung-ho paramilitary types whom the more cerebral interrogators called "knuckledraggers."
Mr. Martinez came in after the rough stuff, the ultimate good cop with the classic skills: an unimposing presence, inexhaustible patience and a willingness to listen to the gripes and musings of a pitiless killer in rambling, imperfect English. He achieved a rapport with Mr. Mohammed that astonished his fellow C.I.A. officers.
A canny opponent, Mr. Mohammed mixed disinformation and braggadocio with details of plots, past and planned. Eventually, he grew loquacious. "They'd have long talks about religion," comparing notes on Islam and Mr. Martinez's Catholicism, one C.I.A. officer recalled. And, the officer added, there was one other detail no one could have predicted: "He wrote poems to Deuce's wife."
Mr. Martinez, who by then had interrogated at least three other high-level prisoners, would bring Mr. Mohammed snacks, usually dates. He would listen to Mr. Mohammed's despair over the likelihood that he would never see his children again and to his catalog of complaints about his accommodations.
"He wanted a view," the C.I.A. officer recalled.
The story of Mr. Martinez's role in the C.I.A.'s interrogation program, including his contribution to the first capture of a major figure in Al Qaeda, provides the closest look to date beneath the blanket of secrecy that hides the program from terrorists and from critics who accuse the agency of torture....
Mr. Martinez's success at building a rapport with the most ruthless of terrorists goes to the heart of the interrogation debate. Did it suggest that traditional methods alone might have obtained the same information or more? Or did Mr. Mohammed talk so expansively because he feared more of the brutal treatment he had already endured?
This story was likely pushed to the Times by members of the intelligence community with several goals in mind. First, to rebut the developed narrative that the CIA has tortured detainees to get information. Second, to show that the most abusive interrogation practices (like waterboarding) may not be effective. Third, to show the agency is capable of old-fashioned Human Intelligence (HUMINT) practices, and that it can be effective when given latitude to do things its way. And fourth, to reassure an incoming Obama or McCain administration that the CIA is not in need of purging; that the rank-and-file intelligence officers are professionals who can be trusted.
I'm not sure how well this story does any of those things. For starters, it should be noted again that the torture did happen -- and that it produced little or no valuable intelligence in return. That fact needs to be weighed heavily, because it's entirely possible that the strategic costs of that act (i.e. blowback, shifts in global opinion, etc.) may outweigh anything produced by subsequent questioning efforts.
Second, I'm told by a knowledgeable colleague in the human rights community that there are serious factual errors in the Times story, relating to the timeline and the locations of various events. This probably relates to the intense secrecy surrounding the whole affair. And it's unlikely that we'll ever know the full truth because of that secrecy. Consequently, I think the article's effect will be limited. In short, how do we know we can believe it?
And finally, there's the culture of the CIA and the question of whether it can do these kinds of things effectively. The American intelligence community has been whipsawed by the Bush administration about as badly as the military, and maybe worse because it's all been out of public view. For years, the CIA has accepted and implemented many of the administration's stupidest policies, especially in the interrogation realm. This article may reflect the feelings of a few within the CIA, but it does not reflect the dominant organizational sentiments. The next administration will need to rebuild a great deal at Langley, focusing on the agency's organizational culture and the way approaches human intelligence operations.
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