Interrogator Ali Soufan: “It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence.
We discovered, for example, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah also told us about Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber. This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.
There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn?t, or couldn?t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions ? all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.”
Dina Temple-Raston. “Interrogation Results Prompt Scrutiny Of Methods”. NPR. April 30, 2009 – Matthew Alexander is an advocate of a different kind of interrogation — one that builds rapport, like the kind of technique you see on television cop shows. Alexander was a military interrogator in Iraq and doesn’t see the need for rough questioning.
“One of my best techniques for building rapport was to bring into the interrogation booth a copy, my copy, of the Koran and to recite a verse out of it or to ask questions about Islam,” he said.
It is important to know that Matthew Alexander wasn’t just any run-of-the-mill military interrogator. He was in charge of an interrogation team working on one of the most important counterterrorism operations of the war: the hunt for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the man in charge of al-Qaida in Iraq.
Learning From Challenges
Alexander and his team arrived in Iraq in March 2006 — well after the abuses at Abu Ghraib forced the military to reform its interrogation process. By the time Alexander’s team was on the ground, a military task force had been searching for Zarqawi for three years. But it took Alexander’s team just two months of questioning detainees to get one of them to reveal the location of Zarqawi’s safe house. Based on that information, the al-Qaida leader was killed in a military operation in June 2006.
“I know on the chase to Zarqawi we had several people during that chase who didn’t talk,” Alexander says. “But that was OK. We used the opportunities with detainees we couldn’t convince to cooperate to become better interrogators. And it was those skills we developed in those interrogations that allowed us to break the detainees who led us to Zarqawi.”
Alexander’s experience in Iraq is particularly instructive in the context of the current debate over whether harsh interrogation techniques work. That’s because Alexander and his team followed international standards for questioning and didn’t use any of the rough techniques the CIA adopted. And yet, without waterboarding or stress positions, Alexander says, he not only helped track down al-Qaida’s top man in Iraq but also managed to give the military better information.
“When you use coercion, a detainee might tell you the location of a house, but if you use cooperation they will tell you if the house is booby-trapped, and that’s a very important difference,” says Alexander. He says his success in Iraq proves that torture isn’t necessary to break a terrorist.
Philip Zelikow, a senior counselor to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said in an April 2009 interview with NPR: “Against very dedicated, very dangerous Islamist terrorists in Iraq in a raging war, we did not need to adopt the extreme interrogation methods that the CIA was using in the program it designed in 2002 and 2003. Since the alternatives are effective and don’t have all these downsides, including all the moral and legal issues that come with them, it seems like a very clear choice.”