The Spectacle Blog

NYT on Interrogating KSM

By on 6.22.08 | 2:01PM

While some would cite this NYT story as evidence that waterboarding and other forms of harsh interrogation methods are unnecessary, because it features a soft-spoken, non-Arabic speaking interrogator Duce Martinez getting terrorists Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to cooperate by earning their trust, it is important to note that Martinez was able to play "good cop" only after the captive terrorists were already subjected to waterboarding.

The article says that the new techniques were used only if "officers believed the prisoner was holding out" and "[t]he tough treatment would halt as soon as the prisoner expressed a desire to talk. Then the interrogator would be brought in."

Zubaydah cracked within 35 seconds of waterboarding according to the article, but KSM "proved especially resistant, chanting from the Koran, doling out innocuous information or offering obvious fabrications."

KSM was subjected to "various harsh techniques, including waterboarding, used about 100 times over a period of two weeks," and cooperated on and off, but mostly with Martinez.

But here's what we got out of it, according to the article:

By then, whether it was a result of a fear of waterboarding, the patient trust-building mastered by Mr. Martinez or the demoralizing effects of isolation, Mr. Mohammed and some other prisoners had become quite compliant. In fact, according to several officials, they had become a sort of terrorist focus group, advising their captors on their fellow extremists' goals, ideology and tradecraft.

Asked, for example, how he would smuggle explosives into the United States, Mr. Mohammed told C.I.A officers that he might send a shipping container from Japan loaded with personal computers, half of them packed with bomb materials, according to a foreign official briefed on the episode.

"It was to understand the mind of a terrorist -- how a terrorist would do certain things," the foreign official said of the discussions of hypothetical attacks. Thus did the architect of 9/11 become, in effect, a counterterrorism adviser to the American government he professed to despise.

I've long been torn on the use of waterboarding or other forms of harsh interrogation, or torture, or however else you choose to describe it. I have no moral qualms about torturing a monster on the level of KSM and never bought the idea that the Geneva Conventions apply when fighting an enemy who doesn't wear a uniform or recognize any international codes of conduct. But at the same time, I am aware of the tremendous PR cost associated with the U.S. using such techniques. I'd be perfectly willing for America to take that PR hit if doing so was necessary to protect the nation. So really, for me, the debate comes down to efficacy, to how much useful information can be extracted by the use of such techniques that we otherwise could not obtain from standard methods. I think this story leaves that an open question.

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