Extracting false confessions

A Washington Post editorial says, “The Bush administration made waterboarding almost routine.”

Yet veteran interrogators all know that if you want the truth, the worst interrogation technique is torture because torture leads victims to say absolutely anything, not reveal the truth.

So, why did the CIA torture and torture and torture a few Al Qaeda leaders and then destroy the tapes, as former CIA agent Robert Baer writes in Time:

in 2005, the then-head of the CIA’s clandestine service, Jose Rodriguez, ordered the destruction of 92 videotapes of the interrogation in Thailand of two al-Qaeda suspects. The tapes were then destroyed, but that’s where the trail ends. We can only guess whether Rodriguez acted on his own authority or on the orders of a higher-up. And then there’s the question of why the tapes were destroyed. Did the CIA want to destroy graphic evidence of sleep-deprivation or waterboarding? They were interrogation methods approved by the Department of Justice in memos sent to the CIA, and therefore shouldn’t have been deemed a legal problem. The closest thing we come to answer is an internal CIA e-mail released last Thursday, in which an unidentified CIA officer writes that Rodriguez decided to destroy the tapes because they made the CIA “look horrible; it would be devastating to us.”

…a former CIA officer aware of the details of the 2002 interrogation of the two al-Qaeda suspects told me that the tapes' images were “horrific.” He believes that although the interrogations fell within the guidelines provided by the Department of Justice, if the public ever saw them, it would conclude that “enhanced interrogation” is just another name for torture.

Why would the CIA use such brutal methods — with the apparent legal approval of the president — and then destroy the tapes?

Perhaps they repeatedly tortured because they wanted to get prisoners to confess to certain things:

Harsh interrogation techniques authorized by top officials of the CIA have led to questionable confessions and the death of a detainee since the techniques were first authorized in mid-March 2002, ABC News has been told by former and current intelligence officers and supervisors.

They say they are revealing specific details of the techniques, and their impact on confessions, because the public needs to know the direction their agency has chosen.

The CIA was torturing Al-Qaeda leaders:

According to a recently released Justice Department memo, CIA operatives subjected two al-Qaeda leaders — alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and high-level lieutenant Abu Zubaida — to 266 episodes of waterboarding. Mr. Mohammed is said to have been waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 — for an average of six episodes a day of what has been described as among the most terrifying and brutal forms of coercive interrogation. Mr. Zubaida was subjected to water torture 83 times during August 2002. There is no mention of how many times a third detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was waterboarded.

What kind of false confession might they have wanted? How about this:

“I was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z,” Mohammed said in a statement read Saturday during a Combatant Status Review Tribunal at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Robert Baer immediately called KSM’s “confession” completely unreliable:

It certainly suggests the Administration is trying to blame KSM for al-Qaeda terrorism, leading us to believe we’ve caught the master terrorist and that al-Qaeda, and especially the ever-elusive bin Laden, is no longer a threat to the U.S.

But there is a major flaw in that marketing strategy. On the face of it, KSM, as he is known inside the government, comes across as boasting, at times mentally unstable. It’s also clear he is making things up.

KSM proudly confessed to 31 attacks and planned attacks that he lacked the intelligence, connections and resources to carry out:

Mohammed described himself as Osama bin Laden’s operational director for the Sept. 11 attacks and as al-Qaeda’s military operational commander for “all foreign operations around the world.”

He claimed to have been “responsible” for the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, Richard Reid’s attempt to ignite a shoe bomb on an airliner over the Atlantic Ocean in December 2001, and the October 2002 bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia.

Mohammed also said he plotted to assassinate several former presidents, including Jimmy Carter, a scheme not previously revealed.

Mohammed described several other plots that never came about, such as attacks on buildings in California, Chicago and Washington state, and on the New York Stock Exchange.

Despite his statements, it is unclear how much involvement he could have had in the 31 separate attacks he listed. The Sept. 11 commission described Mohammed as a flamboyant operative who developed grandiose plans for attacks even as other al-Qaeda leaders urged him to focus on the Sept. 11 plot.

One of those plans revealed Mohammed as captivated by “a spectacle of destruction with KSM as the self-cast star — the superterrorist,” the commission wrote.

It’s far more likely the Bush Administration used torture to extract false 9/11 confessions from the low-competence and mentally unstable KSM than KSM was remotely competent enough to pull off 9/11.

Posted by James on Friday, April 23, 2010