Although the White House reached an agreement last week with dissident GOP senators on interrogation procedures for terrorist detainees, the issue faces additional scrutiny and approval by the Senate and House of Representatives before Congress recesses at week’s end. The GOP compromise bill preserves CIA jurisdiction over interrogation programs and provides legal protections for agency workers, yet maintains the spirit of the Geneva Conventions by prohibiting “cruel and inhumane” treatment. More importantly, the proposed legislation gives the CIA the latitude to use aggressive interrogatory methods with terrorist combatants.
Human rights groups, which have mischaracterized coercive techniques as torture, remain largely dissatisfied with the compromise. They caution that the government has been given too much power and that the principle of “due process” is being jeopardized. They further maintain that the GOP bill could invite torture of our own soldiers and damage America’s reputation as a morally upstanding nation. One group is even calling for the elimination of coercive questioning techniques, including sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme temperatures and forced standing for long periods.
Such a view is woefully misguided. Coercive techniques have yielded valuable information, saving American lives both on the battlefield and at home. The techniques employed are no harsher than those used daily by police departments across the United States. The idea to abandon such useful tactics would be to leave ourselves vulnerable to an enemy and its ad-hoc warriors who pay no heed to an equivalent sense of honor or justice with captured troops or civilians.
The value of coercive techniques has been repeatedly demonstrated by questioning of captured jihadists that yielded critical, national security information. Such techniques have been used to obtain valuable information that has prevented attacks and significantly impacted U.S. military actions in Iraq. For example, following his placement in a freezing room with blaring rock music, senior Al Qaeda planner Abu Zubayda provided critical information on Osama bin Laden’s operation, as well as on a planned terrorist attack inside the United States. In addition, Zubayda identified Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a key accomplice in the 9/11 attacks. Information provided by al-Shibh and Zubayda led to the capture of 9-11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Information from terrorists in CIA custody have helped avert planned strikes on military installations, identified the location of Al Qaeda training camps and foiled car bomb attacks aimed at Iraqi civilian populations.
Brian Ross of ABC News recently reported that 14 terrorists detained at CIA facilities gave up critical information about Al Qaeda operatives in the United States and Europe, plus disclosed over a dozen planned attacks, including a plot to fly a plane into the Library Tower in Los Angeles. This knowledge potentially saved thousands of lives.
Tactical interrogations conducted by soldiers in the battlefield provide life-and-death information about imminent threats, such as an impending suicide attack, ambush or IED (improvised explosive device), is a life-or-death matter. Battlefield captures often have critical information about planned attacks on American soldiers. Any intelligence gathered has a short shelf life as terrorists quickly change locations, plans, and communication methods.
Field intelligence officers don’t have the time to transport a captured terrorist detainee to an interrogation facility. They need information immediately to save the lives of their troops. Physical intimidation, such as shoving, may be critical to obtaining important information for the safety and welfare of their fellow soldiers. Yes, the actions of our troops in the heat of combat are being judged through the eyes of an unsympathetic, mostly anti-war media. While our soldiers are facing life-and-death decisions, they must also worry about their immediate actions being investigated after-the-fact or being brought up on formal charges much later. Such incidents as the arrest and incarceration of the Pendleton Eight and the harrowing experiences of now-exonerated, second lieutenant Ilario Pantano affect our troops ability to make split-second decisions. It can translate into the loss of lives.
Further, many of these aggressive interrogation methods that don’t cause bodily injury and sustainable aftereffects are routinely used by U.S. police departments across the country. They include good cop/bad cop, isolation/segregation, false flag (having an informant in the same cell pretending to be a fellow prisoner), intimidation related to sentencing and incarceration, granting of special privileges in exchange for cooperation and dietary or environmental manipulations. Often the discomfort and fear induced by these techniques sufficiently motivates suspects to offer helpful information that solves crimes and saves lives.
Yet, the enemy we face uses even harsher methods. Our troops know that if they are captured by Al Qaeda, Hezbollah or any other terrorist group, they can expect torture, disfigurement, and a painful death. They will certainly not be treated according to the Geneva Conventions, the Rules of Engagement or any internationally recognized military protocol. After the U.S. Army’s 507th Maintenance Company was captured during Operation Iraqi Freedom in Nasiriyah in 2003, nine troops were tortured and beheaded. As she lay in a hospital bed and peered out the window, Private Jessica Lynch, a member of that company, saw the shallow graves of her follow soldiers, buried in a soccer field nearby, stepped on in dishonor by the enemy. U.S. Army prisoners of war have been shot dead by Saddam loyalists as they surrendered with their hands up. Recently, the bodies of kidnapped American soldiers, Thomas Tucker and Christian Menchaca were so severely mutilated by Al Qaeda that DNA testing was required to determine the identity of the corpses.
Our ability to extract information from terrorists is our best tool for preventing future attacks in the United States and on the battlefield. It has already enabled us to gather critical information used to stop attacks that would have led to massive casualties. Without good and timely intelligence, we can’t win the war against Islamic terrorists nor protect the lives of our civilians and our troops.
Further, we have already seen that the way we treat terrorist detainees is inconsequential to the treatment of our own captured troops. Our humane methods are viewed as an exploitable weakness, as is our liberal media and overly cautious, criminal justice system. We know that our soldiers will always be faced with brutal torture or death at the hands of Islamic terrorists. Why should we broadcast to Al Qaeda and other terrorist entities that they have nothing to fear in U.S. custody? Why should we spare a brutal terrorist temporary discomfort and pain at the expense of American lives?
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