We've all heard wild tales about the interrogation techniquess employed at Guantanamo Bay. Allegedly, these include sleep deprivation, drugs, overheated cells, seductive women, and even Christina Aguilera music (true torture). In addition to enjoying the kind of first-class meal these would-be terrorists enjoy everyday during my trip to Guantanamo Bay last week, I also learned part of their 2,600-calorie daily diet comes in the form of donuts -- donuts the terrorists enjoy while being interrogated by sensitive, nurturing, modestly-clad female interrogators.
On my trip last week to Gitmo, I was personally able to observe Joint Task Force specialists conducting interrogations. The detainee wore an orange jump suit -- the mark of detainees who refuse to do what guards direct them to do -- and was described by JTF officers as "extremely noncompliant." I was surprised to see one detainee, described as "a high level al-Qaeda organizational and financial expert," relaxed during his interrogation session, happily munching from a box of donuts which had been provided by his interrogator. The 30-something woman had an interpreter present during the interrogation, because, although the interrogator speaks Arabic, she says she is more comfortable having "another set of ears" present at each session.
As I mentioned in yesterday's column, many of the most dangerous inmates regularly attack the guards, pelting them with feces, urine, semen, and spittle, not to mention the constant threats they make against the guards' families. Even this terrorist, casually munching on donut after donut, says he would happily kill every American he could get his hands on: military or civilian; man, woman or child. The woman in charge of behavioral analysis at Gitmo -- a dedicated Ph.D. who has two years of experience with these people and has just extended her stay -- added, 'This man is proud of what the did, the people he killed, the targets he attacked, the plans he made, and the money he raised for al-Qaeda. He met with Osama bin Laden frequently. He tells us these things as a proud jihadist fighter."
I asked why he had not tried to lay a hand on his interrogator, who is much physically weaker than he is. "He knows the drill," replied JTF Commander BG Jay Hood. "He is restrained by leg cuffs and can't reach the interrogators. If he tried -- and some have -- then he would be denied privileges." Like Krispy Kremes. He eagerly eats the donuts that the interrogator provides at each session, General Hood added, "so that he can throw his food tray at the guards who deliver it to his cell." He attacks guards and his punishment is to be supplied with breakfast pastries: sounds like torture to me.
After learning of the treats given to detainee terrorists, we were surprised to find the modus operandi of the female interrogators was much different than the media and the Left had led us to believe: The women act as caring nurturers, gently lulling the captives into disclosing vital information. "Why did Gitmo employ a female interrogator in the first place?" we asked. We were told that these thugs were especially sensitive about having Western women around them. "We are very effective with some of the detainees," another female interrogator told me. She looks to be in her forties, slight build, light hair. "I dress modestly when I work with the detainees," she said. "Long sleeves and an ankle-length skirt. I act as a mother or perhaps a sister to these men. In their culture those role models are acceptable. Indeed, it provides a comfort level for them to discuss their activities with a motherly/sisterly figure. We don't coerce; we don't pressure. We just talk. And listen very carefully."
"Most importantly," she continued, "we are breaking stereotypes. These men expected to find something quite different. Many are very well educated, in America and Europe, and have much exposure to Western culture. But their ideology has implanted a harsh, critical stereotype of what Western women are like. When we act differently - more in keeping with women's behavior in their family circles - then we connect with their culture and they open up to us."
Gitmo interrogators focus on "building rapport" with the detainees, getting to know them, gaining their trust. They 'break down stereotypes' and engage in dialogue. General Hood affirms that 'the techniques work.' Not all conversation with the detainees is about military or terrorist actions. They chat, talk about family, background, world affairs. One woman bakes cookies for her sessions.
What, after all these years of confinement, do the Gitmo interrogators elicit from these people? One would expect that any important information they possess has long been overtaken by events or grown stale, that these people had been milked of all actionable intelligence months ago and were simply hanging around waiting for ultimate disposition by military tribunal.
Moreover, interrogating these terrorists is a challenge. They are from several countries, speak 17 languages, and are from a variety of professional, educational, and social backgrounds. They are not riff-raff scraped off the battlefield; some have advanced degrees in law, medicine, and engineering from schools like the University of London or Louisiana State University. Quite a few are demolitions experts. Many detainees have been extensively trained in counter-interrogation techniques. Some have learned their trade, in some cases first- or second-hand from former KGB and Eastern European intelligence operatives. They know how to build a cover story, construct a cover within a cover, and hold silence under duress.
They are, instead, critical informants in the War on Terror.
JTF interrogators disclosed that they are continuing to develop a large amount of important intelligence from these detainees, even years after capture, and the information gained is growing daily. Integrating this intelligence with Homeland Security agencies and with military reports from battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq is helping penetrate the detainee cover stories and break down defenses. One detainee provided personal information on a current Afghan tribal leader that helped Afghanistan forces control a turbulent region. Other detainees gave up operational attack plans that they formulated that had not yet been implemented. Police authorities in Europe and America follow up these leads and continue to break up hidden terrorist sleeper cells.
Another man was silent for almost three years. He successfully maintained a false identity until a captured terrorist half a world away picked him from a photo and gave his name. Once he was confronted with the truth he began to talk. From him we are learning about al-Qaeda's web of financial sources, how funds are moved, and how money laundering takes place. His information enables specialists to dry up money sources that had been, up-to-that-moment, aiding their terrorist jihad.
There are many reasons to hold these very dangerous terrorists, including the wealth of vital information that we continue to elicit. To make this happen, they need to be confined in a special facility secluded from everyone else where they can be controlled effectively and interrogated properly. Guantanamo Bay fits the requirements in ways no other facility would. This base is keeping highly dangerous terrorists from killing more innocent Americans. It is not a gulag or torture camp.
The allegations, however, trickle down to the individual soldiers and sailors (the Navy is carrying a lot of the Gitmo guard responsibility). I asked one young woman about her feelings toward negative, erroneous accusations from the media and from Senators like Durbin and Kennedy. "We hear all that, of course," she answered, "but we try not to let us get us down." Then she grinned. "In fact every time we see one of those stories it just makes us want to work harder to accomplish our mission." Her name tag is blacked out as are those of the other soldiers because of personal threats from the detainees, so I won't give it here. But know that we owe these gallant service men and women a deep debt of gratitude for carrying out this vital but viciously slandered mission, all the while bearing up with great professionalism.
These are the professionals who bear the brunt of the overheated and irreponsible charges of the Left -- but if the Left manages to get the government to shut Gitmo down, they won't be its only victims.