Pressed in Iraq, U.S. Army turns out interrogators

By Bernd Debusmann, Special Correspondent
Tuesday, December 26, 2006; 11:22 AM

FORT HUACHUCA, Arizona (Reuters) - The U.S. Army has stepped up its training of interrogators to get a clearer picture of Iraq, where attacks on American and Iraqi targets have been running at unprecedented levels -- almost 1,000 a week.

The number of soldiers going through a 93-day course to become Human Intelligence Collectors, the army term for interrogators, has quadrupled over the past three years -- from 265 in 2003 to 1,070 in 2006 -- and is projected to rise to just over 1,500 by 2009. The increase reflects an urgent need to plug gaps in intelligence.

"We needed to change, adapt and expand the training here," said Major General Barbara Fast, who commands the U.S. Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. "We have significantly increased our humint (human intelligence) capability and will increase it even more."

According to the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's December report, "our ... government still does not understand very well either the insurgency in Iraq or the role of the militias." It said there had been too little investment in intelligence gathering and analysis.

The army, by far the biggest branch of the armed forces, has about 37,000 military intelligence soldiers, about a quarter of whom are in human intelligence. That is a larger share than in the past, when the U.S. intelligence community focused on satellite imagery and monitoring communications.

"But especially since September 11," Fast said in an interview, "we know how important it is to understand that which cannot be seen or monitored."

The training at Fort Huachuca is designed to mimic Iraq as closely as possible -- complete with Arabic-speaking Americans playing the role of the Iraqis dressed in robes and keffiyehs, the checkered headdresses widely worn in the Arab world.

During an exercise toward the end of a course in December, a tall man in flowing robes argued heatedly in Arabic with soldiers at a sandbagged roadblock at the entrance to a cluster of houses and huts resembling a military base in Iraq.

In interrogation booths, soldiers tried to extract information on car bombs and mortar attacks from reluctant "detainees," their questions and answers relayed through interpreters.

The training is based on rules of interrogation laid down in a field manual on "Human Intelligence Collector Operations," a 336-page document issued in September, the first new manual since 1992.

The manual applies to all four branches of the armed forces and bans harsh interrogation techniques, including the use of dogs, placing hoods over a detainee's head and forcing detainees to be naked, perform sexual acts or pose in a sexual manner.


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