By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
There is almost no scientific evidence to back up the U.S. intelligence community's use of controversial interrogation techniques in the fight against terrorism, and experts believe some painful and coercive approaches could hinder the ability to get good information, according to a new report from an intelligence advisory group.
The 374-page report from the Intelligence Science Board examines several aspects of broad interrogation methods and approaches, and it finds that no significant scientific research has been conducted in more than four decades about the effectiveness of many techniques the U.S. military and intelligence groups use regularly. Intelligence experts wrote that a lack of research could explain why abuse has been alleged at U.S. facilities in Afghanistan, Cuba and Iraq.
"Since there had been little or no development of sustained capacity for interrogation practice, training, or research within intelligence or military communities in the post-Soviet period, many interrogators were forced to 'make it up' on the fly," wrote Robert A. Fein, chairman of the study, published by the National Defense Intelligence College. "This shortfall in advanced, research-based interrogation methods at a time of intense pressure from operational commanders to produce actionable intelligence from high-value targets may have contributed significantly to the unfortunate cases of abuse that have recently come to light."
The report explores scientific knowledge on interrogation in the wake of reported abuse around the globe. The study, sponsored by the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon's Counterintelligence Field Activity, was posted yesterday on the Federation of American Scientists' Web site, at http://www.fas.org/irp/dni/educing.pdf.
In it, experts find that popular culture and ad hoc experimentation have fueled the use of aggressive and sometimes physical interrogation techniques to get those captured on the battlefields to talk, even if there is no evidence to support the tactics' effectiveness. The board, which advises the director of national intelligence, recommends studying the matter.
"There is little systematic knowledge available to tell us 'what works' in interrogation," wrote Robert Coulam, a research professor at the Simmons School for Health Studies in Boston. Coulam also wrote that interrogation practices that offend ethical concerns and "skirt the rule of law" may be narrowly useful, if at all, because such practices could undermine the legitimacy of government action and support for the fight against terrorism.
The Bush administration has long advocated the ability to use aggressive interrogation tactics on terrorism suspects. After abuse came to light at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and the Navy's prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Congress forced the government to limit its approaches to long-standing military doctrine but allowed a loophole that lets the CIA continue such techniques.
The Army's new field manual on intelligence, approved in September, specifically bans some of the most aggressive techniques -- such as "waterboarding," beatings, sensory deprivation and depriving a detainee of food -- and draws clear boundaries for all military personnel who participate in interrogations. Army officials abandoned more coercive techniques because of the abuse scandals and evidence that Army and contract interrogators had developed approaches in the field based on vague guidance.
The new study finds that there may be no value to coercive techniques.
"The scientific community has never established that coercive interrogation methods are an effective means of obtaining reliable intelligence information," wrote Col. Steven M. Kleinman, who has served as the Pentagon's senior intelligence officer for special survival training.
Kleinman wrote that intelligence gathered with coercion is sometimes inaccurate or false, noting that isolation, a tactic U.S. officials have used regularly, causes "profound emotional, psychological, and physical discomfort" and can "significantly and negatively impact the ability of the source to recall information accurately."