Tom Ricks's Inbox
Does torture work? The Bush administration has argued that, at a minimum, tough interrogation tactics do. But in the e-mail discussion below, four U.S. military experts with very different life experiences explain why they concluded that torture doesn't work. The exchange is excerpted with their permission.
First is Army Capt. Kyle Teamey, a current military intelligence officer:
Subject: INTERROGATION TECHNIQUES
When I was in the officer's basic course, one of the instructors, only half-jokingly, proclaimed, "Beatings and drugs are for fun, not for information." His point was you can get anyone to say anything you want through torture. Good information came from psychology, interpersonal skills, and long hours with your prisoner. The best interrogators I've worked with tended to be very good at reading people and very good at using their understanding of the person and their culture to get them to talk -- no waterboarding required. . . .
We should be developing an ideological alternative (or alternatives) to jihad and are instead alienating our allies, enraging the populations from which the terrorists arise, and most importantly, alienating our COG [center of gravity] in the form of the U.S. electorate. A liberal democracy, such as the US, operating in an environment with pervasive media cannot afford to dally in tactics that may provide some short term gains at the expense of long term success.
It is not just the US that has made this error in judgment. The Brits and French did the same in their COIN [counterinsurgency] campaigns in 20th century and suffered for it. We should learn from their mistakes -- and ours.
That provoked this comment from retired Air Force Col. Robert Certain, who was held as a prisoner of war after being shot down over North Vietnam:
We ex-POWs don't look kindly on sadistic behavior, especially when it degenerates into torture. Kyle is right, it doesn't do much to get useful info, it only gives the sadist some thrills.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Terry Daly, a veteran of military intelligence operations in the Vietnam War, then added:
I have yet to speak with an experienced, successful interrogator who advocates mistreating their subjects. As personally satisfying as it may seem to beat the hell out of detainees, it doesn't usually get you what you want -- accurate, reliable information that you can trust and upon which you can act.
In Vietnam the Provincial Interrogation Centers routinely used skilled Vietnamese interrogators to obtain accurate, detailed information on the organization, personnel and structure of the Vietnamese Communist Infrastructure -- exactly the type of information Guantanamo should be producing by the pound on radical Islamic terrorism.
I think we make a major strategic error when we support such would-be macho men as we see in this administration showing their supposed toughness by advocating torture, when we know it doesn't work.
Finally, Air Force Col. William Andrews, who was a POW during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, added:
. . . when I was shot down over Iraq in 1991, I expected to be tortured . . . because I was in the hands of the bad guys. As I was beaten, I had a sense of moral superiority over brutal men who had a monopoly on physical power in the interrogation room. This moral superiority came from the knowledge that we were the good guys and we didn't treat our prisoners that way. We were better than they were. I believe we cannot ever afford to give that up.
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Tom Ricks is The Post's military correspondent. This feature aims to give readers a snapshot of the conversations about Iraq, Afghanistan and other matters that play out in Ricks's e-mail inbox. Have an interesting document? Send it toTheInbox@washpost.com.