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How a US Army ‘Gator Gets Info in Less Than 10 Minutes

1:03 pm in Uncategorized by DavidDanzig

The first time I taught a one-hour class at the US Military Academy at West Point, a 20-year-old student made it very clear that while he might be studying ethics, law and morality in school, it was practicalities that really concerned him.

“If we are kicking in doors in Iraq,” the third year student – known in West Point parlance as a “Cow” – said, “and I find a guy who has a load of materials that could be used to build an IED in his home and explosive residue on his hands, I don’t have time to do a by-the-book interview do I? I mean, lives are at stake and we will have minutes, not hours or days, to get the info we need.”

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What Do We Lose by Mirandizing Nigerian Who Sought to Blow Up Plane on Christmas Day?

3:37 pm in Uncategorized by DavidDanzig

An army of political pundits is crying foul over the transfer of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to the federal criminal court system.

Transfer to the federal courts is a sure-fire way of "not making terrorists talk," The Wall Street Journal thundered today in an editorial, echoing similar sentiments expressed by Pat Buchanan, Tom Ridge, and The Weekly Standard recently. The editorial goes on to urge the administration not to charge future terrorists in the federal court system because it provides them with "a lawyer and all the legal protections against cooperating with U.S. interrogators."

The editors at the Journal seem to believe that once the dreaded "L" word is invoked, there is nothing U.S. interrogators can do but throw up their hands and deliver any would-be terrorist to his counsel of choice. This is a stunning misunderstanding of the way the criminal justice system operates.

U.S. interrogators have a wide array of "approaches" they can use to try to induce someone like Abdulmutallab to talk, whether he is being held at Guantanamo or in Miami. They can’t beat him up. (We have been down that road.) But they can question him without first Mirandizing him ("you have the right to remain silent" etc.) and they don’t have to put him in touch with an attorney immediately.

"Once someone is in custody, Miranda is only required if you want to introduce results of the interrogation into evidence at trial," explained my colleague Gabor Rona, an expert on prosecuting terrorists in federal courts. "In this case, they don’t need his confession – there’s more than enough other evidence."

So for intelligence purposes, interrogators can question Abdulmutallab at length no matter where his case is ultimately tried. The results of those interrogations can be used to catch other bad guys and stop other plots from unfolding; what is learned from this questioning, in most cases, can not be introduced in court as evidence.

Fear not, readers of the Wall Street Journal editorial page! We are no less safe because of the decision to try Abdulmutallab in federal court.

David Danzig is the Deputy Program Director at Human Rights First.

What We Still Don’t Know About Torture

2:37 pm in Uncategorized by DavidDanzig

To support the formation of a Truth Commission on Torture, please join our Facebook group.

Senior Bush administration officials – like former Vice President Dick Cheney – continue to insist that the use of abusive interrogation techniques like waterboarding has saved American lives.

I think statements like these are inaccurate and can be proved to be so.

A truth commission on torture, like the one Senator Leahy is now advocating, could definitively prove that the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture by US forces has made us less safe.

To begin with, commission members can examine the classified files that detail information gained by the CIA and interrogation teams at Guantanamo Bay through the use of torture. After examining the files, commission members can come to some conclusions about basic questions. Was the use of these techniques necessary? Did it result in useful intelligence?

Senior interrogators with experience facing insurgents and Al Qaeda operatives say that they believe a skilled interrogator can get a detainee to talk without resorting to brutality. They also say it is extremely unlikely that any information obtained through torture is credible.

They point to the case of Al Libi, an Al Qaeda lieutenant who was rendered to the Egyptians Read the rest of this entry →

One Reason Why Gitmo Failed and (I Hope) Obama Won’t

11:06 am in Uncategorized by DavidDanzig

Soon after the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay was established to lock up "the most dangerous men in the world," Pentagon leadership put detention and interrogation operations under the command of Major General Geoffrey Miller, an infantry officer and artillery specialist.

"When he took over the facility, General Miller knew so little about questioning Al Qaeda suspects that he probably did not even know how to spell ‘interrogation,’" one senior interrogator has told me.

The mistakes that were made at Guantanamo have made international headlines. Many were the result of poor policy decisions. Experienced interrogators were often left out of the decision making process or their suggestions were ignored, according to interrogators who worked at and evaluated interrogation and detention practices at Guantanamo Bay.

For example, CampDelta – the permanent detention facility for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo – was constructed in a way that hindered intelligence collection. Detainees were housed closely together. They could see and talk to each other. Every time one went to the interrogation booth, the other detainees watched.

Senior interrogators warned camp administrators not to build the detention facility in this way. They were ignored.

As Erik Saar, a Sergeant who worked at Gitmo in 2002 and 2003, recounts in his Read the rest of this entry →