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In the Crossfire

Should U.S. use torture on terror suspects?

Human Rights Watch's Tom Malinowski: Torture "is a wonderful way of getting false concessions out of innocent people. It is a terrible way of getting the truth out of guilty people."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- CIA operatives have been questioning the suspected mastermind of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Authorities arrested al Qaeda operations chief Khalid Shaikh Mohammed on Saturday in Rawalpindi, near the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. U.S. officials said interrogators are placing "all appropriate pressure" on Mohammed. Sources said Mohammed is not cooperating now with his interrogators.

How far should the United States go to get information out of him and other suspects?

CNN security analyst Kelly McCann and Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, joined "Crossfire" hosts Paul Begala and Robert Novak on Monday to debate the issue.

NOVAK: Kelly, I'd like you to take a look at some of the weapons of torture that are used around the world. ... Electric shock treatment is used on Peruvian soldiers. ... In Serbia, the Serbians use the noose. ... You're a pro-torture man. Do you think we ought to use that kind of equipment on Shaikh Mohammed?

McCANN: I'm not a pro-torture man. I think that it would be inappropriate to use methodology like that because it has been discredited. Now the true question of what you're asking me is -- is the manipulation of the environment or the circadian rhythms of somebody equal to torture?

It is not the traditional torture of beating or confinement or restrictions by rope or hanging, but it is problematic in some circles. But I am not against sleep deprivation. I'm not against manipulating the environment.

BEGALA: Well, Tom let me ask you. I admire greatly what you do and what Human Rights Watch does. Do you really want to tell our audience that if you were able to get information that could prevent another 9/11, simply by depriving Shaikh Mohammed of sleep, that you wouldn't do it?

CNN security analyst Kelly McCann: "I am not against sleep deprivation. I'm not against manipulating the environment."

MALINOWKSI: Look, there is a basic point here about torture. It is a wonderful way of getting false concessions out of innocent people. It is a terrible way of getting the truth out of guilty people. And we all want to get the truth out of this guy.

Now I'm glad to hear you say that you would reject this kind of nonsense because that's terrible and it is not what we stand for as a country. Sleep deprivation -- look, no one is against waking somebody up in the middle of the night; no one is against interrogating someone for the whole night. But if you deprive someone of sleep for three or four straight nights, like some of these governments around the world do, that is one of the worst things you can do to the human body.

BEGALA: ... It's called stress and duress. It is not days and days. It is messing up the rhythms, as Kelly said. Waking him up in the middle of the night, sometimes keeping him up 24 hours. All of us who have kids have been through that. I have to say, as a liberal and a human rights advocate, our policy doesn't cross the line at all, and I don't think we ought to be worried that the American government is. ...

MALINOWKSI: Interrogating someone all night long doesn't cross any line. But there are folks who talk about a lot more than that. As you know, there have been U.S. intelligence officials quoted all over the place saying, you know, "Well, we don't kick the bejesus out of these people. ..."

NOVAK: How about sodium pentothal?

MALINOWSKI: Truth serum? Look, it sounds innocuous when you say truth serum, right? But think about what this really is. You're injecting people with chemicals to vaporize their brains.

NOVAK: What do you think, Kelly?

McCANN: It doesn't work, by the way. Sodium pentothal does not make a person become the font of truth. All it does is reduces inhibitions, but that doesn't mean he's not lying with fewer inhibitions.

MALINOWSKI: And also this is what the Soviet Union did during battle days to dissidents. This is not something we want to be associated with.

NOVAK: And you would not use sodium pentothal?

McCANN: No, I would use the manipulation of his environment. ...

MALINOWSKI: The United States has sent suspects, detainees to countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, countries in the Middle East that we know torture people systematically.

McCANN: Who have the right to also question them.

MALINOWSKI: Question them, yes, but not torture them. I mean, look [at the] bigger picture here: You heard the State of the Union, right? The president of the United States cataloged in moving detail the torture techniques that Saddam Hussein uses on his people. ...

And [Bush] said, I'll never forget this, "If this isn't evil, then evil has no meaning." And at the same time, how can we say that, and at the same time send people to the very countries where these. ...

NOVAK: Kelly McCann, on December 26, the Human Rights Watch, Mr. Malinowski's organization, sent a letter to President Bush. Tough line. "Any U.S. government official who is directly involved or complicit in the torture or mistreatment of detainees, including any official, who knowingly acquiesces in the commission of such acts, would be subject to prosecution worldwide, a war criminal." What do you think of that?

McCANN: Well, again, nothing in this whole area of questioning detainees or these types of suspects is black and white. ... Can Egypt or Saudi Arabia claim a right to interrogate -- however they decide to do it -- one of the suspects? Absolutely.

And should the U.S. step in? Now if Human Rights Watch organization wants to step in, that's your issue. But should we step in?

NOVAK: What's your answer to the question?

McCANN: I say that we should not step in. How they ... actually conduct their interviews is their business.

MALINOWSKI: We do step in. Every single year the State Department puts out reports on all of these countries in which we condemn them for engaging in exactly these practices. How can we then turn over suspects? Remember, we're complicit in this; we turn over suspects to these countries. That's the mother of all mixed messages.

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