Michael Pregent: The world will feign outrage over "revelations" in the new torture report
Pregent: The most damaging result may be that the report's findings would set us back
He says U.S. intelligence agencies fighting terrorism need our support
Pregent: Terrorists may cooperate less with interrogators if agencies are constrained
Editor’s Note: Michael Pregent is an adjunct lecturer at the National Defense University. He was an intelligence officer and adviser to Pershmerga forces in Mosul in 2005-06 and a Senior Intelligence Analyst for USF-I from 2007-10. Follow him on Twitter: @MPPregent The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
The world will feign outrage over the “revelations” cited in the newly released Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report.
Around dinner tables and coffee shops in the Middle East, North Africa and Southwest Asia, people are probably chuckling over the hype surrounding U.S. interrogation techniques such as sleep deprivation, loud music, and yes, waterboarding. And what do their own governments use? Most likely beatings, mutilations and executions.
The report findings may result in protests, but the most damaging consequence may be that it would set back our intelligence services in fighting terrorism.
Those captured on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan were surprised when the treatment they received by their U.S. captors was nothing like what they were told by their leaders. They were told they would be brutally tortured and killed regardless of whether they shared information. But they quickly learned that wasn’t the case.
The mistakes at Abu Ghraib in 2003 by unsupervised night-shift wannabe interrogators mirroring what they thought professionals were doing were wrong, and led to the end of the careers of those involved. The good thing that came out of Abu Ghraib was that despite what Americans thought of the U.S. military, those in Iraq knew the U.S. military would bend over backwards to demonstrate fair treatment.
Over time, those who were released told their leaders and U.S captors they would rather be detained by the U.S. than by their own governments. Our humane treatment of prisoners resulted in insurgent and terrorist manuals instructing fighters to wait out American detention and that eventually they would be released much like ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was released in 2004 from Camp Bucca, Iraq.
At the height of the sectarian fighting in Baghdad in 2006, Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda took the fight to Shia militias. Al Qaeda leaders were able to mobilize fighters assuring frightened Sunnis that U.S. forces would protect their neighborhoods from Shia militias. What? Yes, even al Qaeda leaders knew the United States – while an adversary – was not the monster they said it was and would do all it could to protect Sunni areas from Shia militias, and unknowingly freeing up terrorists to go on the offensive.
Feigning outrage is being used as a tactic to shift U.S. public support away from intelligence agencies and law enforcement in order to constrain them in the fight against terrorism. Would the easily offended American public condemn those who did everything they could to protect them post 9/11?
Sending terrorists back to their own intelligence and security agencies for interrogation or rendition works mainly because they speak the language and know how to use culture and the Quran to deconstruct arguments. They may know the tribe and family relations and use that information to exert pressure to denounce terrorism. And yes, they have more leeway to use interrogation techniques. The fear of the known and unknown in rendition can lead to a detainee providing actionable intelligence before employing any tactic and often negates the use of interrogation tactics.
The report states that enhanced interrogation tactics did not provide actionable intelligence – I have to disagree. While some intelligence can be obtained without using these techniques, “ticking time bomb” intel cannot be obtained without them. The Obama administration is retaining the right to use enhanced interrogation techniques in “ticking time-bomb” scenarios.
The simple threat of sending a terrorist back to his country of origin was often enough to get him to give up information just to stay in U.S. custody where he knew he would be treated humanely. He may even have been able to tell someone to “wake up and pay attention” like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed did during a lecture to U.S. intelligence agencies on terrorism.
We are making it too easy for terrorists and their supporters to exploit our media and public over this report, which claims that no actionable intelligence came from these enhanced interrogation techniques. For example, did Senate intelligence staffers interview Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? The U.S. intelligence community were able to gleam valuable and previously unknown information on al Qaeda operations and its key leaders from him.
The one advantage interrogators have is the “fear of the unknown.” This is often enough to get actionable intelligence from a detainee within the first 24 hours. The new report takes that away – there is no fear of the “known.” In other words, the U.S. will not do anything to you, you’ll be fine and there’s no need to give out any information … and if your food is cold, call Sen. Dianne Feinstein.