January 28, 2008

Worse than a Crime: CIA Interrogation Program

Intrepid reporter Spencer, newly ensconced at the Washington Independent, has a deeply reported story about the origins of the CIA's post 9/11 interrogation program. For those who have followed this story, it's a must read.

Those with intimate knowledge of the program say that in many cases, U.S. interrogators haven’t even been able to learn the basics about many of those they hold or have held, to say nothing of whatever crucial information they possess. "How do you separate the sheep from the wool? There’s no fingerprints, no DNA," said a former senior intelligence official who helped set up the CIA’s interrogation program, and who would not speak for attribution. "You don’t know if you have Osama bin Laden or Joe Shit the rag-man."

Worse than a crime, to paraphrase Tallyrand, interrogation by the CIA has been—and remains—a blunder.

Charlie alternately finds it fascinating and appalling that political appointees continue to insist on the efficacy of torture while those with actual experience vehemently oppose it. (To wit, recall the exchange between Mitt Romney and John McCain last fall.) Spencer's piece highlights not just the opposition within the intelligence community, but the myriad of ways that this immoral morass could have been avoided if professional heads had prevailed.

What’s more, there is no consensus on how long it will take the agency to right itself. Asked if CIA interrogations have grown more sophisticated in the year since the Intelligence Science Board report came out, one of its authors said, "I don’t know."

Kleinman, who brought the influence of Fort Hunt and the history of successful, non-coercive interrogations to bear on the report, said he doesn’t have a good sense whether the intelligence community realizes how little it still knows about interrogation. "Not to be flippant," he said, "but my best guess is that [fixing interrogations] will take somewhere between six months and 1000 years. It doesn’t seem like anyone has their hair on fire to really solve this."