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Why It Doesn't Work

Army Interrogators on Torture

by STEPHEN SOLDZ

In my years in the anti-torture movement, one of the most moving experience has been getting to know military interrogators, military intelligence professionals, JAGS, and  other military members who struggled to behave honorably, often at great personal cost, even when they served an administration that promoted torture and when the American public became convinced by politicians, pundits, and the media that torture was both right and necessary. Below is a recent statement by a veteran Army interrogator and interrogation instructor, 1LT(P) Marcus Lewis, who reminds his fellow interrogators of the folly of the torture promoters. Torture neither "works" nor is it moral, he reminds them.

Lewis is not alone among experienced interrogators. One of the sad facts is that when the Bush administration and the CIA were creating the torture program they ignored the opinions of experienced interrogators, preferring instead the views of psychologists without any actual interrogation experience. What they got as a result was not an effective strategy for obtaining accurate intelligence, but a program that could effectively get prisoners to say what they believed their torturers wanted to hear. The fact that occasionally a tortured soul uttered a morsel of true information is no more an argument that torture is effective than the fact that I once caught a sunfish with an empty hook proves that fishing without bait is an effective fishing strategy.

Forbes today has an article describing the similar views of an interrogator currently serving in Afghanistan:

A top United States interrogator in Afghanistan says that torture played no role in locating Osama bin Laden, and that claims to the contrary by former Bush administration officials recently is “propaganda [that] degrades our intelligence operations more than any other factor I can think of.”

This interrogator, like so many others, emphasizes not only that torture doesn’t "work" and is wrong, but that it causes great harm by creating enemies:

Such talk also creates blowback ? unintended consequences ? that can be deadly, he added in an interview. “Simply the idea of our interrogators using torture or coercion recruits jihadists, facilitators, suppliers, supporters, and even suicide bombers, against us and our allies,” he said.

. . .

On the subject of blowback, he continued:

I cannot even count the amount of times that I personally have come face to face with detainees, who told me they were primarily motivated to do what they did, because of hearing that we committed torture. Even the rumor of torture is enough to convince an army of uneducated and illiterate, yet religiously motivated young boys to strap bombs to their chests and blow themselves up while killing whoever happens to be around ? police, soldiers, civilians, women, or children. Torture committed by Americans in the past continues to kill Americans today.

This interrogator, further bemoans the way in which torture promoting pundits and media injure efforts to teach effective and ethical interrogation technique to new interrogators:

“If right-wing news outlets and partisan pundits or politicians are allowed to continue to spread their completely bogus claims that torture is effective,” he said, “then we will have corrupted the beliefs of yet another generation of new intelligence recruits?.It takes months and years of ‘intervention’ to get the next generation back on the track of quality work, specialization, and intelligence dominance ? not quick and easy fixes. This is not an hour-long TV show.”

Alas, it is not experienced interrogators and military intelligence personnel who need to be reminded of the folly of torture. It is new military recruits and the rest of our fellow citizens who need to hear the message of  Lt. Marcus Lewis and of the Afghan interrogator interviewed byForbes.

Here is the email by Lt. Lewis to his fellow interrogators:

Fellow Interrogators, former interrogators, and instructors,

Once again, our profession is in the spotlight. As a former interrogator and instructor, now a leader in this schoolhouse, I would feel remiss not to speak out.

In the wake of Usama Bin Laden’s death, politicians, pundits, 24-hour TV chatterboxes, and other such attention-seekers have begun again to sharpen their teeth on that debate which should never have existed in a free country like the United States: the notion that torture is justified.

Some are pointing out that one of the couriers who led us to UBL gave up this information under the stress of waterboarding. The reality is that it took us over 14 long, painful years to get Bin Laden. For at least five of those years it seems he was hiding within a stone’s throw of the Pakistani Military Academy, in an embarrassing amount of comfort for the world’s most wanted terrorist.
That it took so long from the time the alleged waterboarding-derived information was revealed, seven years ago, according to some reports, until UBL’s demise only demonstrates how extraordinarily counterproductive our overt policy of torture was. We got a name only. Perhaps had we used some of our more sophisticated approaches — our minds rather than brutality — we would have had a detainee willing to take us directly to Bin Laden.

We will never know how many lives might have been saved had we held fast to our Army values instead of flaunting them out of fear of the unknown.

I need not remind you:

This is not a subject for debate as far as you are concerned as a military intelligence professional or contractor, especially as an instructor. We do not torture. We do not teach it. There are no winks, no nods, not a scintilla of reverence for “special warfare types” who might operate outside the rules. (Truth be told, anyone who has ever worked with JSOC, CJSOTF, Ranger Bat, OGA, etc., knows they have as many or more lawyers and rules than any odd Army BCT or Marine Det., and they don’t torture.)

I need not remind you:

In World War II, our nation executed Japanese officers for water torture.

In World War II, our nation executed German officers for torture.

I need not remind you:

Torture is illegal; it is wrong; it is against military law, values, doctrine; and it is against the basic human rights we soldiers have fought and died for in centuries of service to the United States of America. We don’t teach it. We don’t do it. It is cowardly and dishonorable. Do not let the moral flexibility of the political class sway you otherwise.

We know, to be sure, our experiences as interrogators have never been without significantly emotional moments. Good HUMINTers are tough, aggressive, if need be, push the envelope, but know well where and when to draw the line. Good HUMINTers don’t need to torture. We are calm and reasonable students of human behavior who can develop rapport with a source quickly and acquire valuable intelligence information, then just as quickly put that information forward in a coherent report or use it to stage a movement to the next critical target.

Torture is antithesis of everything we are. Torture is by nature anti-rapport building. Worse, torture paints the picture of the U.S. military and its soldiers as goons and stooges, the bully-imperialists, The Great Satan, the very picture our enemies would like their followers to believe is true, and we know is false.

It was analysis, insight, and smart detective work that got Bin Laden. This same kind of thinking we try to impart upon our students in the planning and preparation, approaches, and questioning phases of interrogation training.

What’s really import in interrogation? We know: Strategic thought. Psychological insight. Preparation. Analysis. Patience. Restraint. Thinking before doing or acting. Having a reason for every word said and paying attention to each word said to you, the interrogator. Tenacity. That is interrogation. It is a game of thought and mental strength, not of brutality.

The popular press and, unfortunately, many otherwise well-meaning and some not-so-well meaning politicians can be tragically ignorant of our job, more informed by Hollywood fantasy and fear of the unknown than the cold hard facts of this discipline.

I ask you as soldiers and contracted intelligence professionals first, citizens second, not to let your personal political views sway you here. Both parties in our government use this issue to raise the emotional temperature within their respective constituencies to win votes, aggrandize, and score political points. Few speak to this issue with critical thought or concern for our values.
Indeed, I have heard no political leader put forward a dispassionate and convincing argument tying the defense of this great nation to the need to torture.

Stay true to your Army values, to your training, and you can’t go wrong.

Always be an advocate for rational thinking. Reason defeats irrationality.

Do not be afraid to speak out for the honorable discipline of military interrogation, as a humane and intellectual soldier, a linguist, an intelligence professional. You alone are the expert on the nuances of tribal culture in the Jazira around Mosul. You alone delve deep into the minutia of the politics in Waziristan, know the immensely important differences between the Pashtuns and Tajik tribes, or the particular affection a Ukrainian might still have for the former Soviet Union because he was born in Odessa. You know the enemy so you can defeat the enemy.

And, foremost, you are an advocate for the humane treatment of captured enemy personnel. You conduct your affairs in a legal and honorable manner.
We do not let the chattering classes set our agenda, or the politicians who bend in whichever direction they think the wind might blow any given moment. We obey lawful orders, defend the Constitution of the United States, and put ourselves in front of the enemy to defeat him.

This great Army, and I, have your six.

Sincerely,

1LT(P) Marcus Lewis
S3, 6/98 MI BN
United States Army Interrogator, Instructor, Intelligence Analyst
Fort Devens, MA

Stephen Soldz is a psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He edits the Psyche, Science, and Society blog. Soldz is a founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, one of the organizations working to change American Psychological Association policy on participation in abusive interrogations; he served as a psychological consultant on several Gutanamo trials. Currently Soldz is President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility [PsySR].