Sunday, April 29, 2012

FBI Interrogation at Guantanamo by Ronald Kessler

Early on Art Cummings set up the FBI’s interrogation operation at Guantanamo and learned first hand how to get terrorists to cooperate without using coercive methods. When Cummings and other agents observed egregious conduct during interrogations at Guantanamo, they reported it back to FBI headquarters. Such conduct was not condoned by military policies.[It came mostly from the initiatives of the Bush Administration and their stooges in the CIA].

Coercive techniques were nothing new to Cummings. During his training as a Navy SEAL, Cummings had been subjected to such techniques, including waterboarding, that might be used on him if he were captured. But he argued that coercive and degrading techniques likely wouldn’t work on hardened Islamic militants.

“Okay, let me understand this,” he would say. “You are going to somehow coerce a young jihadist who has just traveled a thousand miles through desert and unfamiliar territory to go put his ass on the line to die in really austere, dirty, nasty, rocky conditions, wholly untrained. And you think you’re going to somehow make this guy uncomfortable? You found this guy in a cave starving and drinking only water, and what are you going to do to this guy that will compel him to do anything except hate you more?”

On the other hand, “if you are going against Johnny down the street, who was brought up in middle-class America, yeah, it would probably work,” Cumming says. “When you are talking about a jihadist, maybe it would work, maybe it wouldn’t.”

Cummings concedes that coercive techniques may elicit information faster But he says, “You may actually encourage deception. So whatever it takes to guy my head out of that bucket of water, I’m going to tell you something that’s going to make that happen.”

Cummings knew what does work. Maybe others couldn’t understand how FBI agents turned murderers into cooperative sources without using aggressive tactics. But the fact is, says Cummings, “we’ve had case after case after 9/11 of genuine, real, true-to-life bad guys who have sat down in hotel rooms with us, for weeks on end, just pouring it out.”

While the FBI likes to think it takes the moral high ground, “that’s not really the driving reason,” Cummings says. “The driving reason’s, frankly, because we think we as an organization are much more effective working that way. And it doesn’t take that much time. It’s something you learn as you go. You work with somebody, you see what resonates with hm. Is it family that drives him? Is it children that drives him? Is it career that drives him? Is it freedom? What is it that motivates him and keeps him motivated?”

The approach is the same as in working a criminal case.

“You try to understand the kid, whoever he is. Most of them are very young. You try to find out what’s driving him, what’s important to him based on his culture. It could be marriage a children..”

Cummings would say something like: “You are never going to see your mother again.” He explains, “Kids will be tough, but one of the values that should never be lost is compassion. You’re never unkind for the sole purpose of being unkind. Not because we’re just a bunch of great people, but because com[passion actually works. We will sit down with a bank robber and tell him his life is completely off track, and if he ever wants to live the life of a normal human being, he needs to get it back on track. It’s a compelling argument.”

Cummings found that what drives terrorists to respond most is a look into their future.

“You understand, you are going to die in this steel box, and when you are dead your life is nothing. You will die, and you will be nothing o anybody. When you die you will be in an unmarked grave, and no one will know how you died, when you died, or where you are buried.”

Cummings would look for body language that would tip him off to whether his approach was working. If not he might take another tack.

“I saw one kid who was sitting there, not moving. The tears were coming down by the gallons when I started talking to him about never having a child. He wasn’t blubbering, but I knew I had him. Maybe it takes a couple of days. But I’m not going to slap him on the side of the head. All that does is steel him – steel his courage. It reinforces why he hates me so much.”

Instead, Cummings would offer hope: If you ever want me to make an argument for you, I’m the conduit that gets you out of here I’m it. Look at me directly in the eyes. I’m it! No one else in the world. That’s it. You’ll have to help me out, and I’ll help you out.”

Most are susceptible top creature comforts as well.

“That’s the one thing plenty of time will always give you. Eventually these guys just get tired of living in austere conditions, and the government offers them different accommodations based on different levels of cooperation. I got this guy who was in Guantanamo Bay and had tried to go on jihad. He saw a little snuff on my lip . He asked for some, so I said, ‘Sure.” I gave him some.

The doctors at the base “went nuts because I was giving him snuff. I said ‘Okay, enlighten me here. What’s the problem? ‘Well, it’s not healthy.’”

“The only reason he’s talking to me is because I’m supplying him snuff, so I’m going to be bringing Copenhagen every time I interrogate this guy, and I guarantee you that every time before he starts talking, he’s going to put a big ol’ mighty healthy dip in his lip..”

The terrorist would up talking to Cummings.

When Cummings returned from Cuba, Director Mueller asked what he had learned.

“What we got was a general understanding of this whole mind-set.” Cummings told him.

“Are we getting any tactical answers?, Mueller asked.

“Well, tactical stuff is only good for a week or two weeks after they’re captured,” Cummings said. “These guys have been in for months. But they can teach us everything about how the organization moves its money, moves its people, where did they get their education, when did they get radicalized, when did that happen, at what age?”

Cummings found that religious fanaticism was not necessarily the driving force among all terrorists.

“Islamic extremism was a factor,” he says, “But a lot of these guys were young and adventure- seeking. A lot of them were pressured by their families to check that box: they wanted the jihad badge of honor. But believing that when they died they would have seventy-two virgins waiting for them and that this was just a wonderful thing to die in the of Allah was not the driver.”

Cummings looked at detainees and suspects as information collecting platforms. That approached worked well….

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