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Is torture effective for gathering intelligence? – Part 2

December 10, 2014 at 6:40 PM EDT
While the CIA says the use of enhanced interrogation led to key insights on Osama bin Laden, critics argue that the same information can be obtained with non-abusive tactics. Does torture work as an intelligence gathering tool? Gwen Ifill gets views from former CIA official Bill Harlow and former Guantanamo prosecutor David Iglesias.

GWEN IFILL: Another debatable point about the use of torture goes beyond the legal and the moral. Does even torture work?

For that, we turn to Bill Harlow, who served as CIA spokesman from 1997 to 2004, and David Iglesias, a former U.S. attorney and war crimes prosecutor.

Bill Harlow, so aside from these moral and legal questions, what’s the answer to the question? Is it useful? Was it effective to use torture?

BILL HARLOW, Former CIA Official: Well, to start with, I would disagree with the term torture.

But the enhanced interrogation program that we utilized on a handful of top terrorists absolutely, beyond any doubt, produced vital intelligence that helped keep America safe.

GWEN IFILL: Give me an example.

BILL HARLOW: Osama bin Laden.

The report would lead you to believe that there wasn’t much information that came out of detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation that led to him. That is just wrong. There were two detainees who were subjected to EITs, enhanced interrogation, who provided vital information.

The report mentions only one of them and buries the other in a footnote. One of them provided a little bit of information before EITs. Afterwards, he gave us great, detailed information that told us for the first time that a particular person was carrying messages to bin Laden outside of Afghanistan.

This, we had not heard before. The other detainee told us even more information about letters that this person had been carrying back and forth to bin Laden. Suddenly, we had information which told us that this person, above all others, needed to be focused on, and years of hard work after that led to Abbottabad.

GWEN IFILL: David Iglesias, does it work, and did it work in this case of Osama bin Laden?

DAVID IGLESIAS, Former Guantanamo Prosecutor: No, it doesn’t work.

The problem with EITs, which is a euphemism for torture, is, it doesn’t work. You always want to get a voluntary statement with reliable information. And in every case that the Senate committee looked at, the actual evidence used came from nonabusive interrogation tactics.

So, as a former war crimes prosecutor, I can tell you, it’s radioactive, and, more importantly, from a realpolitik point of view, it just doesn’t work.

GWEN IFILL: Could the same information, Bill Harlow, have been elicited without the EITs?

BILL HARLOW: No, it couldn’t. And, in fact, what you just heard there is what the majority report tells you.

What I haven’t heard anybody say in the reporting on this network and others is whether they have read the minority report, which rebuts much of what was said in the Feinstein committee report. The information was very valuable.

It was information which wasn’t available. And the other thing that’s missing is the context of the time. We didn’t have time to wait around and see if we might eventually find out this information. This was a period when we were under great threat for a second attack on the United States. We had a handful of people who we knew were responsible for the first attack and would very likely be able to tell us how to stop the next one.

We couldn’t afford to wait. We didn’t. And we were successful.

GWEN IFILL: David Iglesias, that’s an argument that’s been made, especially in the past 24 hours, that this is about timing, including the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed case as well, that we had to get the information however we needed to get it in order to protect Americans.

DAVID IGLESIAS: Well, there was no ticking time bomb. That’s the justification that people have been using, that because another attack was imminent, we had to resort to this.

But if you look at the majority report, you look at the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, he actually gave us the name of Mukhtar, who was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and that was done through the traditional law enforcement model of rapport-based interrogation. It wasn’t used, it wasn’t derived from abusive interrogation techniques. So I respectfully dissent from that.

BILL HARLOW: Right. And then he gave us that bit of information while he was being medically treated.

And then when he became healthy again, he clammed up and stopped telling us information. And only because he stopped telling us information, and that time bomb was still ticking, did we escalate to other tactics and he gave us much more information, much, much more information than that one nugget after he was subject to EITs.

GWEN IFILL: David Iglesias, is it possible that enhanced interrogation, to use the term of art, is something that is useful to elicit information, glean information from people who are deeply committed to not cooperating?

DAVID IGLESIAS: No, it’s a ruse.

The term enhanced interrogation technique is a ruse. You always want to get accurate information. You want actionable intelligence, and you do that by getting a voluntary statement. Look, I can get somebody to admit to being the second shooter in the JFK shooting if I use the right techniques, but that’s a worthless confession.

We want something that’s usable in court and usable to prevent future attacks. And the position of the majority, which I agree with, is by using traditional rapport-based interrogations.

GWEN IFILL: Let me ask you that, Bill Harlow.

How do you know the difference between — if it’s not corroborated elsewhere, how do you know the difference between good information and bad information gleaned using these tactics?

BILL HARLOW: Well, what he just said was there was an example of misinformation about how this works.

You don’t — this — EITs were applied for just a few days or a few weeks elderly in their tenure. For years later, these people, Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, provided us lots and lots of information, which we could validate. They gave us names. They gave us locations. They gave us phone numbers even of terrorists.

And tracked those people down. So, we knew a lot of what they were giving us was valid information. It wasn’t in order to stop the pain. The pain had stopped years, months before. They were telling us stuff which we could validate. And we knew a lot of answers before we asked the questions, so we knew when they were telling us the truth and when they weren’t.

And with due respect, his focus, as a prosecutor, he wants to get a prosecution and a conviction. That’s a wonderful thing. Our focus was to stop the next attack. And that’s what we did.

GWEN IFILL: So, did the process get in the way of getting the best information, David Iglesias?

DAVID IGLESIAS: No, the process worked fine, had we stuck to the traditional use of FBI techniques, which is the gold standard.

You sit them down. You make them comfortable. You establish rapport and then they will give you information. It’s when you resort to torture or abusive interrogation, that’s when you start getting information that typically is not helpful.

GWEN IFILL: If abusive interrogation, Bill Harlow, is useful, and the administration is to be believed that they have stopped using it, that they have stopped doing it, what are we missing? What don’t we know, what danger are we in because of not using that now?

BILL HARLOW: Well, we don’t really know what we’re missing. This administration has said that they don’t want to dirty their hands with this kind of interrogation.

And so what do they do? They use drones to kill suspected terrorists. We were interrogating known terrorists to stop the next attack. They’re going after suspected terrorists, killing them, and those who happen to be near them. And while that may be preferable for some moral reason, we lose any possible intelligence that you might collect from what’s in that person’s mind, in their pockets, on their computer, because they have been obliterated by a Hellfire missile.

GWEN IFILL: Well, he used the term dirtying hands, David Iglesias.

Has the administration taken a risk, risked American lives by wanting to be more hands-off in its pursuit of terrorists, instead of doing what he says works?

DAVID IGLESIAS: Well, it’s preferable to have — to get human intelligence, and you do that through questioning.

And the point that I have been trying to make is the most reliable information you get is through noncoercive techniques, and we have been using this in law enforcement for decades. The military’s been using humane treatment since World War II.

And there’s nothing new about human nature. So, no, I believe we need to stick to the gold standard in all circumstances.

GWEN IFILL: David Iglesias, Bill Harlow, thank you both very much.