The Torture Question
  • home
  • watch online
  • faqs
  • paper trail
  • interviews
  • discussion

mark jacobson


Jacobson worked on policy planning in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where he helped develop the detention policies at Guantanamo. In this interview, he explains why declaring Al Qaeda and the Taliban "unlawful enemy combatants" was a mistake. He also talks about the confusion over what interrogation techniques were allowed and describes it as symptomatic of larger problems with United States policy. "The problem is not so much how the detainees have been treated, how the detainees have been interrogated," Jacobson says. "There's certainly a perception problem there, but the problem was the broader detention policy issue. What is the written policy of the United States government? What is our goal? How are we going to treat captured terrorists? I don't think there still is a clear policy. Some are tried in federal court, some are locked up in the brig in Charleston, S.C., and some are at Guantanamo, and there's no consistency. Clearly, this was ad hoc from the beginning." This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on July 13, 2005.

What was the feeling post-9/11 among the folks you were dealing with and the job you had?

… Anyone who says that they felt 9/11 and the response to Al Qaeda would be a short-term thing just didn't understand the concept, and this was going to be a struggle that was as intense and as long in duration as the Cold War. You might see flare-ups from time to time, but we were going to be fighting Al Qaeda and we were going to be in a struggle against violent, extremist jihadists for the next 50 years. ...

Everybody talks about "gloves are off" and things have changed. Did it feel like this was going to be a different way of fighting, a different way of addressing an enemy?

Well, this is where it gets interesting. For the senior leadership, those who are 20, 30, 40 years older than I am, there's a generational difference in how you look at the struggle. Those people who are senior leaders who cut their teeth in struggles like the Korean War and the Vietnam War were old enough to understand -- and perhaps even as young kids see the Second World War -- they felt this is going to be completely different than anything you've ever done before. But I think of the younger generations, for those under 35, while we grew up during the Cold War, we weren't completely shaped by it.

This is the way struggles were. After 1990, after we got out of college, every struggle seemed to have an insurgent or terrorism aspect to it. Even in Bosnia, you had mujahideen. You had extremists trying to co-opt the situation to get the Bosnians, the Bosnian Muslims, to continue the fight against the Serbs. So I don't think it changed the way we looked at it; I think it changed the way the senior leadership looked at it. But for us -- I would say this for uniformed and civilians -- it was less of a surprise; it was less of a shift. ...

And the implications of that generational difference?

Look at the average age of the Al Qaeda leadership. Look at the average age of your terrorists. You're talking about people in their 30s or 20s. Meanwhile, you're talking about a senior leadership in the Pentagon that's well into their 60s. Very big difference in how they look and how these groups look at fighting. If you take a look at Al Qaeda and associated groups, you're talking about virtual networks. You're talking about the ability to collaborate, plan activities over the Internet in different spaces.

By creating this enemy combatant formulation, by picking and choosing where it would comply with Geneva rather than creating a 'by exception' situation, the administration made us less safe.

What's the reaction of senior leadership in the Pentagon after 9/11? A foreign country had to be involved, as I think people have quoted Deputy Secretary [Paul] Wolfowitz as saying: Iraq had to have been involved. There's no way this small group could have carried this out without state support.

In the same way, you have a lot of people who feel there's no way a group like Al Qaeda can carry out these attacks without a base of operations, without a sophisticated financial network set-up. And granted, Al Qaeda has a sophisticated support network, but it's set up in many ways virtually. The Internet is a key tool of Al Qaeda and other organizations. And I think while that's readily apparent to analysts in their 20s and 30s, it may not be to those who did not grow up using computers and understanding the wave of the future is instant messaging and e-mail, not electric typewriters.

So really what you're saying is the older generation, even the ones that are hipper, are thinking more conventionally about how to respond?

Absolutely. The older generation was thinking more conventionally about how to respond. "We're looking for a geographic target; we're going to take out the headquarters, and we're going to destroy the enemy." ... You have to go after multiple centers of gravity, and those multiple centers of gravity for a terrorist organization are their support networks, their cells and their leadership. Just because you take out bin Laden does not mean the end to Al Qaeda, and I think that it's taken the senior folks or the older generation a little bit longer to understand that concept and to understand that an individual sitting in a Starbucks coffee shop on wireless Internet is a base of operations and is an important part of the overall operation.

When you have individuals and cells sitting in cybercafes, using the Web to plan their operations, you can't just go in and send in the 82nd Airborne to take them out. You're going to need parallel approaches. You're going to need a law enforcement approach; you're going to need to arrest people, prosecute people. And you're also going to need to send the military out to wage counterinsurgency. This is a global insurgency; this is not the Warsaw Pact forces charging across the plains of northwest Europe to be met by American tanks and machine guns. ...

Help me understand the components of the political argument that takes place in Washington around Geneva, around tribunals, all those things that were happening from White House legal counsel. Who were the sides, and what are the arguments?

... The military is thinking this is going to be a standard approach: We'll capture people; we will determine their legal status. Are they prisoners of war? Are they civilians who need to be released? Or are they unprivileged belligerents -- a saboteur, a spy, a mercenary, a terrorist? Now, "terrorist" isn't specified in Geneva, but again, the same sort of thing -- someone who does not have the privileges of a combatant; someone who has not complied with the laws of war; someone who disguises themselves, does not have a recognizable chain of command, does not carry their weapons openly and deliberately targets women and children. That individual, when captured on the battlefield, would be an unprivileged belligerent and would be tried for their violations of the laws of war.

Now, when discussions started on this whole issue of how are we going to treat Al Qaeda, the question was: Look, these are terrorists. We can't give them the same privileges as legitimate combatants. Terrorism is an illegitimate act. If it's an illegitimate act, we can't grant it the legitimacy provided by the Geneva Conventions. ... We don't want to give these individuals the same treatment that our soldiers get.

... Al Qaeda is clearly not a state party to Geneva, so there's no problem with this from a legal standpoint. Al Qaeda members are not entitled to Geneva Conventions protections. Even though the United States did not consider the Taliban the legitimate government of Afghanistan, the Geneva Conventions say that since Afghanistan is a state party to Geneva, the Taliban or the government, they're still a state party to Geneva. So you've got a bigger problem, or you have a little different problem in this case.

The president made a blanket determination that members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban were not entitled to Geneva Conventions protections. The president's argument, the one pushed by [then-White House Counsel to the President Alberto] Gonzales and others such as [General Counsel of Defense William] Haynes was Al Qaeda is not a state party to Geneva; that's clear. The argument with the Taliban was that even though they are a state party to Geneva, their members as a whole were not complying with the laws of war. They were deliberately targeting civilians; they were hiding their weapons; they didn't have a recognizable chain of command. Therefore they were not entitled to the legal status as prisoners of war.

I think there's a legitimate debate there. The historical record on the whole shows that, yeah, the Taliban certainly weren't complying with Geneva. But as soon as a single soldier would have come up in a single situation and said, "No, no, I was complying," that is enough to trigger an Article V hearing. That is a hearing to determine the status of that individual. While the Department of Defense conducted many reviews to determine whether or not someone should be at Guantanamo Bay or did more recent combatant-status reviews to determine whether the enemy combatant designation was appropriate, we never went through the transparent, over and accepted process of saying, "Here's an Article V tribunal; we have looked at the status."

Why not? What was the argument against it?

Ironically, the argument against it was "Geneva doesn't apply, Geneva doesn't apply." But what's funny is the very argument that Geneva doesn't apply required a reading of Geneva. Geneva did apply; the administration just said, "Well, we don't agree with it, and therefore it doesn't apply." Why? I think the reaction was emotional. I think the reaction from the White House was "This is illegitimate; this is a crime; we don't want to lend legitimacy to it." We don't want to have to pay prisoners of war money; we don't want to have to give them athletic equipment. There's the famous quote where I think Gonzales says, "some of the trite provisions of Geneva." ...

Now, where they did have an excellent point, but they have not discussed this out publicly, is that if we would provide prisoner-of-war status to the individuals at Guantanamo Bay, they will be entitled to set up a chain of command. It is not in the interests of this nation to allow Al Qaeda members being held at Guantanamo Bay to set up a recognizable chain of command that's going to allow them to do all sorts of things to be disruptive, to try and escape, to try and deal with individuals they think are cooperating or collaborating with the United States. It would adversely affect our ability to get the information necessary to prevent future attacks. That is a very legitimate argument, but the administration never articulated it. ...

... If we had said to the world, "We are going to do our best to comply with Geneva, but here are two or three areas we're worried about: We're not going to allow Al Qaeda to set up a chain of command; we are not going to give them chemistry sets," I don't think the world would have a problem with it. It's the perception that we tossed off Geneva and said, "We're going to have nothing to do with this; we're going to create our own set of rules," that not only created a perception to the world that we are not going to adhere to the rule of law, but from a functional standpoint, I think it may have put our own troops in danger. You have a situation now where other nations can say: "Because of the different nature of this war, we are not going to treat U.S. troops as prisoners of war. They are enemy combatants. I'm sorry -- military necessity. We're following the precedent you're setting."

In the end, the administration was too clever by half. By creating this enemy combatant formulation, by picking and choosing where it would comply with Geneva rather than creating a by-exception situation, the administration made us less safe. It's caused us to have to release people who have gone back to the battlefield to fight again, at least in one instance killing a U.S. serviceperson after being released from Guantanamo Bay. It's created a situation where our credibility is shot in the world, where people don't look at us as a beacon upholding the rule of law, but instead as violators. I just don't think the concept as a whole is up to our American standards, American values. ...

The thing that happens next is, people are now coming off the battlefield, being taken to Bagram [Air Base in Afghanistan]. Gitmo hasn't exactly gotten started. The CIA is cherry-picking and trying to identify in some cases, take people off the books into other countries. The FBI is in, and we're now at the level of interrogation and information gathering. Describe that scene for me, as you witnessed or heard about it, or as it came into the Pentagon.

You have two priorities: First, get them off the battlefield; keep them from fighting. The second priority is interrogate them. What's on the other side of the hill? Who else is out there? What's your chain of command, and where's bin Laden? It's a little more sophisticated approach, but you're talking about tactical battlefield interrogation. You have time-sensitive information; information's perishable. It's only valuable for probably that day or two, and these are the priorities that are going on.

Additionally, we had high-value detainees, folks who might have knowledge of ongoing or future terrorist operations, and the question is, what do we do with those people? Whether it was Bagram, Kandahar -- any field station where you had American troops, you had tactical interrogation going on. And there were attempts to centralize it, and other government agencies wanted to come in and talk with people. The FBI clearly wanted to talk to people as well.

But the bigger question was ... what are we going to do with individuals [for whom] it's going to take some time before they're going to give us the information, individuals who just won't speak? They won't tell you their names; they won't tell you their organization; they won't say a word. Well, we weren't just going to keep them in Afghanistan; that's a fluid situation. It was also the question of, are we going to bring these individuals to justice?

This is where you start to see kind of a breakdown in how we treat people. You've got John Walker Lindh fighting for the enemy, United States citizen, brought back to the United States and tried in federal court, or eventually pleading out. You've got foreigners. Well, what do you do with them? Are we going to bring them back? Well, traditionally in a law enforcement situation, you get a warrant, you arrest someone for committing a crime, you bring them back, you have chain of custody on evidence, you have a trial where individuals provide testimony, and you prosecute them. They're found guilty or they're found not guilty.

But this is a battlefield. There's no question of guilt or innocence. You're captured fighting. ... So what are the priorities? Let's interrogate these individuals. Let's find out who the high-value detainees are, the ones who may have information on impending attacks. And everyone in Washington, everyone in the field thought there were impending attacks, and for good reason. I think one thing the American people forget is a lot of potential attacks have been thwarted since 9/11.

And there were a lot of attacks in the aftermath. There was Bali and lots of other places.

Absolutely. You know, on the battlefield, you talk about tactical interrogation -- perishable information, valuable in the short term, having a lot to do with what's going on in the here and now. Strategic interrogation, now that involves learning about terrorist finance networks; it's about the recruitment methods, the way they think, the way they operate -- information that doesn't diminish in value over time, information that often seems very mundane. You often hear from critics of Guantanamo, what possibly could these individuals know anymore, three years after 9/11? It's not just about what happened on 9/11. It's how you build a bomb, how you develop remote detonator devices, things that as we all know in the aftermath of the London bombings are still extraordinarily relevant. Let's learn how these organizations think.

As a historian, I'm often amazed that people don't think that we can learn from history. We're building the history of Al Qaeda operations through these interrogations. And if we learn how they understood back then, we may get a better sense of patterns, methods, tactics and techniques, ways of thinking that are going to allow us to prevent attacks in the future.

Were you privy to a kind of dichotomy between rapport building and harsher, more coercive interrogation techniques at that time?

In a tactical battlefield environment, there will be less rapport building than in a strategic setting because of the time compression. All interrogation is about rapport building in a way; it's to what degree are you involved in it. Your goal is to try and get the prisoner to talk, to give up the information. People often have this Hollywood impression that all interrogation is the dripping water, the light in the face, the Gestapo beating up James Cagney in 13 Rue Madeleine. That's the public's view of interrogation. But interrogation's more like the movie My Dinner with Andre, probably one of the most boring movies of all time, a three-hour movie about a dinner conversation. That's rapport building. Now, I don't think the conflict is between rapport building and harsher techniques.

... The first conflict you get in terms of strategic interrogation is the goals of law enforcement agencies versus the goals of the military. The goal of a law enforcement agency, the FBI for example, is to obtain information that can be used in court to prosecute someone. Any sort of coercion, no matter how subtle, could possibly get that information thrown out of court. I would argue that even being detained at Guantanamo Bay would be something that is coercive enough where a lawyer may try to get it thrown out of court.

The FBI approached interrogations -- and they even call them interviews -- in a completely nonconfrontational manner, because their requirement is to provide evidence that can be used in court. The military's number one priority is not to prosecute people. It's to get information to keep troops alive in the battlefield. It's to get information to prevent future attacks. Therefore, if deceit, deception, verbal coercion, raising your voice, building up someone's ego, breaking down someone's ego, rapid-fire questioning, pretending that you always know the answers to the questions, if those need to be used to elicit information from a detainee, that's perfectly acceptable. The concern is not that some judge will say, "You were being coercive"; the concern is "Let's get the information out of them in a humane and efficient manner."

Any professional interrogator you speak with, uniformed or otherwise, will tell you that torture doesn't work. ... An individual who you use physical coercion on, threaten, "I'm going to kill you, I'm going to kill your family, or I'm going to keep you chained up here until you tell me," you're going to have one of two reactions. They're going to shut up, get angry and defiant, or they're going to tell you exactly what they think you want to hear. It doesn't work; it's not effective. I don't know a single senior interrogator who has ever taught their junior interrogators anything that they shouldn't be proud of. There's a debate over what techniques might be considered torture, what techniques might be considered degrading, what techniques might be considered humiliating. We don't even get close to torture.

Now, I will say that I've heard some -- and I don't even like putting "interrogation" and "torture" in the same line, but there are some individuals I've heard who have said, "Well, if it intimidates me, it's torture." I just think that's a ludicrous standard. An interrogation may end up being humiliating. It shouldn't degrade the person, but it may be humiliating. It's certainly going to be uncomfortable. Interrogation is about making someone uncomfortable. It's about fear of the unknown. It's not about causing someone physical pain; it's not about causing someone permanent mental anguish.

… You may make someone feel uncomfortable in the short term. You may tell an individual: "Look, God, your father must be ashamed of the fact that you're working with Al Qaeda. Can you imagine what's going to happen to your parents in terms of the shame and humiliation when everyone finds out you were a terrorist?" Could that be humiliating? Absolutely. It's the way we get people to give up information. At the same time, you might say to someone: "Boy, that's the most innovative way of designing a fake passport I've ever seen. We never would have thought about that." "Oh, let me tell you exactly how I did it. I used this method and that." It's pride and ego up.

Rapid-fire questioning, good cop/bad cop -- used in every police station in this country on every shoplifter, murderer, rapist. It's a technique that's used to elicit information, used to make the person uncomfortable, make them build a rapport between the good cop and the detainee so they may spill their guts and provide some information. I think Americans often get very upset and distressed about that which they don't understand, and I think a lot of Americans don't understand that this is more about the interrogator's ability to creatively question and play mind games. It's a battle of the mind; it is not a battle of the fists. Our interrogators aren't trained that way, they never will be trained that way, and the uniformed military would not stand for that.

From the beginning, it seemed like not having Geneva, not having the uniformed military code necessarily to follow, a little bit of ad hoc begins to take place here and there, not only in the tactical level but in the strategic level with interrogators and others. Is that your sense?

The challenge with Guantanamo is we have never done anything like this before. We hadn't had a strategic interrogation facility in the United States since Fort Hunt, Va., during the Cold War, which was a secret facility no one knew about. But the challenge was you have a new situation; you have no choice but to do it ad hoc. You have no choice but to learn as you go along. If you consider that as a context, [we] didn't screw up too badly in terms of the detention operations and the interrogation. Objectively, the problem is not so much how the detainees have been treated, how the detainees have been interrogated. There's certainly a perception problem there, but the problem was the broader detention policy issue. What is the written policy of the United States government? What is our goal? How are we going to treat captured terrorists? I don't think there still is a clear policy. Some are tried in federal court, some are locked up in the brig in Charleston, S.C., and some are at Guantanamo, and there's no consistency. Clearly, this was ad hoc from the beginning.

The good news is I think every step that the Pentagon built on what it had learned previously. The problems at Camp X-ray, for example, out of expediency, using the same facilities that were used to house Haitian migrants might be useful for a couple of days or even a few weeks, but are certainly not useful over the long term. This caused lots of problems. Also, disruptive individuals need to be kept individually in their cells, not together. So I think the Pentagon built upon that, but it was ad hoc by necessity. This has never been done before. ...

When you went down to Guantanamo, when you saw the interrogations, [what did you observe]?

Well, you get very different emotions. Let's assume that on the cell blocks, the first thing you notice is the smell. It smells. If you've been in any prison before, I don't mean as a prisoner, but if you've been in a prison, you know, you're not talking about closed toilets. You're talking about a lot of human smells. And I'm not telling [you] anything bad; it's raw human beings down there. It's hot, it's not an air-conditioned environment, it's not impressive at all. But the range of emotions you experience when you look in the eyes of one of the individuals you know helped plan 9/11, helped cause the deaths of 3,000 people and there's an anger in you and it takes some time to step back from that and say, "Now, we're better than they are." …

I think more than anything else, what I realized while getting a chance to participate or to observe interrogations was how physically exhausting it was simply to have a conversation where not much is spoken over the course of three hours, and pushed on to six hours where not much is spoken. And you come out, and you're physically and emotionally drained. It may even be more draining for the interrogators than for the individual resisting or answering the questions, because you're constantly thinking, you constantly have to outgain that individual. It's a battle of the wits constantly requiring retooling. And I think that's what got me more than anything, was how physically exhausting it was to conduct an interrogation.

[Do you think as time went on the pressure on the Gitmo intelligence task force was racheted up?]

I never thought that we had any spikes in terms of ratcheting it up, in terms of getting information. We were always getting good information. Whether or not the information is valuable or not is going to always be open to debate. For example, some people think that unless you're getting Osama bin Laden's address, what use is the information? Depends who the consumer is. It can be a very mundane fact such as the door on a particular safe house opens a certain way -- might be very important to some folks out in the field, might be less important to someone at OSD [Office of Secretary of Defense] policy who wants to know where bin Laden is. Understanding bank account numbers that may have been closed years ago may not seem important to someone who has to make a decision on whether or not we're going to release a particular detainee, but may be extraordinarily important for someone dealing with terrorist financing. The information, I think, has always been valuable.

I never felt as though we were ratcheting it up too quickly. Sometimes focuses would change. Let's look at a particular group of detainees; that's because of changing requirements. Certainly before the Iraq war, there was a push on information that might be useful in a coming war with Iraq, but that was across the board. Not just detainees, but all sorts of intelligence sources around the world were being pushed on information that could be applicable.

Where probably the place that people focus on most in terms of a shift in interrogation approaches was towards the end of 2002, the beginning of 2003, just the time the transition was taking place from the Joint Task Force 160 [for detentions operations], 170 [for intelligence and interrogation] concept to JTF [Gitmo]. Now specifically, what happened about this time, as interrogators were getting more experienced, as more individuals were coming into Guantanamo Bay, interrogators began to realize that they were having more problems. ...

We were discovering that more individuals were trained to resist interrogation, that they were specifically trained how to deal with American approaches to interrogation. There's a great document out there called the Manchester Document, essentially the Al Qaeda manual. And what it explained was look, if you're being interrogated, just look at the wall. Don't look at the interrogator; go look at the wall. If they ask you things, simply recite what you read in the paper. Talk about things you hear on the American news and other approaches in order to resist interrogation.

Well, you have to figure out ways to counter these things, different approaches. That does not mean throwing out the field manual. A lot of talk has been made recently about, well, Field Manual 34-52 just may not be sufficient as a standard interrogation manual. It's constantly going through rewrites. In fact, one's going on now, and it's discussing different -- what we're looking at are different approaches. So for example, even though our historical experience shows that for 95 percent of prisoners, direct questioning works, which it does, [there are also] these instances [where] simple techniques such as pride and ego up and down may not work, or direct questioning, rapid fire, just may not work.

So what Joint Task Force Gitmo requested, based on recommendations of the interrogators, was using some different approaches to interrogation, some which were variations on a theme, others which people may have viewed as more mentally coercive and some people would have considered physically coercive techniques. These were requested in about the December 2002 time frame. They were categorized as Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 techniques.

What happened in fairly quick manner, they underwent a legal review, and the secretary approved most of the techniques: all the techniques in Tier 1, some of them in Tier 2 -- again, which were a little more coercive -- and I believe only one of the Tier 3 techniques. Lot of discussion is made over [the fact] that some people had requested being able to put a washcloth over someone's head to simulate drowning. That was not even considered. What people forget is the request was made. If you read the document, it talks about "We would like a legal review on these techniques." But everyone all the way up the chain was like, "No, we're not even considering that." In fact, it was explicitly disapproved in the secretary's December memo.

Now, another thing people have to realize is that for well over 90 percent of the detainees, regular field manual techniques were working. It was that small percentage, 3 to 5 percent of detainees, who were specifically trained to resist interrogation where these new techniques were needed.

People talked about using what's called sleep-cycle management. That's not a fancy term for sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation means don't give anybody sleep. Sleep-cycle management means you still get your eight hours of sleep a day; you may just get it at different times of the day. First you may get to sleep in the afternoon; the next day you may sleep in the evening. Same sort of thing: It exhausts the individual. You're reducing their physical ability to resist interrogation without hurting the person.

There was a congressional delegation down at Guantanamo in 2003 where the discussion went towards sleep deprivation, and the senator asked, "Well, tell me, what is sleep deprivation by good joint task force standards?" And the answer was, "Well, anything less than eight hours of sleep." The senator said, "Well, don't tell my staff that." The reason such a high threshold is set is so you can't possibly screw up. In other words, you have to go get permission if any detainee is going to get less than eight hours of sleep.

[In] the case that's often discussed of [a] detainee discussed in Capitol Hill hearings of July of 2005, you have a situation where the individual was subjected to 20-hour interrogations. All right, he only gets four hours of sleep, but I'm loathe to consider only four hours of sleep a night to be a violation of the Geneva Conventions, to be a crime against humanity, to be degrading or to be torture. It's simply not that. People forget, too, the interrogator is up for those 20 hours as well.

In this process, Gen. Miller himself must have to learn in some way and respond to interrogation as a business. How does he do that?

The request for these additional techniques was put in under Gen. [Michael E.] Dunleavy. So by the time Gen. Miller got down, these techniques had already been authorized. Now, the secretary rescinded all those techniques until there was a comprehensive legal review, which wasn't done until April 2003, which even evaluated techniques such a direct questioning. It was every technique in the field manual plus about eight or nine others.

So what does Miller have to do in his role? Well, he has subject-matter experts at Guantanamo Bay ... who handle the day-to-day interrogation operations, an Army colonel or Air Force colonel who is an expert in interrogations, who runs an interrogation control element. He also had a Department of Defense civilian who was his senior person in charge of intelligence operations, who was also familiar with interrogation.

So these are the people who can handle the questions, "Are we allowed to do this?" They can approve the interrogation plans for specific individuals, and they are trained and certified individuals. They have years of experience. I think the last several individuals who have held those jobs, you're talking folks who had minimum of 20 years of experience doing these jobs.

What Gen. Miller's job is [is] to understand and balance the political implications of the Pentagon and to explain the policy guidance of the Pentagon to his people and to understand what they're doing so he can kind of suss out any potential problems. In other words, if someone makes the request [and] he says, "You know, that simply won't fly with the Pentagon," that's it; it's over. But it's also Gen. Miller's job to know when to call up his chain of command at SOUTHCOM and when he's within his lanes. It's not his job to sit there and approve and disapprove specific techniques. As any manager must in the military, you've got to rely on your subordinates. ...

Who is Miller? How did he get the job? Where does he come from?

… Geoffrey Miller is an artillery officer by training, has a solid reputation in the Army as a leader. He's not an interrogator, he's not an intelligence officer, but people have to remember that even though he is not trained in intelligence or as a military police officer, he's a leader, he's a general officer. His job is to manage and lead troops. And if there is the one thing he was able to do immediately down there was earn the respect of the troops. …

This is someone who reminds you of your dad or your grandfather, someone who you would want to follow into battle, someone you trust. Someone you know is going to make the right call. …

One of the things that happens when Gen. Miller comes in, that as we read the historical record, is the FBI, which had been participating in some interrogations, feels slightly on the outs, begins to keep track, write e-mails and memos [about] things they don't like. What happened?

... You have different approaches to interrogation between tactical battlefield interrogators and an FBI agent because of the different goals. … For the FBI, I think it was a matter of pride. "No, you can't do that because we can't use it in a court of law." Or, "You can't insult a detainee. No pride and ego down, you can't tell a detainee that their mother is a whore. That's just wrong to say." Well, what if you push the right buttons, you get them so upset they shout out the information? In all fairness, very often the FBI's approach works, the cooperative approach. With certain detainees that may not work, though. …

In my experience, at times the FBI has been proven right that their approach works. At other times, their approach didn't work. Why? Because if you have 560 detainees, you have 560 different psychological profiles and 560 different approaches to getting information from those people. ...

Now, a legitimate question to ask [is] did the policies established by the White House and the Pentagon increase the likelihood that prisoners would be abused? That's a very valid question to ask.

And the answer is?

Possibly. I'll leave it at that, my one word. It's a tough question. It's possible.

Now, the other question to ask is, were the policies and procedures set in place by JTF Guantanamo Bay sufficient to reduce the likelihood that abuses would take place? I think the answer there is clearly yes. You're talking about a very small number of relatively minor infractions when we look at the bigger abuses that have taken place in Afghanistan or Iraq. I think we've had cases where there's been murder; we've had cases where people were physically abused to the point where it may have contributed to their death. And you compare that with an overzealous response during an escape attempt, an unauthorized haircut and an interrogation technique that was just off-the-wall nutty designed to insult a detainee in an inappropriate way, you're talking apples and oranges there.

So when I hear about guys in O-rings handcuffed to them naked, in their own feces, I hear about temperature control, I hear about all these things, where's all that coming from?

... There's something I wanted to address, because it is one of the techniques that isn't in the field manual, and that's this issue of environmental manipulation. When people hear euphemisms, "environmental manipulation," what do you really mean? Well, it's not just moving the temperature up and down. A 72-degree room is wonderful. You have to remember, it's about 100 degrees out in Guantanamo Bay. If you bring someone in from the cell that's been 100 degrees and it was 72, it might be uncomfortable. If you drop it down to 68 it's uncomfortable. Maybe if someone's uncomfortable, they may decide, "Fine, I'll talk with people." Put the air conditioner back up to 80, we're talking about saying, "If you cooperate, hey, we'll put you in a cell with an air conditioner." It's an incentive.

Now, there are lawyers out there who would say: "That's unfair. You're creating a privileged class of detainees and a not-so-privileged class of detainees." I'm willing to have two classes of detainees if it's going to prevent another 9/11 or another London. I don't have a problem with that. Where you have problems is where someone says, "We're going to leave you cold and wet and naked in a room in 32 degrees." You can kill someone that way, and this is not appropriate. But that's not what's going on. I think the image that's created is the latter, not the former.

And who is the image created by, and why?

One of the things we forget, but a lot of the allegations of abuse are coming from individuals released from Guantanamo Bay who frankly, in my view, should still be there. When a lot of Taliban were released from Guantanamo in the beginning -- Afghans who were Taliban; they fought on the battlefield, but the war was over, [so] let's turn them over to [President Hamid] Karzai, they didn't have too many complaints. "The food was good; I gained weight." There weren't too many complaints.

But when the British, especially the Europeans, the British in particular were released from Guantanamo Bay, there were all sorts of allegations that they had been tortured and the like. I think British detainees overall -- not every one of them, but overall -- have much closer ties to Al Qaeda than the British government was willing to admit. I think that the United States government, because of our precarious situation that we created in terms of having this perceived illegitimate detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, was put in the situation where we had to release the Brits. We had to do it for political reasons.

This is where you hear these charges coming from individuals who have no credibility, who I believe have associations with terrorist groups, and then you hear them propagated around the world, clearly by outlets that clearly have ties to jihadist groups. If you look at the allegations at Guantanamo Bay that came out after Abu Ghraib, they mimicked Abu Ghraib. Very effective propaganda technique. Anyone advising Al Qaeda on how to wage its propaganda campaign would say the same: "Let's take those allegations, everything you saw in the newspaper, repeat them. Anyone who's at Guantanamo, repeat those allegations." You don't even have to be told; it's just easy to do. ...

How does Miller find himself going to Iraq and meeting with Gen. [Janis] Karpinski?

I think a lot of people are under the mistaken impression that when things got tough in Iraq, Miller was sent to Iraq to change things. ... There were briefings prepared; there were e-mails; there were discussions about bringing the lessons learned from Guantanamo Bay to Iraq before the invasion even started. Why? Our number one concern in Iraq once we got in there was going to be how to find the weapons of mass destruction. That was going to mean conducting hundreds, if not thousands, of strategic debriefings, interrogations and the like to find out information on that. ...

This was being done at levels way above Miller, by the way. This was being done in the Pentagon, where obviously the OSD policy group, which had both the Office of Special Plans and the Detainee Policy Group, were saying, "Look, there's some lessons learned here; let's get them down to CENTCOM [U.S. Central Command] and help them to set up their programs."

When I talk about lessons learned from Guantanamo Bay, I'm talking about both detention and interrogation issues. The latter being the least important. It's detention, how to handle the detention of prisoners of war, insurgents, potential terrorists. There was always the thought that we would come up with Al Qaeda members in Iraq, or certainly members of Ansar al-Islam and possibly members of some of the Palestinian groups as well who often have headquarters in Baghdad. ... In general terms, some of the things that were learned at Guantanamo was having a high guard-to-prisoner ratio, it was very important; having expertise in strategic debriefing, interrogation and interpretation. What became known as a Tiger Team -- having an analyst involved directly with the interrogators -- was critical. These are the types of things that were felt to be useful to transfer over to Iraq.

CENTCOM was not very responsive to this idea, kind of "Thanks for your input. We've got things under control. Specifically, we know how to handle large numbers of detainees; we don't need any help. Stay out of our business." The Pentagon is not entirely to blame for what happened at Abu Ghraib; CENTCOM bears some of the responsibility as well, certainly down at the Combined Forces Command. But there's enough blame to go around, but it's a lack of oversight; it's a lack of guidance. And I think one of the first indications that there would be a lack of guidance was the refusal to accept some of the lessons that had been learned out of Guantanamo Bay in terms of how difficult detention operations can be.

So the war gets complicated, ... because what we're starting to realize was that we weren't getting information on WMD, and even though we were down to literally 14 prisoners of war. We had several thousand of these captured insurgents or guerrillas, and what do we call them? We don't know -- criminals that we have to deal with, and the number was going up every day. So you needed a larger detention operation. There's only one person in the United States military at the time who had experience dealing with detention operations and interrogation operations: Gen. Geoffrey Miller. Doesn't matter who the person is.

So Miller takes a team of experts, all different fields -- detention, interrogation, leadership, logistics -- over to Iraq. ... [He] wasn't in command of anything over in Iraq. Gen. Miller could provide recommendation, but it's up to the CENTCOM commanders to provide it. And that's not just a matter of what you want to do and don't want to do; that's a matter of law. Title X says U.S. Central Command runs what's going on there. Gen. [John] Abizaid is responsible, and the people beneath him are responsible for what's going on there.

Gen. Miller's in SOUTHCOM, so I don't know if there's a legal angle at it. He's not directing anybody, providing recommendations that can either be implemented or discarded. But what's very important is, what did Miller recommend? Miller, among other things, recommends you need to have a high guard-to-prisoner ratio. You need to make sure the prisoners are well fed; you need to make sure you have the facilities available to spread them out, to segregate them, and so you don't mix up individuals that will cause disturbances.

In fact, at Abu Ghraib, the problems went even beyond that. You had juveniles mixed up in the camps with the adults. You had criminals mixed up with prisoners of war mixed up with insurgents. That's not how it's supposed to happen. I also think it's very telling that the high-value detainee facility, which was not at Abu Ghraib, did not have these problems because you had the resources, you had the professional people there handling it. Meanwhile, at Abu Ghraib, you had people on the cellblocks who shouldn't be there. You had poor leaders; you had a lack of training, a lack of resources, high stress, no command leadership. And these all combined to create a situation that was very easy for a group of sadistic and disturbed people to violate every order they had been given and get away with it. No one held them accountable. ...

Is it just coincidence, is it people looking to tag somebody, is it lack of sophistication that makes people say Miller visits Karpinski, [and] there's an appetite for more information about an insurgency which is going wild? Suddenly the high-value targets are segregated. Suddenly units are being told to soften prisoners up. What's the motivation for those conclusions?

I think those people are missing stuff, a few things. One, the people who you needed to get the information for the insurgency were not at Abu Ghraib; they're at the high-value detainee facility. They were at Baghdad Airport; they were not there. Secondly, where's the guidance saying soften them up? It's just not there.

You mean something written?

Yeah. Anyone's who been around the military knows you don't do anything unless it's going to be in writing. I think that's the weaker argument. I think the better argument is look, the people you're getting the information from, or needed to get the information from, from the insurgency, were not at Abu Ghraib. Secondly, I think people forget the abuses at Abu Ghraib were ones conducted by the folks running the detention operations. They were not in the interrogations themselves. …

home + introduction + watch online + is torture ever justified? + paper trail + analysis
interviews + behind the wire + discussion + faqs + teacher's guide + readings & links
producer's chat + tapes & transcript + press reaction + credits + privacy policy


posted oct. 18, 2005

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of wgbh educational foundation.
photo copyright ©2005 corbis
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation