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Interrogation Experts Call for Senate to Require Adherence to Army Field Manual

State of the Art

By Joe Navarro and David Irvine

John McCain, a former POW and a victim of torture himself, recently said that how we interrogate prisoners is a "defining issue" for America. He's right. Congress will soon have the opportunity to resolve this vital issue by making the U.S. Army Field Manual on Interrogation the single standard for all United States interrogations. The Manual is, as McCain also noted, "humane yet effective."

But the CIA and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell have reportedly been telling members of Congress that the Field Manual is essentially "Interrogation for Dummies." It may be fine for unsophisticated military recruits doing battlefield interviews, but it supposedly lacks the "advanced" techniques wielded by the wizards of the CIA. The argument has variations – we cannot trust young soldiers with these sophisticated techniques, al Qaeda suspects are uniquely resistant supermen – but the message is basically the same: "We at the CIA are better at this -- more sophisticated, more experienced, more knowledgeable."

Nonsense. The fantasy of the super spies who can take clever shortcuts to obtaining vital information is just that – a fantasy. As John McCain also said, "I would hope that we would understand, my friends, that life is not '24' and Jack Bauer."

Each of us has decades of professional experience with interrogation and intelligence. Between us we have interrogated enemy prisoners, written books on hunting terrorists for the FBI, and taught interrogation techniques for nearly two decades. Let us set aside for a moment the issues of morality, the Constitution, the Geneva Conventions and even the propaganda bonanza our antagonists reap from stories about waterboarding and KGB techniques like sleep deprivation. Speaking solely from the point of view of effectiveness, we agree with the U.S. general who told Senator McCain in Iraq that U.S. interrogators don't need any techniques that go beyond the Field Manual.

The myth that brutal techniques are either necessary or effective is resilient. But inhumane interrogation methods hurt rather than assist effective interrogations. If a skilled interrogator approaches a detainee who has been abused, it is very hard to repair the damage. The methods of the Field Manual are sometimes mocked as simplistic "rapport building." But they are in fact a battery of tried and true, refined techniques which use a variety of psychological ploys to obtain truthful, actionable information. As intelligence professionals we do not want – or need – any other tools.

But these techniques do require skill and experience. Slapping prisoners, waterboarding them, keeping them awake for days, making them crouch in awkward positions or stand for days without movement – none of these techniques requires much skill. That is perhaps the ultimate irony of the CIA argument – it advances crude and brutal techniques as the state of the interrogation art when, in fact, the Field Manual techniques are both more effective and require more sophistication and skill. What did John Kirakou, the CIA agent who appeared on 60 Minutes last month to extol the virtues of waterboarding, say to the CIA when they offered to train him in these techniques: no thanks. And for that matter, if the CIA has a cadre of skilled, experienced interrogators, why did it want to start from scratch with Kirakou?

Indeed, there is considerable evidence that the CIA had to scramble after 9/11 to develop an interrogation program and turned to individuals with no professional experience in the field. The widely reported CIA process of "reverse engineering" the military training program designed to help U.S. personnel resist torture makes this painfully clear. There is every indication that this was much more a case of "amateur hour" than "master spies" at work. Given the crisis atmosphere of the day, it is all too easy to believe the comment of an intelligence insider who said of the secret program to detain and interrogate al Qaeda suspects that "quality control went out the window."

Will a prisoner sometimes surrender useful information under torture? Of course. But this hardly ends the inquiry. How much false information was provided as well? How much more information might have been gained by other, less brutal and more sophisticated techniques? Regrettably, there is much truth in the comment of a CIA officer who was quoted in the Washington Post recently: "[T]his kind of stuff just makes people feel better, even if it doesn't work."

The Field Manual is humane and effective – and both are important reasons for Congress to require the CIA to follow it.


Brigadier General David R. Irvine, USA (Ret.)

Brigadier General Irvine enlisted in the 96th Infantry Division, United States Army Reserve, in 1962. He received a direct commission in 1967 as a strategic intelligence officer. He maintained a faculty assignment for 18 years with the Sixth U.S. Army Intelligence School, and taught prisoner of war interrogation and military law for several hundred soldiers, Marines, and airmen. He retired in 2002, and his last assignment was Deputy Commander for the 96th Regional Readiness Command. General Irvine is an attorney, and practices law in Salt Lake City, Utah. He served 4 terms as a Republican legislator in the Utah House of Representatives, has served as a congressional chief of staff, and served as a commissioner on the Utah Public Utilities Commission.

Joe Navarro

Joe Navarro has been an interrogator with the Federal Bureau of Investigations for 28 years - as an FBI agent and as a supervisor in the area of counterintelligence and counterterrorism. Navarro continues to serve as a consultant to the FBI and other members of the intelligence community, and lectures around the world on behavioral analysis, interviewing, and nonverbal behavior. He co-authored Advanced Interviewing Techniques, and wrote Hunting Terrorists: a Look at The Psychopathology of Terror.

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