"If I Break Someone, How Do I Know He Told Us Everything?"


Spencer Ackerman has a deeply-reported story on torture—and what the government knows about its ineffectiveness—up at the Washington Independent.

The question of what the administration calls "enhanced interrogation techniques" have actually gained the U.S. continues to roil many at Langley. Around 2005, members of both civilian and military intelligence agencies asked the Intelligence Science Board to conduct a study about the current state of scientific knowledge relevant to interrogations. The resulting multi-volume study, "Educing Information," was published in December 2006. It's practically a cri de coeur against torture, urging intelligence agencies instead to rely on non-physical, non-coercive techniques like building rapports with detainees—much like the FBI does, and much like what worked 60 years ago at places like Fort Hunt against hardened, sadistic Nazi officers. "We tried to write it very carefully," said one of its authors, who asked for anonymity as to not alienate the intelligence community. "We used terms like 'we've been unable to find' [that torture works] or 'this looks promising.'" A subsequent volume is due out, perhaps later this year.

Few involved with the project have direct knowledge of interrogations, but most are highly skeptical of claims made by the Bush administration that the brutal interrogations have yielded valuable information. "Look at George Tenet's book," said one. "He says, it would have been good if we stopped 9/11 and we blew it on WMD, but we got good info from KSM. Well, I read it. He's not gonna say we went oh-for-three.

"But even if we did [get solid information from torture]," he continued, "we don't have a basis for knowing that. Look at the language choice: 'break.' If I break someone, how do we know if he told us everything? Does that fit in with human experience? It doesn't fit in with my experience. Even the notion of breaking someone, it doesn't connect, though its a pop-culture stereotype out there. A subject is responding to questions, but they have very important information they never offer up because you didn't ask the right questions, and because you 'broke' them."

Last year Jim Henley shredded the "ticking time bomb" scenario.