Last spring, I wrote about continuing education classes for adults at Florida Gulf Coast University. I went to several and learned so much, from the making of the movie “Casablanca” to catching spies working at the CIA and State Department. I was ready for more this spring.
I chose as my first course last week the same instructor who did the spy-catching class, Thomas Eastwood, a former Department of Defense interrogator for their counterintelligence program. His class last week was entitled “The CIA and U.S. Military Detention Programs.” We quickly learned our previous knowledge about this field of intelligence was woefully incorrect, and here was a man to straighten us out. Mr. Eastwood was a psychologist, serving the DOD as an interrogator of “detained “persons for 15 years, and then heading his department for another 20.
As he explained, the treatment of terrorists has received much media coverage since 9/11. We have heard of detention sites such as Guantanamo (GTMO) and Abu Ghraib, but what did we really know?
He started us out with a definition of torture. It seems even this word had different definitions depending whether it was regarding the CIA or DOD. Even touching is prohibited by the DOD in its interrogation. Not so for the CIA. Who ran which detention sites? Well, Guantanamo, affectionately called GTMO, was not officially CIA but under the military and was a principal place for storing the worst of the terrorists. The CIA began using the prison in 2006.
The naval base at GTMO has been leased by the U.S. from Cuba since 1903 and was used as a coaling station after the Spanish-American War. It is the southernmost tip of Cuba and still is rented from the Castro government. The rent is a little more than $4,000 per year, and a check is sent to Havana each year but no longer ever is cashed. They just do not want us there.
Starting in 2002, after having been used as a military prison for years, GTMO became a holding place for unlawful combatants captured in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Because there was never a war declared in those countries, these captives are not POWs or even subject to the rules of the Geneva Convention. These men were principal components of Al Qaeda and ISIS, including the architect of the plan for 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, and the mastermind of the attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa, Abdullah Azzan. About 800 men have been confined there during the years.
Then, we were lectured on enhanced interrogation. This means many things, but to most, it is the use of techniques to get the information the suspect is holding back. Isolation of the prisoner is common. After that, there are debriefings and the use of friendliness and rapport building. While these are enhancements, they are far from our usual ideas of torture. Other methods used include hooding, uncomfortable positioning, yelling, mild slapping and pushing. One goal is disorientation and scaring. We were told the CIA had control of 133 detainees in various locations. Of that group, 67 provided crucial information to the interrogators without enhanced interrogation. Of the remaining number, 33 were subjected to enhanced methods. Surprisingly, only three were waterboarded in spite of the rumors and innuendos. Those three included Mohammad and Azzan. Both eventually gave up crucial information on the plots they had formulated. Based on their information, many terrorist networks were destroyed or substantially damaged.
We had heard of waterboarding (WB), but we were about to learn about the technique itself. The subject is on his back and water is poured into his opened mouth. He experiences the feeling of drowning and loss of oxygen. The pouring is limited to 15 seconds in most cases. An oxygen sensor is on the finger of the terrorist at all times to ensure he isn’t actually choking and being deprived of oxygen. In addition, a doctor is present in the room at all times. No one ever has been injured or killed by this method. Unlike the dunking of the head in water for substantial time done by the Japanese in World War II, drowning is never a risk in waterboarding. Nor have any of the terrorists been tortured as the North Vietnamese did to John McCain or our own Jim Kasler.
The DOD never waterboarded; only the CIA did. When information about WB was made public, terrorists soon were knowledgeable it only lasted so many seconds, and they actually were observed counting as the water was poured.
In fact, the military uses WB to simulate torture in training for SERE, its survival, evasion, resistance and escape training. While President Obama has been accused of eliminating WB, it had ceased to be used two years before he took office. More misinformation.
Whether one believes enhanced interrogation is necessary is a continuing question. Our instructor then gave us two scenarios. You have a terrorist in one room of a cruise ship. He has related a bomb will destroy the entire ship in 20 minutes but won’t divulge where it is. What do you do as an interrogator?
Perhaps it depends where the ship is. If it is in port, complete evacuation could empty the ship in time. No need for any enhanced interrogation. But in scenario two, the ship is at sea, and if the bomb goes off, all passengers probably will be lost. Do you use torture to find the bomb? What if your family is also on the ship? More action, then? Mr. Eastwood then told us to watch Dirty Harry again when he shoots the kidnapper in nonfatal areas to find the woman who will die if not found immediately. If I remember back then, the audience cheered.
I think we all walked away with a mixed feeling of need versus civility and what each of us might accept depending on the circumstances. Also noted was the fact of those released from GTMO to other countries or freedom during the years, at least 25 percent can be shown to have resumed terrorist activity, one murdering our ambassador in Benghazi. I think each of us has a different idea of the extent to which we would go to protect those we love from some evil force, but I also believe there are a number of such forces around the world today.