Zero Dark Thirty

I think the recent debate regarding the release of the report on “enhanced interrogation” makes my original post all the more relevant.  See below:

In the film, Dark Zero Thirty, the use of “enhanced interrogation”—also known as torture—compels a detainee to reveal information that eventually leads the United States to Osama bin Laden. This should come as a surprise to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Senators Diane Feinstein, John McCain, and Carl Levin. They all have access to classified information, and they all have reported that torture did not play a key role in the hunt for Bin Laden.

Of course, the movie is not a documentary, and the director Katherine Bigelow is free to use her creative license. However, in our media-driven “they wouldn’t show it if it weren’t true” culture, it will no doubt re-enforce the false notion that torture works.

As a former professional interrogator, I doubt the accuracy of any information obtained through the use of coercion. I have performed numerous rapport- based interrogations and can attest to their effectiveness.

I once interrogated a hardened gang member suspected of involvement in drug trafficking.  At the time of the arrest, we had little to go on save a bit of physical evidence and a sketchy set of facts from a questionable witness.  The subsequent questioning included the tension-filled verbal sparring depicted in crime dramas, all within the legal framework. After what seemed an eternity, the suspect broke. We were able to use his confession to secure a conviction.

After the interrogation, I felt an incredible sense of satisfaction at having successfully taken a dangerous criminal off the streets. Had I used any form of torture or abuse, that win would have come with an asterisk. In the world of law enforcement professionals, using coercion to obtain a confession is akin to winning a championship after testing positive for steroids.

You can hardly consider yourself a law enforcement officer after you’ve broken the law. Likewise, how can you effectively defend the United States when you’re trample on its ideals and its laws?

Every day, thousands of members of the U.S. military, intelligence officials, and law enforcement officers interrogate suspects using legal, moral, and effective methods. They wouldn’t think of using torture, and if asked to do so, they would refuse.

Although you wouldn’t know this from watching Zero Dark Thirty, people within the United States government objected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program. They included the director of the FBI, who was so opposed to the use of torture he removed his agents from the investigation so that they wouldn’t be complicit.

Following the 9-11 attacks, Ali Soufan was the only FBI agent in New York who spoke Arabic. He drank tea with suspects, winning their trust and drawing out information. Later, he elicited actionable intelligence from Al Qaeda member Abu Zubaydah, but then the CIA took over. A Department of Justice Inspector General Memo explains what happened: “Zubaydah was responding to the FBI’s rapport-based approach before the CIA assumed control over the interrogation, but became uncooperative after being subjected to the CIA’s techniques.”

Interrogators who follow the law are the true professionals, and they should be celebrated on the bigscreen instead of a bunch of cowboys who use torture. I wonder, however, if Hollywood would tell their story, since real detective work consists of seven hours and forty five minutes of boredom interrupted by fifteen minutes of sheer panic.

On the other hand, I’ve got some pretty good stories. Ms. Bigelow, call me maybe?

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