By Lt. Col. Douglas Pryer, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist
Most Americans do not realize the sheer
volume of literature that exists showing that torture is a great tool for
extracting false confessions but an extremely poor tool for collecting
intelligence. Here's my Top 10:
Black Banners, by Ali Soufan. From my review of the book in the
Army's Military Review: "Soufan
describes multiple interrogations in which he earned the trust and cooperation
of Al-Qaeda operatives, only to have psychologists and amateur interrogators
from the CIA destroy this rapport through brutality. He reports that once they
used harsh techniques, detainees stopped providing substantial intelligence."
Soufan, an Arabic-speaking FBI interrogator, dispels the myth that al Qaeda
terrorists are "hardened" to withstand traditional interrogation approaches.
Getting al Qaeda members to talk, he demonstrates, is rarely difficult for a
skilled interrogator who uses rapport-based approaches and who understands
their language, culture, and religion.
2. Stalking the Vietcong, by Colonel
(Ret.) Stuart Herrington. Although primarily known as a counterinsurgency
classic (this book is one of the recommended readings in the famous 2006
counterinsurgency manual), this memoir describes how Colonel Herrington
convinced a senior South Vietnamese official to use rapport-based approaches
rather than torture. The result was not only far more reliable intelligence,
but often, the "turning" of enemy soldiers so that they actively collected
against their former units. Incidentally, in a more recent essay, he writes
about what he learned from his 2002 and 2003 inspections of Gitmo and Abu
Ghraib, respectively. This essay, which is his foreword to my own book on
tactical-level interrogations in Iraq, is as important as any on the subject.
You don't need to buy my book to read it. It's available online here.
3. How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S.
Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in
Iraq, by Matthew Alexander and John Bruning. From my review of Alexander's
second memoir, Kill or Capture, for Military Review: "In his ?rst
memoir, How to Break a Terrorist,
Alexander described how he used the power of personal example to teach his team
that they could be far more effective if they convinced (rather than coerced)
their sources to talk. Thanks to his good efforts -- and to those he led -- his
unit quickly began to produce results. Most notably, his team coaxed
intelligence from sources that led to the successful U.S. air strike against
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq."
4. The Interrogator: The Story of Hanns
Joachim Scharff, Master Interrogator of the Luftwaffe, by Raymond Toliver.
Nazis are invariably depicted in movies as cruel torturers. Historical reality
is different -- surprisingly so, in light of the Holocaust and how many Nazis
treated members of "races" they deemed inferior. The Nazis' most successful
interrogator, Hanns Scharff, "methodically and deliberately treated his
prisoners with dignity." Some eyewitnesses reported that Scharff never even
raised his voice in questioning. Instead, he enjoyed great success by building
rapport with captured Allied pilots. After the war, the U.S. Air Force paid him
the ultimate compliment by inviting him to America to teach their
Mission: Black List #1: The Inside Story
of the Search for Saddam Hussein -- As Told by the Soldier Who Masterminded His
Capture, by Eric Maddox and Davin Seay. From the book's Amazon website: "Maddox's candid and compelling narrative reveals the logic
behind the unique interrogation process he developed and provides an insider's
look at his psychologically subtle, nonviolent methods. The result is a
gripping, moment-by-moment account of the historic mission that brought down
Black List #1." You will hear more about this book in 2014: It is being made
this year into a movie starring Robert Pattinson.
6. None of Us Were Like This Before, by Joshua Phillips. Phillips explores the causes
and harmful effects, not just of American soldiers recently torturing for
information, but of their abusing detainees in general. The book is
particularly important for those researching military suicides and "moral
injury," a PTSD-like condition that derives from the cognitive dissonance that occurs
when people see or do things that conflict with their own deeply held values. In one chapter, Phillips investigates the utility
of torture and, after a survey of literature on the subject, concludes that there seems to be no real evidence that torture
gathers intelligence well. In one of my favorite paragraphs, Phillips cites the
apparent "patina of pseudo-science" that was passed on by the mere presence of
psychologists at torture sessions, making it appear to others as if there were
a scientifically valid basis for torture (even if these psychologists often did
little to actually influence interrogation plans).
History of Camp Tracy: Japanese WWII POWs and the Future of Strategic
Interrogation, by Alexander D.
Corbin. Corbin tells the story of a remarkably successful interrogation
facility established during World War II at Camp Tracy, California, for the
questioning of Japanese POWs. Camp Tracy interrogation teams consisted of one
Caucasian and one Nisei, thus enabling teams to leverage language skills,
cultural knowledge, and physical appearance to build rapport. In making the
case that interrogators today should pay close heed to lessons learned at this
facility, Corbin describes the similarities between Islamic radicals today and
zealous Japanese warriors willing to conduct suicide attacks for their God
Emperor. From the foreword: "The use of torture or ‘physical coercion' was not
necessary; in fact, the opposite was true: Camp Tracy interrogators found that
courtesy and kindness overcame most Japanese reluctance and reticence."
8. Fear Up Harsh: An Army Interrogator's Dark Journey through Iraq, by
Tony Lagouranis and Allen Mikaelian. This book teaches interrogation through
counter-example -- what wrong looks like. As an impressionable new
interrogator, Lagouranis had the misfortune of being assigned in 2004 to two of
the worst places for interrogators in Iraq, Abu Ghraib prison and a facility
run by one of Petraeus's brigades that was nearly as bad. Lagouranis's
Kurtz-like descent into the heart of darkness is a cautionary tale for the U.S.
military interrogation community. He summarizes his team's failure to collect
intelligence through torture thus: "These techniques [EITs] were propagated
throughout the Cold War, picked up again after 9/11, used by the CIA, filtered
down to army interrogators at Guantanamo, filtered again through Abu Ghraib,
and used, apparently, around the country by special forces...If torture works
-- which is debatable -- maybe they had the training to make sure it worked.
But at our end of the chain, we had no idea what we were doing. We were just a
bunch of frustrated enlisted men picking approved techniques off a menu."
9. Slow Burn: The Rise and Bitter Fall of American
Intelligence in Vietnam, by Orrin DeForest and David Chanoff. This memoir describes
how DeForest, a CIA interrogation officer in Vietnam, employed the "art of
sympathetic interrogation" at the war's most successful joint interrogation
center. He also describes the critical need of interrogators for access to
robust databases and supporting analysis. The book makes the compelling case
that if intelligent rapport-based methods supported by robust analysis had been
the norm rather than simple, brutal, and ignorant tactics, U.S. and South
Vietnamese intelligence would have enjoyed far greater success in the war.
10. Field Manual 2-22.3, Human Intelligence Collector Operations,
which can be downloaded online. The accumulated practical wisdom of generations
of U.S. military interrogators has been collected into the latest iteration of
this book-length manual. Here's what they have to say: "Use of torture is
not only illegal but also it is a poor technique that yields unreliable
results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to
say what he thinks the HUMINT collector wants to hear." Not the most exciting
reading, but indispensable if you want to understand how the vast majority of
U.S. military interrogators really think.
Colonel Douglas A. Pryer is a military intelligence officer who has
served in various command and staff positions in Iraq, Kosovo, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States,
and, most recently, Afghanistan. He is the author of the Command and General
Staff College Foundation Press's inaugural book, The Fight for the High Ground: The U.S. Army and
Interrogation During Operation Iraqi Freedom, May 2003 - April 2004. The views expressed in this article are those
of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the
Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.