Friday, May 14, 2004

Prisoner Interrogation

Captain Ed links to a New York Times article describing how the CIA was authorized to use harsh interrogation techniques:
The Central Intelligence Agency has used coercive interrogation methods against a select group of high-level leaders and operatives of Al Qaeda that have produced growing concerns inside the agency about abuses, according to current and former counterterrorism officials.


At least one agency employee has been disciplined for threatening a detainee with a gun during questioning, they said.

In the case of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a high-level detainee who is believed to have helped plan the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, C.I.A. interrogators used graduated levels of force, including a technique known as "water boarding," in which a prisoner is strapped down, forcibly pushed under water and made to believe he might drown.

These techniques were authorized by a set of secret rules for the interrogation of high-level Qaeda prisoners, none known to be housed in Iraq, that were endorsed by the Justice Department and the C.I.A. The rules were among the first adopted by the Bush administration after the Sept. 11 attacks for handling detainees and may have helped establish a new understanding throughout the government that officials would have greater freedom to deal harshly with detainees.

The last statement seems unlikely. If the rules were secret, how could they generate a "new understanding" for people who knew nothing about them?

Still, there's an important question which arises here: What are the limits to how you interrogate terrorists? These are not US citizens, protected by our Constitutional rights, nor are they POWs, since it would take an extensive re-writing of the Geneva Convention to classify them as such. So there are no legal limitations, just moral ones. What moral duty do you have to preserve the dignity and well-being of one human being when the cost of doing so may be the death of hundreds or thousands of others? Interrogation is used in criminal investigations as well, but the rules governing it are much stronger in that case. Clearly, you need to be able to do more than politely ask questions. So we need to allow at least intimidating body language and raised voices. How about warm or cold rooms? Sleep deprivation? Humiliation? Restraints? Long periods of solitary confinement? Physical threats? Physical abuse? Where's the line here? In the case of Abu Ghraib, everyone agrees that the soldiers crossed the line. In the circumstances described in the article above, it looks like threatening with a gun is over the line, but waterboarding is not (although it sure sounds like it should be).

At an initial glance, the ideal solution would be one not requiring these sort of techniques. It'd be much better if we could give the prisoners some drug which would make them answer questions, truthfully. I doubt there is such a drug (Sodium Pentathol's effect is to lower inhibitions, which doesn't guarantee truthfulness), but if there were, would its use be problematic? I don't see why it would be in questioning terrorists. What about criminal suspects? Surely it would be, since the Fifth Amendment denies the government the ability to coerce citizens to testify against themselves. What about a terrorist who is also a US citizen? Even if there are thousands of lives at risk, are we unable to use the drug? Could a suspect waive this right and take the drug in an attempt to prove his innocence?

Clearly, I'm asking more questions than I'm answering here. Any thoughts?

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