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The Interrogators: Task Force 500 and America's Secret War Against Al Qaeda Paperback – May 12, 2005
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""Highly compelling....A fascinating study of the interrogator's art....For as long as the words Abu Ghraib reverberate around the world, this will remain a timely and important book. It is proof of one of the more engaging qualities of the American character: openness."
About the Author
Greg Blake Miller's travels as a writer have taken him from the teeming, occasionally frozen boulevards of Moscow, Russia, to the idyllic, more-than-occasionally-soaked hills of Eugene, Oregon. But his hometown always seems to call him back, proving you can take the kid out of Vegas but you can't take Vegas out of the kid (even when he's not such a kid anymore).
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As the author notes in the introduction:
"It may be impossible to grasp fully how destructive [these] actions were - to the reputation of the intelligence corps, to our country, and to the world hoping for better from those who wear the army's uniform."
Later in the book the author raises additional interesting points that make equal good sense: that the more prisoners hate America, the harder they are to break; and the more the populations where Al Qaeda hides out hate us, the less likely its citizens will be in helping to lead us to suspects. But almost equally as important, the book points out that the converse is also true: When the U.S. proves to be more civil than the terrorists indoctrination has led them to expect, the more quickly that indoctrination and their anti-U.S. worldviews break down. And of course once broken down -- whether through benign or hostile methods -- the more willing they will be to assist us.
This point was dramatically drilled home on page 426, when after being "broken," a prisoner responsible for helping to store and transport Ricin (an essential ingredient for chemical weapons) for possible use against the USA was asked why he decided to talk. His answer was that once he realized that hostile questioning was the worse the Americans were going to do, he decided it was time to reconsider which side he was on.
The author makes one other telling point in the book's summary: He disavows the commonly accepted notion that "monstering" does not work, because in fact it does work. As he notes in the epilogue to the book: It should not be used because, in addition to the reasons cited above, it is also wrong; violates international norms of civility; and undermines every value that America stands for.
One can gather from this, and from the subtext of the book that interrogating prisoners is as much a "seat-of-the-pants kind of art" as a science; and thus must of necessity evolve along with the nature of the conflict and the culture of the prisoners interrogated. Although trickery and deceit does often indeed work, the brutal and sadistic tricks popularized in the movies apparently do not, and often are never even tried by the professionals. In the end, the author likens the process to that of finding the correct pieces to put a big jigsaw puzzle together. The advantages almost always goes to the skilful interrogator, in that the prisoner, unlike his interrogator, has no way of knowing what slivers of information he might inadvertently "give up" will be valuable to putting the whole puzzle together.
It is equally true from the subtext of the book that in order for such information to be useful requires not only innovative tricks, developed on the fly, but seamless information processing up through a robust chain of the military and intelligence command. And while the 911 Commission Report demonstrated conclusively that what we have is far from ideal, this book shows in excruciating detail how incompetence at either end of that chain can hurt our efforts at catching and removing the terrorists threat. A litle too much description of scenery, but still a truly great read: Five stars
Chris Mackey (a pseudonym) was in the Army reserves for most of the 90s, having joined the army at 17 and learned first German, then Arabic, and been trained as an interrogator. By the time of Operation Enduring Freedom (the campaign in Afghanistan) he was a Sergeant First Class in his unit, and a tax advisor in civilian life, working in London. He's recalled, and the plot takes off as the author and his comrades are transported to Kandahar, where they begin to interrogate various Afghans and Arabs who've been taken into custody, trying to figure out if they should be kept, kicked loose, or sent to Guantanamo for further interrogation.
The heart of the book recounts the author's experiences as primarily an administrator of this interrogation unit while it operated, first in Kandahar, later in Bagram. There's discussion of the tactics used during interrogation (including a list of "approaches" taught by the army's school on the subject) and of the evolution of their tactics and attitudes towards what was allowed during interrogations and what wasn't. As time goes on, the author's unit loosens its restrictions on the tactics that can be used to interrogate subjects, and their whole attitude towards what they're doing and who they're interrogating changes.
The author has several opinions which aren't likely to be completely popular. He considers the Other Government Agency (to all appearances the CIA) a bunch of incompetent fools, and thinks the FBI only marginally better. The techniques taught the interrogators at Fort Huachaca (where the army based itself when hunting Geronimo in the later 1800s) were some of them useless, or only of marginal value. The interrogators were trained to work on soldiers from the Soviet Army or one of its Warsaw Pact Allies, but events conspired to have them interrogating Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters who didn't wear uniforms, have rank, or react anything like European soldiers. As a result, the interrogators learned on the job, and got much better at what they were doing as they progressed. Of course, at the end of the book, they're all replaced by guys from a new unit, and the new commander refused to take any advice from the experienced soldiers, because he knew better. As a result, the author and his comrades saw what they had learned go to waste.
I enjoyed this book, and it dealt with a topic with which I'd never dealt with before, much. Interrogation of enemy prisoners is an esoteric art, and one which I think would merit further study, especially with regards to the Middle East and the sensibilities of the people there. It's an interesting book, anyway.