Waterboarding doesn’t work.  Or if it does, not reliably, and not in a way that accuracy can be judged or evaluated.

The Intelligence Science Board has reviewed the extreme interrogation techniques used by the United States against terrorism, and they testified this week that these techniques are “outmoded, amateurish, and unreliable.”  They have a 300-plus page report that backs this up called “Educing Information: Intelligence-Science and Art”.  This report was written at the National Defense Intelligence College’s Center for Strategic Intelligence Research.  This is not a bunch of spineless sentimentalists who think we should turn the other cheek against terrorist acts–they are a committed group with a deep understanding of security and military affairs.  They are employed at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Army Intelligence, the FBI, and other veteran organizations.

The Polygraph, 1920sEven the title tells us something: “educing information” recalls that other methods besides torture are availiable to obtain intelligence information.  Science brings us to the contemplate a process that is reliable and results-based–a methodology that can be tested for results.  And the word art evokes the ability to interpret both verbal and non-verbal cues, find themes, and draw impressions.  Neither art nor science is at work with the crude methods approved by the U.S. post-2001.

This report is carefully crafted, with chapters from different authors.  Many of the chapters discuss deficiencies in methods that we have, such as polygraphs, or deficiencies in our understanding of results–such as our belief that intelligence is an easy to discover artifact.  In truth, most people, even those willing to talk, do not know what they know.  Intelligence is made up of bits of discrete infromation, which must be parsed together carefully using more than one technique.  Once one moves to violent methods, the other methods cannot be used effectively, because the time for talking is done.

Chapter 1 asks us to consider costs and benefits in the use of interrogation methods.  To my mind, this includes the cost and benefit to US military personnel in situations of risk.  We need the best information possible for their safety without exposing them to outsized resentment.  Chapter 2 of this report begins by noting that little or no study has been done on the effectiveness of military interrogation.  Instead, the social science disciplines have done the most work, particularly in the field of law enforcement.  Their is an extensive body of work on the psychology of persuasion, influence, compliance, and resistance–that needs to be perhaps tailored for use in non-Western cultures.  The unspoken message here is that we could have been doing this research, which would have provided a further set of benchmarks for procedures based upon results.  Furthermore, the basis we have for interrogation is extensive, especially in law-enforcement avenues.  The past four years of interrogation could certainly have used this psychology, a “softer approach” that worked well during World War II.

Consistently, atrocities have been committed on behalf of the American people and in their name since late 2001.  Consistently, this has eroded our ability to affect outcomes in the world, including rifts within NATO in Afghanistan.  Consistently, we are viewed askance when we voice what is highest and best in our culture–messages of freedom, peace, human rights, universal suffrage, economic opportunity.  I’ve been listening to C-Span’s morning program, which gives an interesting review of American political thought.  Some of us have put our faith in dubious leaders.  I want to go on record: those leaders have betrayed us and compromised our principles.  They have bound us by fear to do things we would not countenance for our own people, and should not countenance for anyone. 

Security counts–it is a primary function that the state provides.  Yet this goal is not even being served by these leaders.  We owe it to ourselves to read this report and as voters, call for a different mode of gaining intelligence.

Further Reading:
A list of memos from the Bush Administration that establishes precedents for torture, including links
The report is available at the Federation of American Scientists Web site.
Secrecy News, a Web log from the FAS
The Conjecturer comments daily on Pentagon Affairs; this is the latest edition.
New writing on the SERE program of violent intelligence gathering