Veteran Interrogator: Torture Ties My Hands

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Rep.Trent Franks (R-AZ) won’t let it go. During today’s House Judiciary Committee hearing on torture, he asked Colonel Steve Kleinman whether it would be irresponsible — as Alan Dershowitz recently argued in an op-ed — not to torture someone if all else fails in an interrogation. Kleinman replied that Dershowitz “clouds the issue” and his op-ed “reflects a lack of understanding of the intelligence process.” But then he offered a brief explanation of that process that sheds light on why torture is counterproductive for a professional interrogator, leaving aside questions of morality and law.

It’s not just what a subject says in an interrogation that an interrogator needs to watch for clues, Kleinman said. The way in which he expresses himself is significant: does the subject fidget? Does he shift in his seat? Does he gesture, or suddenly stop gesturing? All of these non-verbal clues — “clusters, groupings of behaviors,” Kleinman called them — provide interrogators with valuable information to observe what a detainee is like when he’s lying, when he’s being uncooperative, and when he’s being truthful, or a combination of the three.

But if a detainee has his hands tied, or if a detainee shivers because a room is chilled, then “I don’t know whether he’s shivering because the room is cold or because my questions are penetrating,” Kleinman said. That degree of abuse “takes away a lot of my tools.” It’s one of the clearest explanations in the public record about what torture costs professional interrogators in terms of actionable intelligence, as the debate is so often set up as what a lack of torture ends up costing national security.

Franks didn’t seem so satisfied, but told both Kleinman and Nance that he had the “deepest respect for your motivations, regardless of any disagreements with you.” Looks like Nance’s warnings yesterday were taken to heart. The hearing ended free of any swiftboating.