Running out of maneuvering room

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From The One Percent Doctrine:
KSM's two children, a seven-year-old boy and a nine-year-old girl, were als in US custody, picked up when the Karachi safe house had been raided the previous September. From Langley, a message was passed to the interrogators at a secret detention center in Thailand, where KSM was being held: do whatever's necessary.

According to several former CIA officials interrogators told KSM his children would be hurt if he didn't cooperate. The response, said, one CIA manager with knowledge of the incident: "He basically said, so, fine, they'll join Allah in a better place."

The traditional models of debriefing, used by both FBI and CIA, involved the building of a relationship, no matter how long and arduous a process. It's the need for some human contact, some basic comfort, rather than simple the bottomless human fear, which ultimately triumphs. The captive's previous life starts to fade and is slowly replaced by one constructed, often ingeniously, by his captors. This method, which the FBI still recommends, by his captors. That's the gamble. Once you do something as horrific as threaten someone's children, and it doesn't work—there's nowhere else to go.

Outstanding!

6 Comments

There is nothing quite like the combination of evil and incompetence we've got running the show these days. It is hard to think of how they could do more damage were they were deliberately attempting to do it.

I'll admit I'm no expert interrogator, but I'd have thought that it's never too late to bring in a "good cop" to try to win the subject's trust. After all, the more stress the subject has been under, the more compelling the temptation to win and keep the friendly interrogator's kindness and trust. I don't see why there'd be a point at which that effect would even start to reverse itself--let alone reverse itself completely.

Does The One-Percent Solution explain this?

I'm not entirely through the book yet, so I'd just be speculating. That said, I would imagine that once the subject was resigned to death and the death of their children, they might be a bit less likely to be interested in making friends with the interrogators.

I keep telling people, on this forum and others, that torture, and similarly extreme methods, just don't work. And they keep not listening.

Here we see yet another failure mode, in black and white.

But I don't think this will convince anybody at all who hasn't figured it out already.

But I'll say it again. Once trust is gone, it's GONE. Especially when the subject has lost just about everything already.

This has implications that go far, far beyond interrogation, by the way.

Eric, the problem with that line of reasoning is that it applies, albeit with lesser force, to any kind of stress or discomfort, and suggests that the optimal interrogation strategy is to immerse the captive in luxury. Conversely, if simple strategies like "good cop, bad cop" work, then it's not entirely clear why "better cop, worse cop"--emphasis on the "worse cop"--wouldn't work even better.

Note that part of the power of "good cop, bad cop" is that the good cop can relieve the stress or discomfort imposed or threatened by the bad cop. It's therefore a bad idea for the bad cop to take irrevocable steps--of which actually killing the subject's children would obviously be one. However, a credible threat to do something that horrible would, I surmise, be a very powerful incentive indeed for the subject to cooperate with a "good cop" promising to protect the subject from the threat.

I recommend Mark Bowden's article in the Atlantic Monthly on this topic. Stormcrow, you might want to look at it as well--I don't think it supports your claim that "torture, and similarly extreme methods, just don't work".

Dan,

I'll check out the article.

That said, I don't agree that my line of reasoning leads where you wsay it leads. The key phrase here is "resigned to." There's a difference between discomfort you're enduring because you have no choice but hope might be relieved and discomfort you've already decided you're going to accept. ISTM that Suskind is indicating that KSM was in the second category.

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