January 24, 2010

What We Have Gained and What We Have Lost

Leave aside the effectiveness of particular methods; it was a big mistake not to turn over the underpants bomber to military-terrorist specialist interrogators. After the man nearly emasculated himself with his fiery diaper, he was talking like mad. But was he being asked the right questions?

Just a second try not to think of this in partisan, legal or even security terms. Think just about the usefulness of interviews. The key thing is not to convict this particular weirdo. We want to unravel his web. Alert passengers prevented a Christmas time disaster. We cannot count on being that lucky every time. It is not much use killing a particular cockroach. You want to find a way to get back to the nest.

Police authorities may be experts at interrogation techniques, but their training and experience is designed to find evidence that will solve individual crimes or uncover evidence for future prosecution. Their skills are designed to look backwards, to reconstruct past situations. These skills are useful and essential, but not sufficient, when we need to look to the future and prevent crimes that may not yet have even been planned.

Imagine you are asked to interrogate this guy. Assume you have a great ability as an investigator, but are not an expert on external terror networks. Our toasty little friend may mention many names and places, but you just don’t know the significance. You dutifully record everything he says, but your lack of specific knowledge means that you cannot ask meaningful follow-up questions. This would be especially true about the crucial human network questions, the ones that might take us from the individual bad guy to the nest.

We missed the chance and we won’t get it back. We got one bad guy and we probably can convict him with all the legal bells and whistles. We can congratulate ourselves because we have elaborately protected the rights of a trained terrorist who hoped to kill hundreds of Americans on Christmas Day. We have treated him as we would a punk who knocked over a local liquor store. We have gained the feeling of self-righteousness. I am sure the terror masters will be grateful. Maybe when they see how good we are, they may give up their attacks.

But a Yemen-trained bomber is not just like the liquor store robber, so now let’s talk about what we don’t have. What have we lost? “Having rested and received more extensive medical treatment, Abdulmutallab was told of his right to remain silent and his right to have an attorney.”

”He remained silent.”

Posted by Christine & John at January 24, 2010 05:32 PM
Comments
Comment #294522

C&J,

Just a few questions;

Was the Bush administration wrong to seek an indictment and to prosecute Richard Reid in a federal court?
Did we also treat Reid like a punk kid that knocked over a liquor store?

If not, then what exactly is your point?

Rocky

Posted by: Rocky Marks at January 24, 2010 06:12 PM
Comment #294526

You know, if we interrogated him with military interrogators, we might have been able to get him to reveal the Freemason’s true sinister purpose.

But seriously, the whole point of this meme is to exploit the arrest of this man, and the way he was interrogated for political points. We got plenty of information off this man, and it won’t likely count against his prosecution. It’s unlikely he’ll get off, as his failed attempt to receive his seventy-two virgins (or raisins, if the Qu’ranic commentaries contained Syriac language) was seen by just about everybody on the plane.

Once he’s nice and safely convicted, or perhaps even before, he will be interrogated again. The story you’re trying to construct says he will never volunteer information.

But if we understand him to be like any ordinary criminal, this assumption can prove wrong. And al-Qaeda Criminals have proven that assumption wrong, time and again. Porn, operations for dear old ma, goading them about internal disputes, playing to pride and braggadocio- what the Republicans turned their noses up at in terms of tactics worked despite their assertions that torture (oh, sorry, Verschärfte Vernehmung) was the only way to get the volumes of information needed.

And now they attack the FBI over this, and its the same old story “The Democrats are Weak and they’ll get us killed.”

That enhanced interrogation had us going all over hell’s half-acre trying to track down the leads of our subjects, and may have even helped justify going into the Iraq war, on information that turned out to be bogus.

If we run into this guy on the battlefield, hand him over to a military tribunal. If we run into him in a civilian situation, hand him over to civilians. Nothing in this situation prevented us from gathering mounds of useful intelligence against our enemies, before he finally stopped incriminating himself.

Finally, one last point: this guy is seen as a success with al-Qaeda. Why? The disruption he causes. The Republicans want to add to the disruption, want to make sure the enemy understands just how much fear and anxiety he kicked up. In fact, they want to kick up even more, for their own political purposes. This is something like a police officer answering a call about a naked exhibitionist yelling to a nearby crowd “Hey, look, A flasher! Look at him!”

In other words, the Republican’s repeated scare tactics no more discourage the terrorists than a necklace of beads thrown down discourages a Girl Gone Wild at Mardi Gras.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 24, 2010 07:06 PM
Comment #294536

Rocky

Yes. I think they were wrong. We learned a lot since then. In order to unravel the networks, we need to understand the human connections. Little guy terrorist like the shoe bomber and the underpants bomber don’t know much, but a skilled interrogator who knows what to ask can often put pieces together that the bombers didn’t even know they had.

Stephen

Frankly, I am less interested in convicting this little guy than getting his information and getting back at his masters. He is a small part of the puzzle. His masters expected to kill him. He was expendable to them. Convicting him is like killing one ant.

You overestimate these guys. We get lots of valuable information by talking to them. That is how we caught KSM in the first place. We are not talking about the methods you object to. It just makes sense to find out what they know. People reveal a lot more than they know. They provide pieces that they may think are unimportant or even misleading, but they can be assembled.

And we were indeed prevented from getting information from the underpants bomber. After he got his Miranda rights, he went silent. The rights are designed to allow him to stay silent. Once he is lawyered up, you cannot even ask him anything if he says no.

Take a simple analogy. Your room mate has borrowed your CD collection and misplaced it. He tells you he doesn’t remember where he left it. Do you just say, “okay” or do you ask him again?

Posted by: Christine at January 24, 2010 09:17 PM
Comment #294539

IMO we lost a lot when U.P. bomber went into civilian hands and was lawyerd up and read his miranda rights. You see Stephen and Rocky this is like putting a jigsaw puzzle together, each and every little piece means something until you get the whole picture. We just lost a little piece, so what does that mean? WE DON”T GET THE WHOLE PICTURE. Now he can tell his interigators I plead the 5th. or to go to HELL.

Posted by: KAP at January 24, 2010 09:54 PM
Comment #294540

KAP,

“Now he can tell his interigators I plead the 5th. or to go to HELL.”

He could do that anyway and would be no worse off. Are we to assume that you think that the FBI is incapable of finding out the answers we seek legally?

Rocky

Posted by: Rocky Marks at January 24, 2010 10:04 PM
Comment #294541

He could have told them to go to hell but not plead the 5th because he would NOT have had the constitutional rights we gave him when they read him his rights and lawyerd him up. The military could have questioned him 24/7 without the comfort of a lawyer. And yes the FBI is incapable of getting the answers now that he don’t have to talk.

Posted by: KAP at January 24, 2010 10:20 PM
Comment #294542

Rocky

He could try to be quiet, but we would not have to respect his wishes.

I understand that some people are uncomfortable with hard questioning. But we should not just let these guys do things on their own terms.

After being left alone for a long time, many people want to talk. It would be better if he talks to researchers than to his lawyer or some representative of the bad guys. He may try to lie and mislead. But he will eventually slip and can be himself misled into spilling more than he intends.

But that is not a possibility now.

I think this is whole thing has become too partisan. Some people have staked out unreasonable positions because they wanted to stick it to Bush.

Let’s just treat the terrorists as we treated Nazi infiltrators during World War II.

Posted by: Christine at January 24, 2010 10:53 PM
Comment #294543

Christine-
Once we have him in prison, I think we can interrogate him to our heart’s content, bring in whoever we want.

But to get him in prison, dumped into a cell to rot for the rest of his natural life, and to do it in a civilian court of law?

It doesn’t dignify him with death or torture that martyr’s complex that lead him there.

It shows we are not afraid. It shows we value our civilization over their chaos, and that our civilization is stronger.

The more we treat him and others like him as if they’re special or supermen, the more we saturate our society with a security state to protect against them, the more we please the terrorists by being terrorized.

Which is not to say we don’t stop these people. We definitely do. We just take a more low-key approach, and stop bending every aspect of our society to confront the threat, and make political hay out of it.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 24, 2010 11:13 PM
Comment #294544

Stephen

No - you can’t. Besides, it will take a long time to get him to prison. The bad guys are not going to just sit still and wait. How much can change in a month or a year.

I am not advocating we treat these guys like supermen. Quite the contrary. This idiot almost blew off his own testicles by wearing an explosive diaper. He obviously is not much of a man.

It would have been a good idea to ask him about the guys who sent him while his privates were still sore and he was generally off balance. It would have provided a good baseline. We had a golden time when he was angry, scared and disoriented. We gave it away.

Nobody around the world respects us for it. They would not have done that in France or UK and they certainly would not have done it in any Arab countries. Only in America … this time not meant as a compliment.

Ask yourself how we would have treated Nazi or communist infiltrators or saboteurs. We did okay against those clowns, didn’t we?

Posted by: Christine at January 24, 2010 11:28 PM
Comment #294545

Stephen
After he is in prison he doesn’t have to do anything. We can try to interogate him but again he has the rights that were given to him and besides that, he doesn’t gain anything by talking. So we may have lost whatever info that could have been gained by putting him in military coustody. This is infact a win for whatever terror organization he is with. These guys know what kind of justice system we have and probably know how to work the system better than our own criminals do. So we lose by not getting the info we might have gotten through military coustody.

Posted by: KAP at January 24, 2010 11:41 PM
Comment #294546

Christine-

It would have been a good idea to ask him about the guys who sent him while his privates were still sore and he was generally off balance. It would have provided a good baseline. We had a golden time when he was angry, scared and disoriented. We gave it away.

Those first few hours were a bonanza of information. That’s what the article says happened. So why are you telling me we got nothing? That’s a definitively false claim.

As for the bad guys not sitting still and waiting, what do you mean? Terrorist commando raid to save this little fish? Or are you implying that since you think we got nothing that the terrorists are going to strike again?

We got intelligence off of him. If we did more than just talk to him, could we have gotten more? It depends on what you want by “more”. To put it plainly, the guy was probably already in enough pain and stress that he was already at or beyond the state in which he was at optimal recall. Scientific research has pretty much established that past that point, meaningful recall declines.

You’re talking as if the release of inhibitions necessarily creates more and better information. The neuroscience and psychological information pretty much indicates the opposite. Memory is reconstructive, and that often means following instincts that tell the person recalling the incident that something else that came to mind isn’t true, as much as something else might be true.

The trouble with torture and drugs is, they can push people to recall even things the person did not actually experience, especially since you’re making the person’s actual recall worse. You know, they’re saying, oh it could be, or it could be, ah, maybe I’m just going to agree with that guy…

So on and so forth. You don’t want somebody, especially a guy you know is a terrorist, in a cloud of pain, or a drug induced fog. They may talk freely, but it’s not information alone you’re trying to get, it’s meaningful information.

So they weren’t necessarily doing the wrong thing for the interrogation. In fact, the main reason that drug-induced states and torture are inadmissable as evidence in most cases is because it can become so unreliable, and confound the memories of the guilty and the innocent alike.

People watch too many Hollywood cop and spy movies, too many movies where a screenwriter can write the outcome and the quality of recall. That’s our experience of torture and the use of drugs in interrogation, typically, and it’s very misleading.

The thing is, people can’t say for sure that we didn’t get the critical information. They can only say, arguing from ignorance that we didn’t get enough. The truth is, you can never be sure. Due to the unreliability of torture, you often end up with not merely inadequate information, but useless information in the place of what you actually need.

We actually treated Nazi saboteurs just fine. Most military interviewees were actually well-treated, for the reasons I’ve outlined above. The so-called “enhanced interrogation” methods are methods developed by our enemies in order to compel compliance. Their goal isn’t to get real information, it’s to reeducate, get people to make confessions they otherwise wouldn’t make. That’s what they did to get John McCain to call himself an air pirate, and his nation’s war illegal.

France and the UK learned this lesson long ago. The countries of the Middle East often have use for the compulsive nature of torture, but let’s not forget: this is where many of these terrorists came from, and the problem got truly bad before it spread to the rest of the world. Why should we take their advice on interrogation methods? It didn’t help them.

KAP-
Yeah, the Blind Sheikh and his crew, Richard Reid and the other fellows were really able to play the system.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 25, 2010 08:11 AM
Comment #294550

Stephen
Don’t you think that after this episode each and every one of the terrorist have learned something? They now know that they don’t have to say anything because they will be read their rights and be lawyered up. We now have lost the ability to get info from these guys. It’s time for reality Stephen, these people hate you and they hate me and every one else that dosen’t believe their way and they will KILL to get their point across.

Posted by: KAP at January 25, 2010 09:43 AM
Comment #294552

Congratulations, Republicans: the operation to get the man with the fizzle in his underpants declared a success is a success itself.

Too bad that just gave aid and comfort to the enemy.

KAP-
Bull****. Our police interrogators have been getting information out of suspects who have been read their rights and allowed an attorney for upwards of forty four years now. You think terrorists are any different?

Miranda Warnings are quite a prominent feature of American culture, and I think it’s naive to assume that al-Qaeda was simply unaware of these rights.

Also, no one knows how a particular al-Qaeda suspect will behave under interrogation, or before interrogation. According to the linked article, if a suspect volunteers information, as this one did voluminously, that information can be admitted as evidence. Given what he did volunteer, he’s not going anywhere.

The unfortunate fact is that the Republican Party steps on the gas pedal of panic every time there’s an attempted attack. This bad habit of doing so gives aid and comfort to an enemy that loves to see Americans overreact, drum up costs.

Perhaps the reason we weren’t attacked so much over the last eight years, is that the Bush Administrations succeeded in fulfilling al-Qaeda’s sick ambitions: leaving American society frightened, in greater debt, and tied up in multiple conflicts around the world.

By comparison, I think our policies much saner.

Sooner or later, our enemies will seek to stoke our terror once again. The question is, will Republicans aid and comfort the enemy by helping them spread their terror and fear?

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 25, 2010 12:42 PM
Comment #294553

Stephen
Let me put this to you as easily as I can. I would rather have Hilliary as President right now then I would Obama. Do I trust Obama with this countries security, HELL NO. Like I said in another discussion Your idealogy is great but it’s time for reality.

Posted by: KAP at January 25, 2010 02:17 PM
Comment #294564

Stephen,

It shows we are not afraid. It shows we value our civilization over their chaos, and that our civilization is stronger.
In my opinion this is what Christian Scientists and some others do with disease. They say “If we fail to have faith in our system it will fail to heal us.” Trouble is, there is this subtlety Democrats miss (from people who love to lecture us about how much smarter they are because they can detect subtleties, you know). Unlike criminals, who are not really attacking the foundations of our civilization- a basic trust in our capacity to maintain fundamental public safety- that fundamental trust is precisely the target terrorists have in mind.

It would take tens of thousands of bank robbers, and even murderers, to do the kind of economic damage that resulted from the week airlines were shut down after 9/11. That was because we could not trust that airliners would not become guided missiles. And THAT attack happened BECAUSE a policy separating national security policy from criminal law policy and their related enforcement agencies from communicating with each other- for the same idealistic reasons Stephen laid out above- made it impossible to get basic information about a KNOWN threat to people who should have known to act upon that threat.

Faith healing sometimes works. It often fails. Medicine often works, and often makes us feel very bad while it works. Stephen says medicine will make us feel bad and we should have more faith.

Sorry. I want medicine.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at January 25, 2010 05:47 PM
Comment #294572

KAP,

We are a nation of laws.
The “Fruit of Kaboom” bomber committed a criminal act, and the last time I checked, the military doesn’t run this country nor does it enforce our laws.
The whole point of the Dept. of Homeland Security was to gather all of the information and to share that information between the agencies, including the FBI.
The FBI should be quite capable of conducting an interrogation as a part of it’s investigation into this criminal act.

C&J have referenced other countries as a means to sell their point about what we should do under these circumstances. I would remind them, and you that we have a Constitution in this country, and the Constitution doesn’t “give us rights”.

al Qaeda “hates” Western civilization, and wants Americans to live in fear, and so far the right in this country seem all too willing to oblige them.

Rocky

Posted by: Rocky Marks at January 25, 2010 09:24 PM
Comment #294573

Stephen

We didn’t get in the specialists.

I see from your profile that you are a computer expert. I am a computer user. What if we were asked to receive a description of a how to fix software problems? I can ask questions, but I would not understand all the nuances nor would I be able to ask the right follow up.

Beyond that,in those couple of hours they could not reasonably check any information. It just doesn’t make sense, Stephen.

And please don’t bring up the torture thing. I am just advocating having more uninhibited time.

And you say, “France and the UK learned this lesson long ago.” What lesson are you talking about. They would NOT have put this guy in general criminal court. Their procedures are much more robust than ours. The lessons they learned long ago maybe are ones we should recall.

I think we have a fundamental paradigm difference. You are looking for a conviction of this one guy. I don’t much care about him. You are thinking in terms of the complete story. I am looking for parts of a bigger puzzle. You have great confidence in the ability of these guys to deceive. I understand that they may provide information w/o trying that can be checked and leveraged.

Posted by: Christine at January 25, 2010 09:25 PM
Comment #294574

Rocky

I think it is important to point out that the U.S. has extraordinary legal protections even compared to nice democracies such as the UK & France. I think it is also important to point out that the extreme defense of rights is a relatively recent development in our own country, dating from the activist Warren Court and later. We did not go to those extremes before and we were a free people. We don’t need to go to extremes to prove we are free and fair.

Posted by: Christine at January 25, 2010 09:34 PM
Comment #294575

Thank you Rocky for letting me know that we are a nation of laws, as if I didn’t know that. The point is someone screwed the pooch on this one, because he was singing for the FBI up until he got read his rights and then he shut up. I heard on the news today that the FBI has the right to interrogate without this guy having his rights read to him or a lawyer present, but some dumb a** ordered an agent to read him his rights. That’s when the trouble began.

Posted by: KAP at January 25, 2010 09:56 PM
Comment #294577

Christine,

“We did not go to those extremes before and we were a free people. We don’t need to go to extremes to prove we are free and fair.”

But we do now.

KAP,

He was read his rights because I am pretty sure it is required by law to do so.

“I heard on the news today that the FBI has the right to interrogate without this guy having his rights read to him or a lawyer present…”

I have no idea what you’re talking about and you cite no source.

Look guys, we either live up to the America we proclaim to be, or we’re liars.

What’s it going to be?

Rocky

Posted by: Rocky Marks at January 25, 2010 10:46 PM
Comment #294578

KAP,

“Thank you Rocky for letting me know that we are a nation of laws, as if I didn’t know that.”

I don’t know, it’s kind of hard to see with what has been posted here.

Rocky

Posted by: Rocky Marks at January 25, 2010 11:12 PM
Comment #294616

KAP-
There’s scientific evidence that shows that enhanced Interrogation clouds memory rather than sharpening it, and there’s plenty of documented evidence of torture’s ability to create false results, even when that is not the torturer’s intention.

Plus, have you at all considered what an F’ing embarrassment Bush’s Military tribunal approach is for anybody not caught in a military action? They couldn’t even get it off the ground because nobody could in good conscience run it as the kangaroo court the Bush Administration wanted it to be.

If you want to be called a realist, you cannot ignore the inconvenient truths of the world.

Lee Jamison-
Mister, one of the big reasons I favor the law-enforcement approach is that law enforcement, because of its restrictions, is better set to get it right. Because they have to get a warrant for arrest, they have to investigate far enough to know something substantive about the suspect.

That means far fewer arrests of people who have nothing to do with actual terrorism.

The restrictions on what can and cannot be done are often based on maintaining clear standards of information. Miranda, for example, is about making sure that the arrested person knows, and is advised to take advantage of their rights so when somebody IS convicted, they can’t appeal on those grounds.

This helps those who might otherwise become the victims of lazy or malicious police work. It keeps our law enforcement agencies in check against the kinds of abuses that would undermine their legitimacy both in fact and in the eyes of the public.

Now in this case, there are valid reasons to make much of this admissable in a court of law anyways. A volunteered statement to somebody who’s not interrogating you is admissable as evidence against you, and he was quite chatty.

The truth of the matter is, al-Qaeda members aren’t supermen, and advanced race of alien beings who never open the proverbial pie-hole. They’re human beings who can be brought to talk, and its an insult to the professionals in the FBI to say that they can’t get an arrested suspect to talk. In fact, their interviews with terrorists have provided us with some of our most solid leads.

Problem is, mere criminals are not terrifying enough for some people to sell their faith-based paradigm of interrogation, where we use questionable and unreliable methods to extract information, and then help the terrorist case by scaring the bejeesus out of everybody for political benefit.

Christine-
Are you saying the FBI employs interrogators who are not trained in how to interrogate people?

I’m looking for methods and approaches that are dependable. But I’m also looking to have these guys behind bars in nice numbers, not hidden away in some Gitmo, but serving time in our jails in a way that no nation abroach can legitimately complain is wrong.

I want to prove that the laws of this country, the rule of law reign supreme, and that no terrorist’s threat has power to break that. I want people to be less afraid, and al-Qaeda less glamorized, as if the folks whose last two attackers lit shoes and genitalia on fire are really a crack team of special forces commandos. I want to catch, kill or intercept the folks who aren’t those kinds of amateurs on dependable evidence, and let the last decade become the only memories of al-Qaeda of the times in which they were truly feared.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 26, 2010 05:23 PM
Comment #294621

S.D.
Your anology is great but how about if we send you and all the rest of the liberals that want these terrorist housed and tried here in the U.S. the f***ing bill for the Millions upon millions it will cost us.

Posted by: KAP at January 26, 2010 05:45 PM
Comment #294623

Also Stephen if there is one attack here because of the actions of this justice department I gurantee you that the Democratic party especially the liberal end will never be elected to anything not even Dog catcher.

Posted by: KAP at January 26, 2010 05:52 PM
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