Thursday, April 23, 2009

Col. Steven Kleinman: Abusive Interrogations Designed For Propaganda, Not Intelligence

Colonel Steven Kleinman, Air Force reservist and experienced intelligence officer, attempted  to put a halt to abusive interrogations he witnessed in Iraq in 2003–and was met with hostility. Kleinman was cited by a recent Senate Armed Services Committee report as being among those officials who who tried to stop the abuse.

Speaking to Robert Siegel of National Public Radio, Kleinman referred to the SERE (survival, evasion, resistance, escape) program, originally used to train American military personnel to resist communist interrogation during the Cold War. The military, under controlled conditions, subjected trainees to methods whose aim was not intelligence but propaganda. Kleinman discovered that the U.S., under the Bush administration, adopted SERE to interrogate insurgents in the Iraq war. Excerpts from the interview:

Siegel: What you're describing is taking techniques that U.S. military personnel had been trained to resist ... [and] using those very techniques on the people the U.S. was detaining in Iraq?

Kleinman: Exactly...the primary objective of that approach to interrogation was not truth…but somebody's political truth. In the Korean War, they actually compelled some of our pilots to admit to dropping chemical weapons on cities and so forth, when in fact that didn't happen. Now, that stands in stark contrast to intelligence interrogation, where the overriding objective is provide timely, accurate, reliable, comprehensive intelligence.

Siegel: Had you witnessed one rotten interrogation that had gone wrong or was it routine?

Kleinman: ...people were reaching out to other methods, not understanding the subtle yet profound difference — using a method that was proven successful in obtaining propaganda, while on the surface it seems very effective, underneath it all it is very ineffective and counterproductive. … Any individual can force any other individual to admit to practically anything, but that's not the purpose of interrogation.

One is reminded of the pressure that the Bush administration placed on American interrogators to establish "evidence" from captives of an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection that didn't exist. To listen to the entire interview, click here.

Col. Kleinman also spoke to Rachel Maddow about SERE and its misapplication by the Bush administration and the American military in Iraq. Watch:

Kleinman: ...The best interrogators in this country understand how to interrogate, and that's largely a relationship-based, culturally finessed approach. It's systematic and it's patient, and that's what produces information. To use SERE methods or to think that one can use physicality or heavy stress to obtain useful, reliable information is just a misnomer, it's not backed up by operational experience and it is not backed up by one shred of scientific evidence.

An article from The Washington Post (10/6/07) depicted World War II veterans who used the traditional methods of interrogation referred to by Kleinman–and who criticized the Bush administration's use of torture. To read the article, click here.

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