Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Good Cop, Bad Cop, or Both?

Last year the New York Times published a feature story about Deuce Martinez, a CIA interrogator who established a singular rapport with captured "9/11 mastermind" Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and, according to the Times report, was instrumental in extracting key bits of intelligence from the terrorist.

The Times article placed described two interrogator camps within the Agency: "the gung-ho paramilitary types" and "the more cerebral interrogators."  Martinez fell into the latter category; he in fact had refused training in waterboarding, an approach he thought fit only for the paramilitary "knuckledraggers."
The article takes pains to point out that interrogators of both sorts went to work on KSM, and it wonders aloud to what extent Martinez's success was, at least in part, attributable to the "knuckledraggers" softening the subject up:
Martinez came in after the rough stuff, the ultimate good cop with the classic skills: an unimposing presence, inexhaustible patience and a willingness to listen to the gripes and musings of a pitiless killer in rambling, imperfect English.  He achieved a rapport with Mr. Mohammed that astonished his fellow C.I.A. officers.

* * *

Mr. Martinez’s success at building a rapport with the most ruthless of terrorists goes to the heart of the interrogation debate. Did it suggest that traditional methods alone might have obtained the same information or more? Or did Mr. Mohammed talk so expansively because he feared more of the brutal treatment he had already endured?

According to the Times article, Martinez would get first crack at a prisoner. If the prisoner proved uncooperative, Martinez would yield the floor to paramilitaries, who would apply enhanced techniques like waterboarding until the prisoner finally agreed to talk. Then Martinez would reenter the scene. This was exactly how it played out with KSM. And we know now that in his case, "the rough stuff," the "brutal treatment" included 183 discrete instances of waterboarding over the course of one month.

This reads like a classic "good cop/bad cop" routine to me, and if we're going to allow ourselves to get drawn into a discussion about the "efficacy" of waterboarding — and I think this is an "if" worth contesting, as a whole lot of unacceptably repressive practices have the merit and appeal of being "effective" — it's worth reviewing the program in its entirety (or at least what we know of it to this point). The information we have is, of course, incomplete. And we may never know what it was exactly that made Khalid Shaikh Mohammed — a mercurial character, if the Times article and his subsequent court appearances are any indication — open up to Martinez. Was it entirely Martinez's "cerebral" approach? Was it all the waterboarding, such that KSM would have given up intel to anyone? Or was it the combination, the alternation of coercion and conversation that finally brought down the terrorist's guard?

I think I'm repeating the questions that the Times reporter asked, and didn't try to answer, in his article. But I think they're worth asking again, now that we know the nature and extent of the "bad cop" treatment leveled at Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

Who's got answers (besides Dick Cheney)?

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