June 22nd, 2008
At a recent Human Rights First confence of interrogators speaking against torture, blogger Thomas Nephew spoke with retired military interrogator Ray Bennet. He recounted that discussion in his post: “I want my white hat back” – military interrogators against torture. I’ve met Ray Bennett and was very impressed with his integrity and passion to oppose torture. Like Maj. Frakt, whose legal argument I posted earlier today, Bennett is one of those military folk who take the idea of honor quite seriously.
Later Nephew conducted an email “interview” with Ray. Here it is. Because the comments to that post are interesting, I include them as well.
Interview with an interrogator
On Tuesday, Human Rights First held an event in downtown Washington D.C. honoring the efforts of professional military, CIA, and FBI interrogators to restore decency and respect for human rights to U.S. detainee interrogation policy. Human Rights First and these interrogators are advocating a policy of “rapport-based” interrogations — no torture and no cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment by anyone acting on behalf of the United States of America.
I had a conversation at that event with one man who is now retired from the military after extensive service as an interrogator. I wrote about our conversation here: “I want my white hat back” — military interrogators against torture.
Today I corresponded again with “Ray” — a pseudonym — about his positions on following orders to waterboard or otherwise torment a detainee, about what he thought his colleagues believe, about Abu Ghraib, and about what the future may hold.
1. If you had been ordered to waterboard someone or engage in other cruel/inhumane/degrading detainee mistreatment (e.g.., hypothermia, long time standing), what would you have done?
Refused the order. That would probably have resulted in my getting fired or re-assigned, but so be it. In addition, I would have documented the incident, and reported it to the Army’s (assuming that’s the environment I would have been working in) Criminal Investigation Division, or otherwise appropriate authorities.
2. [Excuse my ignorance here]: … what if the order was not “up to snuff” — not written, not verbally direct with witnesses, or whatever constitutes “an order that should be obeyed”?
Same answer. Refuse the order, immediately document the incident, and follow up with a report to the appropriate investigative authorities.
3. Do you believe that such orders/wishes should not be obeyed by military personnel?
This is where it gets murky. Personally, of course, I feel that they should not be obeyed. The difficulty for my collegues, especially in the military, is that we are sworn to follow “the lawful orders of the officers appointed above us”. So what’s lawful? All of us were trained in the Law of Land Warfare and the Geneva Conventions, which these “enhanced interrogation techniques” are clearly a violation of.. But Private Snuffy is confused: “didn’t the United States Attorney General, the top law enforcement official in the land, muddy the waters by saying that it was legal? And didn’t the president say that these folks don’t fall under the Geneva Conventions? So what about those rules they taught me?” We are doing our troops a great disservice by blurring the “lawful” line. So to answer your question again: me personally, I would hope that an order to carry out these techniques would be disobeyed. But I can’t really hold it against someone who carried it out, thinking that it was legal, and felt compelled to carry out a lawful order.
4. Do you feel your answers to the above three questions would be a majority opinion in the group of interrogators you were with over the past few days?
Question 1: Not just majority opinion, but unanimous.
Question 2: Same
Question 3: Certainly majority, if not unanimous. One of the retired generals in the group explicitly made the point that he did not want the authority to order these techniques carried out, for the reason listed above: it would make it a lawful order, and the soldiers serving under him would have no recourse but to carry out a lawful order, or face prosecution under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for failing to do so.
5. Do you believe that such orders/wishes should not be obeyed by any govt. personnel? (i.e., CIA or FBI — the latter seem to have drawn the line themselves, but that could change someday)
Same answer as number 3. I do not believe the order should be carried out, but it is asking a lot of these personnel to put their livelihoods and careers on the line, and we can condemn them with hindsight if we like, but the better solution is to not ask them to do it in the first place.
6. Do you feel there’s the possibility of professional opinion changing as new interrogators become accustomed to the new regime of loosened restrictions (at least within the CIA)?
I’m assuming you mean professional opinion changing for the worse. And yes, I can absolutely see that happening. Let’s say this policy stays in force. Those that would refuse the order would eventually be weeded out of the system, leaving only those that would use these techniques, and they in turn would be the only mentors to the next generations of interrogators. Those that abhor the techniques would be on the outside looking in. Basically, our group is in that same position. We are no longer in the military, or CIA, or FBI. We are on the barricades, but outside the fort, not inside. We are trying to influence the policymakers to not put those inside the fort into the position of having to compromise their core values. And we are arguing from a position of professional strength: sure, we also oppose these techniques on moral grounds, and in the belief that they dilute our nation’s image abroad (creating a breeding environment for more terrorists), etc., but mainly we are saying that from the standpoint of professional interrogators, we DO NOT NEED these techniques. We can get the job done without them.
I know that it’s important to follow orders in the military, but that’s not drilled in to me the way it is (and for 99.99% of cases, should be) for a soldier. On the other hand, I know at least one ex-military blogger who said, at the time Abu Ghraib broke, that the people involved should simply not have followed those orders (or carried out those wishes) based on code of conduct.
[I]t’s important to keep facts straight and in reasonable proportion. Abu Ghraib, for example. The abuses and resulting pictures were not an interrogation tactic, but a guard force night shift run amok. Don’t get me wrong: this was without question a horrific abuse of detainees in U.S. custody, and must be addessed and those responsible held to account. All I’m saying is that it’s a different discussion. Yes, there were comments from interrogators to “make sure he has a bad night” etc, maybe even with a nudge/wink, and those interrogators share the resulting fiasco, because they were not clear in their instructions. But I don’t think what resulted was really what the interrogators had in mind. Nevertheless, it is this nudge/wink and between the lines communication that were part of the permissive environment that ended as it did. Most of the orders leading to the abuses were not in writing, if any of them were. The only exception I can think of would be the use of “military working dogs”. That was a technique promoted by a general (who was not an intelligence officer, let alone an interrogator). Unfortunately, by virtue of his rank and position, he held authority over detainee treatment and interrogation procedures. As for the ex-military blogger you mentioned, I only say that we all see clearly in hindsight. The answer, again, lies in not putting these soldiers and other intelligence professionals into this netherworld of blurred lines and questionable legal definitions, for soldiers are conditioned to follow lawful orders. They are not lawyers, and we can not expect them to be. They must have clearly defined delineations, which were provided under the Laws of Land Warfare and the Geneva Conventions, and don’t need the waters muddied by policymakers and their lawyers, who in the end don’t know anything about interrogation beyond what they’ve seen on television.