Alberto Gonzales is in the hot seat and you can expect plenty of torturing by those who see his confirmation hearings as a chance to score a few points against the Bush administration.
You can expect outrage, posturing, preening, and sloganeering–what you can’t expect is a serious discussion by members of Congress of tactics appropriate for questioning terrorists.
Gonzales grappled with these issues in a memo about the applicability of a Geneva Convention on POWs to our current situation. And government lawyers working with him likewise struggled with questions of what constitutes harsh or unjust treatment of terror suspects in a memo that you’ll be hearing about in the next few days.
As is so often the case, Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute has some sober reflections on the subject. Since you’re not going to get anything serious from Gonzales’ torturers–I mean questioners–you might want to read MacDonald.
“This ’torture narrative’ is gospel truth among elite opinion-makers, yet it is false in every detail,” MacDonald writes. “It relies on ignorance of the actual interrogation techniques promulgated after 9/11. However spurious, the narrative has had a devastating effect on interrogators’ ability to get intelligence from detainees.
“Soon after the Afghanistan fighting began, Army interrogators realized that their part in the war on terror was not going according to script. Pentagon doctrine, honed in the Cold War, held that 95% of prisoners would break upon straightforward questioning. But virtually no al Qaeda and Taliban detainee was giving up information — not in response to direct questioning, and not in response to army-approved psychological gambits for prisoners of war.
“Some al Qaeda fighters had received resistance training, which taught that Americans were strictly limited in how they could question prisoners. Failure to cooperate, they had learned, carried no penalties and certainly no risk of torture — a sign, al Qaeda said, of American weakness. Even if a prisoner had not previously studied U.S. detention policies, he soon figured them out. ’It became very clear very early on to the detainees that the Americans were just going to have them sit there,’ explains an Afghanistan interrogator. ‘They realized: ‘The Americans will give us our Holy Book, they’ll draw lines on the floor showing us where to pray, we’ll get three meals a day with fresh fruit . . . we can wait them out.’ Traditional appeals to a prisoner’s emotions, such as playing on his love of family or life, had little effect. ’The jihadists would tell you, ‘I’ve divorced this life, I don’t care about my family,’ recalls an interrogator at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”
The subject of how to morally question a terrorist is absolutely key to the age we live in–but don’t expect to hear much about it on Capitol Hill.