How to get good intelligence: deceive your captives
ALI AL-SAADI/AFP Mark Bowden, who we interviewed for last week’s Seven Questions, has a fascinating cover story (sub req’d) in the latest Atlantic Monthly giving the inside story of how the U.S. military caught al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as told by the interrogators of a dedicated unit set up by Special ...
Mark Bowden, who we interviewed for last week’s Seven Questions, has a fascinating cover story (sub req’d) in the latest Atlantic Monthly giving the inside story of how the U.S. military caught al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as told by the interrogators of a dedicated unit set up by Special Operations Command in 2005.
The title of Bowden’s article, “The Ploy,” refers to the gambit used by interrogator “Doc,” to get Abu Haydr, a high-ranking al Qaeda affiliate captured in April 2006, to give up information that eventually led to Zarqawi’s whereabouts:
We both know what I want,” Doc said. “You have information you could trade. It is your only source of leverage right now. You don’t want to go to Abu Ghraib, and I can help you, but you have to give me something in trade. A guy as smart as you—you are the type of Sunni we can use to shape the future of Iraq.” If Abu Haydr would betray his organization, Doc implied, the Americans would make him a very big man indeed.
By playing on Abu Haydr’s vanity and creating the impression that he, too, was secretly eager to help save Iraq from Shiite depredations, Doc got his captive to spill the beans, bit by bit. By June, Abu Haydr was singing like a canary:
He explained that Rahman, a figure well-known to the Task Force, met regularly with Zarqawi. He said that whenever they met, Rahman observed a security ritual that involved changing cars a number of times. Only when he got into a small blue car, Abu Haydr said, would he be taken directly to Zarqawi.
And that was the key piece of information that led to the U.S. air strikes that killed the al Qaeda leader on June 7, 2006. It’s clear from the article that the U.S. military is eager to show that it now has clean hands; no torture, quasi torture, or abuse was used to get Zarqawi (just the threat of sending prisoners to Abu Ghraib!). Also clear: Icing Zarqawi didn’t ultimately change much in Iraq.
Blake Hounshell is a former managing editor of Foreign Policy.
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