Best Defense

The American interrogation disaster (III): Cheneyism damaged our security

Few people have more credibility with me on interrogation matters than retired Army Col. Stuart Herrington. He has been a vocal and articulate opponent of torture and other abuses. So when in his speech at Fort Leavenworth, sponsored by the CGSC Foundation, he expressed concern about the current rules governing interrogation, I am inclined to ...

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images
Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Few people have more credibility with me on interrogation matters than retired Army Col. Stuart Herrington. He has been a vocal and articulate opponent of torture and other abuses.

So when in his speech at Fort Leavenworth, sponsored by the CGSC Foundation, he expressed concern about the current rules governing interrogation, I am inclined to pay attention.

As a result of a series of abuses, he said, new restrictions, new legal rulings, and a new manual have placed a series of new constraints on the handling of prisoners that deeply concern him. Much that was secret is now public and available to our foes. Also, lawyers are far more involved than in the past. "A detainee advised by an attorney is an interrogator’s worse nightmare."

He is most alarmed by the new limits on separating prisoners. This is essential, he said, in order that prisoners not observe and police each other, tracking how long their comrades are interrogated and punishing collaborators. "Housing high-value detainees communally" (as was done at Guantanamo, he notes) "is fatal to successful interrogation." Yet now, under the Army Field Manual, separation may only be used against specific "unlawful enemy combatants," initially only for a period of 30 days, and requires the written approval of a four-star commander. Even then, a prisoner can only be isolated after a justification and interrogation plan has been provided and authorized by the chain of command. What’s more, he adds, "Other prisoners-an Iranian Quds colonel or a North Korean officer, for example, cannot be separated, a true show-stopper."

He places blame for this outcome squarely on the shoulders of senior Bush administration officials:

For a professional interrogator, these new operating conditions are onerous, and translate into a net loss for our national security. Responsibility for this can be traced back to zealous officials in the Bush Administration who decided that brutality was an effective shortcut to obtaining good information-against the wisdom and experience of mainstream professional interrogators. . . . Ironically, their ill-advised and unethical actions were taken in the name of protecting the nation, but wound up doing harm.

My italics. Read it and weep.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola