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A career clandestine-services officer in the CIA, Glenn Carle drew an unusual assignment in the fall of 2002. He was sent to serve as the case officer of an Afghan merchant who had been seized and rendered, and who was believed to be Osama bin Laden’s “banker.” Carle quickly discerned, however, that the Agency’s suspicions were unjustified — what followed was a frustrating effort by Carle to win his release. In The Interrogator: An Education, Carle describes his struggle against the lethargy and self-protective instincts of the U.S. intelligence community. In the process, he discloses a great deal about the renditions process and the Agency’s reticence to acknowledge or act on its own mistakes. I put six questions to Glenn Carle about his book:
1. Your book was published following a year-long struggle with the CIA Publications Review Board, which insisted on redacting large amounts of material before it approved the work for publication. Even the fact that you speak fluent French has been blacked out. But a great deal of what was redacted is perfectly obvious or can easily be derived from the public record — for instance, we note in “Unredacting The Interrogator” that CAPTUS is in fact Pacha Wazir, that you first interrogated him at a location jointly operated by the CIA and Moroccan intelligence near Rabat, and that the prisoner was then removed to the CIA’s Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan. The PRB claims that it redacts to protect national-security-sensitive materials. Do you think the heavy redaction of your book was appropriate?
The PRB’s mandate is to protect “sources and methods.” This is a legitimate task, and it sounds clear. For the CAPTUS case and my book, the PRB sometimes used a more elastic interpretation and “redacted” many passages that described non-operational facts or events. They argued that non-operational facts would reveal sources or methods. That is a pretty slippery slope, though, as by that standard they could censor any passage, however innocuous, because it could supposedly reveal secrets. With that approach, one could argue that libraries should remove high-school chemistry texts, because a basic knowledge of chemistry could help someone trying to make a bomb. The PRB has a tough job, and I truly respect my colleagues there, but protecting sources and methods is their sole mandate. They went too far.
2. In his 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, Ron Suskind touted the seizure of a man named Pacha Wazir as a key breakthrough in American operations — a breakthrough aimed at crippling Al Qaeda’s financial arrangements, because the captive was “bin Laden’s banker.” He also says that the prisoner was uncooperative with his CIA interrogators. You concluded that claims of this sort with your case were unwarranted, and that your detainee, CAPTUS, was essentially innocent of the suspicions used to justify his eight-year imprisonment under conditions that were often harsh and sometimes seriously abusive. As CAPTUS’s case officer, give us your frank assessment: was his seizure and rendition warranted? Did he cooperate? And do you believe his imprisonment and interrogation led to the discovery of vital intelligence about Al Qaeda’s financial operations?
Well, I write as clearly as I can that CAPTUS, on the whole, cooperated with me, as a direct function of basing my interrogation upon establishing rapport with him, rather than seeking to cow or humiliate him. Some of his answers I knew to be correct. Others I—we—were able to verify. Some few he did not answer truthfully. Some he avoided answering, when my colleagues and I believed he knew the answers. Overall, however, he cooperated with me. Concerning the usefulness of the information he provided, I also try to make clear that CAPTUS did provide useful, relevant information. He was not a random individual who knew nothing. But he did not provide, or I believe have, the critical information, or close ties with Al Qaeda, that the Agency believed he had and that had justified his rendition. This was one of the murky dilemmas of the case: he knew information relevant for our counter-terrorism operations—he was not a complete innocent, but he was less directly involved with Al Qaeda than we had assessed him to be; and he was no terrorist.
It might make sense to compare him to a small shop owner who is doing business with the mob. He doesn’t want to deal with them, but he really doesn’t have any choice. An investigation would turn up those dealings, but it would also learn with time that he wasn’t a willing aider and abettor, either. I believe CAPTUS’s case was murkier still: some things he could not avoid knowing, much he did not know, some things he did not want to know, some things he was afraid to tell us or did not want us to know. But he was fundamentally a businessman; I do not believe he was actively colluding with Al Qaeda. I came to believe him when he said that he vehemently opposed Al Qaeda’s theology and acts.
At the moment he was rendered it seemed the right decision to interrogate him and bore down into his activities. Huge effort had gone into his case, and the information appeared strong. It looked as though we had a chance to strike a truly damaging blow to Al Qaeda. It was the wrong decision to continue to hold him for eight years after we had established that many of our assumptions were simply wrong.
3. The CIA would not permit you to describe the specific techniques used on CAPTUS, but you give us a clear idea of what they were by describing the techniques that were broadly approved and acknowledging that a well-informed and reasonable person might well conclude that they amounted to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, particularly as applied cumulatively over time. In your opinion, did the use of these “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) lead to actionable intelligence, and, if so, do you think that intelligence might have been acquired more effectively using other techniques?
The period of my involvement in the CAPTUS case occurred early on in our counter-terrorism response to the 9/11 attacks. So, the specific guidelines for the techniques that came to be understood as EITs had not been developed. From the outset, the Agency pushed for clear legal guidance and authorization on what it could do in interrogations.
“Enhanced” techniques make it more difficult to ascertain when a detainee had answered truthfully. The techniques increased the detainee’s resentment, confusion, and incentive to lie. Conducting a sound interrogation is remarkably similar to conducting a good human intelligence operation: it must be based upon a rapport between officer and detainee. Successful interrogation takes understanding of the detainee’s motivations, hopes, and fears, and then interaction with the detainee as a trusted interlocutor. Fear and pain do not obtain good intelligence; trust and a sound human relationship may. And I’d like to point out what is clear when one reads my book: I refused all physical measures from the get-go, as wrong on every conceivable level. I devoted a lot of effort to stopping the use of most measures of any sort on CAPTUS. To the extent possible, I questioned CAPTUS, and sought to keep any other measures from being used.
4. You describe vividly a second rendition, which apparently occurred at an airport outside of Rabat, Morocco, in which CAPTUS — who was in his sixties, had already spent months in captivity, and presented no security threat — was manhandled in a humiliating fashion by CIA officers clad like ninjas. The scene took place in full view of Moroccan intelligence and military officers, and you note that one of your CIA colleagues objected and intervened to protect the prisoner, to no avail. What went through your mind as you witnessed this?
Well, let me just reiterate that I have never said, nor acknowledged where I was. This said, my reaction, and the reaction of the colleague who witnessed the events with me, was that the rendition broke basic rules about how intelligence operations are supposed to be conducted. They should be clandestine, and should avoid arousing unnecessary attention or causing a scene. That’s why my old service is now called the Clandestine Services. But in this case, on an airstrip ringed with security personnel from a cooperating foreign power, the rendition was carried out in a rote way that drew attention. Who wouldn’t note and be surprised by the scene of a jet landing in the middle of the night, followed by personnel emerging dressed up as ninjas and carrying off a fully bound prisoner? It was stupid, bad tradecraft. Moreover, the aspects of the rendition designed to intimidate the detainee were completely new to me; I had no experience in or knowledge of rendition procedures. They are all part of the KUBARK process, which seeks to “psychologically dislocate” a detainee, theoretically to make him more willing to cooperate. I consider renditions a sometimes-necessary tool of the United States. The procedures to “psychologically dislocate” a detainee that I describe in my book are foolish and unacceptable. And the ones used on CAPTUS at the airport combined theoretically reasonable security measures that took no account of the specific circumstances on site with measures intended to “psychologically dislocate” the detainee. My colleague and I were angry because so much of it was obtuse and unnecessarily offensive.
5. What led you to recommend the release of CAPTUS? You write that you believe at least some of your cables arguing for his release disappeared. Why do you think this happened? In particular, do you think the Agency was concerned about a record demonstrating that it knew it was holding and mistreating an innocent man?
Goodness. I recommended that he be released because we had assessed him to be a critical senior member of Al Qaeda when he wasn’t. I have no problem with my colleagues or the CIA making mistakes. We all err. But we simply must try to rectify our errors if we can, even if it embarrasses us, especially when human lives are involved. We can’t leave a man incorrectly detained in a prison because of an error we have recognized and can fix. It’s simply obvious, and a duty.
I would say that the cables were never sent, rather than that they “disappeared.” I think the cables were not sent because they appeared so out of the norm that they were viewed as problematic. They were impolitic. They challenged the premises of an entire program and operation, and would have upset the functioning of a vast, high-profile, highly regarded program that was considered one of the signal successes in the entire war on terrorism. And they were written in a style that could have been interpreted as coming from an officer who seemed really tired. In the Agency, an officer must work the system, the hallways, to prepare a cable’s recipients for what is coming. One must shape the recipients’ perceptions so that they are receptive to what you write. I had tried. But what I argued challenged the entire operation: whom we had rendered, what he knew, what he was, how we did it, what our obligations were, what worked and didn’t. So, if the cables were never sent, they didn’t exist. Problem solved. A gadfly ignored.
6. Did you ever learn that CAPTUS had a habeas case pending, or that the Afghan government was insisting on his release? Why do you think the Agency resisted his release so vigorously and for such a protracted period of time?
After I left the CAPTUS case, I never heard anything more about it — need to know, new responsibilities, and so on. That is typical, sound practice in the Agency. Once I left the Agency I never permitted myself — never — to type CAPTUS’s name in my computer, or any computer I used. I simply would not do it. I could not associate my name with CAPTUS’s at all. So I knew nothing about any litigation surrounding CAPTUS. I learned that he had been released only in early December 2010. And only then did I dare, with some ill-ease, I must say, to do a search of his name and learn a little bit about the public aspects of his case.
I can think of two possible reasons why the Agency — if it was the Agency — continued to oppose CAPTUS’s release. First, some there might have continued to believe he was complicit in Al Qaeda’s activities, and was therefore guilty of the alleged activities that had led to his initial rendering. CAPTUS was not a complete innocent, I do not believe. I try to make that clear in my book. Or, second, some in the Agency might not have wanted him released because so much of his case was based on erroneous assessments that to have released him would have shown the operation to have been a house of cards, like so much of the war on terrorism. Frankly, I believe the main reason is that many people in the government have been sincere but deluded in their perceptions and actions in the “War on Terror.” I wrote my book because I was so distressed by so many aspects of the case: our erroneous and dangerous exaggeration of the terrorist threats facing us; what we have done to ourselves, our society, and our laws with our interrogation programs during the “War on Terror;” how our views about acceptable behavior have become coarser; our freedoms compromised unnecessarily; and how we unjustly kept a largely innocent man in prison for years, it seems, so as to bury in a dungeon the dark multiple, egregious errors. CAPTUS’s release proves me right on and substantiates every single point I argued about the case, and about him–eight years too late. The whole story is disturbing and sad.
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“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds.”