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The Interrogator Hunt Begins

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There's an interesting story this morning in the New York Times that chronicles the beginnings of the CIA's harsh interrogation program used to squeeze information out from KSM and Abu Zubaydah -- and others.

It's a good read, and lays bare the utter simplicity of how the program got started. There was no Cheney-lead conspiracy to push aside other methods; these were not sadistic vampires praying on the pain and discomfort of enemy leaders; this was not constructed as pay back for 9/11. No, these were learned men with an alternative approach that CIA leaders were willing to give a try to get as much information out of those who knew the most about al Qaeda plans of anyone in US custody.

The article slants toward the idea that Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jensen were wading into waters well over their heads -- suggesting they didn't really know what they were doing based on their graduate degrees and lack of actual interrogation experience. But that's like saying an infantry platoon leader shouldn't do his job because he hasn't seen combat...whatever.

They had never carried out a real interrogation, only mock sessions in the military training they had overseen. They had no relevant scholarship; their Ph.D. dissertations were on high blood pressure and family therapy. They had no language skills and no expertise on Al Qaeda.

Tell me at the time who had?

Another interesting tidbit is the mention of CIA counter-terrorism center director Cofer Black's enthusiasm for the program. Remember he's the one that in the wake of 9/11 pledged to lawmakers that he'd bring bin Laden's head in a dry-ice cooled box back to the Hill for them.

At the C.I.A. in December 2001, Dr. Mitchells theories were attracting high-level attention. Agency officials asked him to review a Qaeda manual, seized in England, that coached terrorist operatives to resist interrogations. He contacted Dr. Jessen, and the two men wrote the first proposal to turn the enemys brutal techniques slaps, stress positions, sleep deprivation, wall-slamming and waterboarding into an American interrogation program.

By the start of 2002, Dr. Mitchell was consulting with the C.I.A.s Counterterrorist Center, whose director, Cofer Black, and chief operating officer, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., were impressed by his combination of visceral toughness and psychological jargon. One person who heard some discussions said Dr. Mitchell gave the C.I.A. officials what they wanted to hear. In this persons words, Dr. Mitchell suggested that interrogations required a comparable level of fear and brutality to flying planes into buildings.

By the end of March, when agency operatives captured Abu Zubaydah, initially described as Al Qaedas No. 3, the Mitchell-Jessen interrogation plan was ready. At a secret C.I.A. jail in Thailand, as reported in prior news accounts, two F.B.I agents used conventional rapport-building methods to draw vital information from Mr. Zubaydah. Then the C.I.A. team, including Dr. Mitchell, arrived.

It's a story worth reading and part two is coming. As the Holder justice department spools up its CIA witch hunt, more of these stories will come out from attorneys eager to paint their clients in the best light. But after nine years of the most complex war America has ever fought, we've grown weary of being under threat, and a new administration is trying to reap political retribution for an anti-terror policy the left has always seen as overkill.

Let's not forget that the Church Committee ruined the CIA and gave us the over-bureaucratized, risk-averse, by-the-numbers agency that we had when the Soviet Union fell to everyone's surprise and when we were caught flat-footed on 9/11 with no plan to counterattack. Luckily the agency had veterans who'd stuck around and knew how to fire an M4 and live off the land -- and those who were willing to push the envelope on interrogations to get vital followup strike information before 3,000 more civilians were killed.

PS -- On a different note, the NYT also reports that two AP journalists were badly wounded in an IED attack while embedded with Marines in southern Afghanistan. Photographer Emilio Morenatti and videographer Andi Jatmiko were in a military vehicle when it struck a roadside bomb. According to reports it looks like Morenatti lost a foot in the attack. A horrible, horrible thing and our prayers go to their families and loved ones.

-- Christian

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