If you want to know if interrogation can be effective without rough stuff, without even so much as a slap in the face, some might want look no further than the capture and questioning of Umm Sayyaf (widow of senior ISIS terrorist Abu Sayyaf) and Sleiman Daoud al-Afari (ISIS engineer familiar with their chemical weapons program).
If you’re desperate for info on how rough interrogation has no place, forget it: I’ll pour some cold water on that in a moment.
The good news is that the interrogation of these two detainees has led to the bombing of two ISIS chemical weapons facilities. One should recognize that this would be important even if harsh measures had been used. Chemical weapons aren’t a good way to die, and it’s worse to think it could happen to children. The critics might feel better that harsh measures weren’t necessary, but they shouldn’t feel too satisfied.
That brings me to the cold water: It all depends on what measures you might actually think are harsh.
Appendix M of the U.S. Army interrogation manual (that we’re currently using) covers separation. Most of us might laugh that this is an issue, but America’s critics will say (you guessed it!) that’s “torture.”
While I don’t know that this method was used on any of these prisoners, another method might well have been unless they’d cooperated soon enough: “Fear up” — fostering the implicit fears prisoners get from their new predicament.
(Note that I said “implicit.” An explicit threat would have been illegal, and possibly considered torture. But letting them imagine something on their own is okay, regardless of whether it has the same effect.)
After first whining that even this remains permissible under the Obama administration, America’s critics might then feign outrage that the Bush administration needed to go further. But remember: During that time, the CIA didn’t need to go further than that on most of its prisoners either. Enhanced interrogation was only used on about a third of the CIA prisoners (about 35 or so), and even that includes those who got only the lesser methods. Those started with nothing more than tough talk while being grabbed by the collar.
As for these recent two, the wife of a terrorist leader and an engineer are definitely not what you’d expect as requiring the roughest interrogation. Their fear must have become all the more real when they heard they’d be turned over to the Kurds. It’s easy to find an implicit threat out in that.