Fighting terrorism: Does the end justify the means?
Student, Iraq war vet discusses ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques in presentation
Published: Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 08:04
America's war on terrorism and its efforts to protect civilians worldwide from Islamic extremists has posed an ethical dilemma for U.S. commanders and policy makers: Is it acceptable to use "enhanced interrogation techniques" — considered methods of torture by many human rights groups — to obtain valuable information from violent insurgent detainees?
Brockport political science major and Iraq war veteran Jennifer Bryant argued in her Scholars Day presentation "Means to a Justified End: Torture and National Security in a Post 911 World" that U.S. intelligence officials must use inhumane interrogation methods in order to obtain information from insurgent detainees that could prevent further terrorist attacks both on U.S. soil and abroad.
Bryant opened her presentation with the argument that because insurgents have been trained to resist interrogations, other questioning methods will not produce useful information.
"Rules (on interrogation techniques) need to be changed so that they fit this enemy," Bryant said. "… The actionable results we receive are worth the cost."
Bryant served as a military police officer (MP) during two Iraq combat tours — the first from September '03 to late spring '04, and the second from December '05 to summer '06 — during which she provided security at the Task Force 1st Armored Division Interrogation Facility near the Baghdad International Airport.
Bryant said she was shot at many times and also witnessed the effects of the ruthless insurgency, which she said gives her a better understanding of the need to obtain potentially life-saving information from captured insurgents.
She said one does not understand the urgency to stop terrorist attacks "until you're in a crowded marketplace [that has been attacked by insurgents] and there are dead children all around you."
Bryant cited several foiled terrorist plots, including plots to fly airplanes into London Heathrow Airport and the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles, Calif. She said that enhanced interrogation techniques may have provided information vital to preventing these attacks.
‘Enhanced' Interrogation Techniques
According to the ABC news website, there were six "enhanced interrogation techniques" approved by the CIA in March 2002. These include the infamous simulated-drowning technique known as water boarding, stress positions, abdomen slaps, the "attention grab," the "attention slap" and the cold cell. With the latter technique, prisoners are forced to stand naked in a 50-degree cell while being doused with cold water.
These techniques were used in addition to standard interrogation techniques, Bryant said, which include loud music and/or lights, reduced caloric intake, diapering, stripping and creating controlled fear situations with muzzled dogs.
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved these techniques when he authorized level I and II interrogation techniques and established that harsher level III and IV techniques could be approved for use on certain prisoners.
When asked about these other tough forms of interrogation, Bryant showed her audience a stack of U.S. documents on harsh interrogation methods that had been blacked out. She said that U.S. intelligence officials chose not to disclose information about interrogation methods in the interest of national security.
Typically, U.S. military and intelligence officials operate under the Geneva Conventions rules of war. However, former President George W. Bush declared that insurgent detainees were not prisoners of war (POWs) because they did not fit the four standards for POWs established by the Geneva Conventions, Bryant said.
In addition, insurgent forces blatantly ignore the Conventions rules by targeting civilians and murdering captured American, Coalition and Iraqi security force soldiers.
Abu Ghraib and Public Opinion
Bryant also stated that some people in the American media and public were overly sympathetic to captured detainees, given the ruthless nature of insurgent forces.
"It is considered torture to make a detainee the least bit uncomfortable," Bryant said.
In discussing the U.S. public's opinion on harsh interrogation methods, Bryant pointed out the massive attention received by the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses negatively reflected U.S. interrogation techniques.
She said that the prisoner abuses that occurred at Abu Ghraib — sodomy, forced masturbation, urinating on the prisoners and "Palestinian hanging," in which the victim is hung from their wrist with their hands behind their back — are not approved by the U.S. military. The prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib occurred because the reservists at the prison were not trained in interrogation techniques and the situation snowballed out of control, Bryant said.
She added that several U.S. soldiers were charged for the war crimes they committed.
Bryant stressed that Abu Ghraib was an isolated incident and that it is protocol for interrogations involving "enhanced techniques" to be monitored and carefully executed. In addition, Bryant said the abuses at Abu Ghraib did not occur during interrogations.
Still, many human rights organizations such as Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) have blasted the Bush administration for allowing these harsh interrogation methods to be implemented.
"These ‘enhanced' interrogation techniques can cause severe and often irreversible harm to their victims," said PHR advisor Dr. Allen Scott in a 2007 press release that warned of criminal prosecution to those who authorized enhanced interrogation techniques. "These methods are likely to cause significant physical and mental harm to detainees, and they should be immediately and explicably prohibited by the Bush administration and Congress."