Beyond Waterboarding: What Interrogators Can Still Do

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Waterboarding? Hasn't been used in years. Walling, stress positions, abdominal slaps? They're no longer allowed. But if the CIA can no longer use the interrogation techniques described in chilling detail in the so-called torture memos, what can it do to extract information from terrorism suspects?

On his second day as President, Barack Obama ordered the agency to use the Army Field Manual as its interrogation playbook. The manual, originally written for Cold War prisoners but updated in 2006, states that "no [detainee], regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment as defined in U.S. law." It also categorically states that harsh interrogation techniques are essentially useless. "Beyond being impermissible, these unlawful and unauthorized forms of treatment are unproductive because they may yield unreliable results, damage subsequent collection efforts, and result in extremely negative consequences at national and international levels." (Read about the Army Field Manual.)

But are the available methods effective? According to a retired operative, some at Langley "are convinced that [Obama] has thrown out the baby along with the waterboard." More generally, some veterans say that the rules of the war on terrorism in the Obama era are no longer clear. "It's very much in flux," says Paul Pillar, a former top agency official who now teaches at Georgetown University. "So much is unresolved — like the various habeas cases involving Gitmo detainees. There are lots of shoes yet to drop."

The revised manual allows for 19 interrogation techniques, ranging from offering "real or emotional reward" for truthful answers to repeating questions again and again "until the source becomes so thoroughly bored with the procedure, he answers questions fully and candidly." (Read "The CIA's Willful Ignorance on Harsh Interrogations.")

Some of the most interesting techniques are classified as "emotional approaches." Interrogators are allowed to flatter a detainee's ego, for instance, by praising some particular skill. Alternatively, the interrogators may attack the detainee's ego, by accusing him of incompetence — forcing him to defend himself, possibly giving up information in the process. If interrogators choose to go on the attack, however, they may not "cross the line into humiliating and degrading treatment of the detainee."

In the 2006 revision of the manual, three new techniques were added: the good-cop, bad-cop routine; the "false flag" (allowing interrogators to claim that they are not Americans, if necessary), and, in carefully defined circumstances, separating detainees from one another. Human-rights advocates have argued that isolating captives is a form of cruelty.

See pictures of Guantánamo Bay.

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