Crazy terror

Watched The Fifth Estate and Frontline last night. Both were War on Terror themed. The former dealt with the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and in it they interviewed a former CIA agent who had handled the bin Laden file for many years. One of the things he said (there’s no transcript so I’ll have to paraphrase) was:

Americans have a bad habit. We like to label those that oppose us as madmen. As crazy. As irrational. It’s a huge mistake because it leads us to underestimate our foe. Osama bin Laden was not crazy. He had very real leadership and managerial skills. He foiled us for many years. I don’t know about you, but I would rather think we were being thwarted by a smart person than a crazy one.

The Frontline episode was about former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan. Excellent, as Frontline always is. However, the [more senior] CIA official interviewed there – John Rizzo – said the following:

But we collectively decided to pursue [enhanced interrogation techniques] nonetheless, not because we were eager to embark on this kind of thing or eager to throw the FBI out of the interrogation business. It was only because we determined that measures like this were the only possible effective way to glean from these high-value detainees, these psychopathic, remorseless killers, possible information about the next imminent attack upon the homeland. That’s why we did it.

The two statements juxtaposed with each other – one wise, one not – are quite striking. And depressing.



  1. Norman Farrell

    I saw only a small portion of Frontline but Ali Soufan made the point that “intelligence” gathered by torture is unreliable. The victim will offer whatever statements ease pain of punishment.

    In addition to torture being illegal and immoral, it is ineffective.

    I wonder if those accused and tried for torture following WWII claimed their actions were not torture, merely enhanced interrogation.

  2. spartikus

    Yes, Soufan gave am exa,[;e that one of the detainees who underwent “enhanced interrogation” in Egypt was the one who said there were links b/w Iraq and al-Qaida and they were working on WMD togehter. It was on the basis of this detainees testimony that Colin Powell made the same allegation in front of the UN. After Iraq had been invaded and the link had been definitely disproved they went back to this detainee and asked why had he said what he said. His response? “I was being tortured. I said what you wanted me to say to make it stop.”

    The funny thing, if it can be called funny, is the KGB didn’t employ torture to gather information. They only employed it to elicit confessions.