Obama May Create New Interrogation Unit for Detainees

The Wall St. Journal reports today that President Obama may be considering a big change in the way the U.S. interrogates high-value detainees.

The Obama administration is considering overhauling the way terror suspects are interrogated by creating a small team of professionals drawn from across the government, according to people familiar with a proposal that will be submitted to the White House.

The new unit, comprising members of spy services and law-enforcement agencies, would be used for so-called high-value detainees, they said. In a switch from Bush-era efforts, it wouldn't be run by the Central Intelligence Agency, though who might be in charge isn't specified.

Among the expected changes: [More...]

One of the team's tasks would likely be to devise a new set of interrogation methods, according to one person familiar with the proposal. Those techniques could be drawn from sources ranging from scientific studies to the psychology behind television ads.

The unit would focus more on gathering intelligence than obtaining evidence of crimes for prosecution. The WSJ says that's a similarity with the Bush administration. I don't think that's necessarily true.

Under Bush, people were captured, interrogated and abused and then left to rot at Gitmo or in overseas prisons. Hopefully, Obama's unit, if it is created, will (1) allow high value detainees to challenge their designation in federal court, (2) make efforts to gather information using non-coercive methods from any who are confirmed to be high-value detainees, and (3) send detainees back home after they have no more information to give if no criminal prosecution is instituted.

A new interrogation policy is also in the works.

In addition, the team would be asked to devise noncoercive procedures that may differ from the 19 permitted in the Army Field Manual, which include providing rewards for information and playing on a detainee's anxiety or other emotions. That document has emerged as a favored standard among many lawmakers and some human-rights groups.

The task force working on the proposals is called "The Task Force on Interrogation and Transfer Policies." It's led by J. Douglas Wilson, chief of the national-security unit in the U.S. Attorney's office for the Northern District of California. Members include "representatives from the director of national intelligence, Pentagon, CIA and other security agencies."

Who is this guy the Wall St. Journal quotes:

Some CIA veterans warn that the Obama administration shouldn't limit itself to noncoercive interrogations because there is a middle ground of techniques between the Army Field Manual and torture. Techniques such as sleep deprivation and blasting loud music are considered coercive but not torture, said John Radsan, a former CIA lawyer and federal prosecutor.

"We have to figure out tactic by tactic: Would we allow some things that go beyond the criminal-justice system or the Army Field Manual?" he said.

Clearly his answer is "yes." I hope he's speaking as a pundit and not someone working on the proposal. As Amnesty International tells the Journal,

Tom Parker, policy director for counterterrorism and human rights at Amnesty International USA, argues that the Field Manual itself should be amended to specifically prohibit techniques such as sexual humiliation by members of the opposite sex, forced use of enemas and forced shaving of Muslim detainees.

Torture encompasses far more than water-boarding and slamming a detainee against a wall, but I think Obama gets that.

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  • Display: Sort:
    I would hope that this unit is (5.00 / 5) (#1)
    by MO Blue on Sat Jul 18, 2009 at 07:18:39 PM EST
    put under an existing agency that is subject to Congressional oversight and not a direct report to the president. The idea of any president having his own interrogation unit is abhorrent to me.

    Even if you trust Obama to run this unit in a lawful and ethical manner, Obama will not be president forever and who knows what the next president will be like.

    Color me skeptical. (5.00 / 3) (#6)
    by Anne on Sat Jul 18, 2009 at 09:41:28 PM EST
    Very skeptical.  We need to get to the bottom of what the hell is happening at the various intelligence agencies before we go creating an elite and special and loyal group to take over a specialized interrogation program.

    If Obama doesn't trust the interrogation groups that already exist, he has a bigger problem that a special new cadre of interrogator isn't going to fix.

    And I think it will be a cold day in hell before Obama gives detainees, even the special new ones, access to the federal court system.

    It continues even today. (5.00 / 2) (#7)
    by Sumner on Sat Jul 18, 2009 at 09:46:31 PM EST
    The media itself is complicit. Prosecute first and then we'll talk about "proper" restructuring.

    There are profound implications here. (5.00 / 2) (#11)
    by Sumner on Sun Jul 19, 2009 at 12:11:20 AM EST
    These matters are a house of cards. They involve Unitary Executive theory, secret laws, John Yoo as a one-stop-shop for a variety of extra-contitutional-reaches, and there are doubtless other matters yet undisclosed, and still under wraps. Unlike Bush Senior, who claimed to be "out-of-the-loop" on Iran-Contra, we know there are other DoJ lawyers and Senators and House members, directly involved. It includes Media shills that were and remain, a major part of running cover.

    I would go with (5.00 / 2) (#10)
    by eric on Sat Jul 18, 2009 at 11:24:02 PM EST
    interrogating people in the same way that has been accepted by the international community since WWII.  

    It's not that hard.

    i remain unconvinced: (5.00 / 2) (#12)
    by cpinva on Sun Jul 19, 2009 at 04:28:52 AM EST
    Torture encompasses far more than water-boarding and slamming a detainee against a wall, but I think Obama gets that.

    one thing that might raise my comfort level: officially and publicly sanctioning DOJ investigations into potential war crimes by members of the bush administration.

    somehow, i expect to continue feeling uncomfortable.

    We are being tortured. (none / 0) (#15)
    by Sumner on Sun Jul 19, 2009 at 09:40:05 AM EST
    "We['ve] allowed strategic psychological operations to become part of public affairs." ~~Colonel Sam Gardiner (USAF, Ret.)

    by Sumner on Sat Jul 18, 2009 at 07:44:51 PM EST
    Do not be fooled by the rebranding!

    Can this really happen? (none / 0) (#3)
    by nycstray on Sat Jul 18, 2009 at 08:31:34 PM EST
    (3) send detainees back home after they have no more information to give if no criminal prosecution is instituted.

    Won't that pose a problem for the detainee?

    Maybe not a problem if they (none / 0) (#4)
    by oldpro on Sat Jul 18, 2009 at 08:52:29 PM EST
    re-up for another hitch with the home guard...

    Would the HG take them over (none / 0) (#5)
    by nycstray on Sat Jul 18, 2009 at 09:34:00 PM EST
    killing them? I thought that was part of the problem with the detainees? A death sentence on return home?

    If we can't find them guilty, but they've spilled "secrets", where do they stand in the eyes of their country/HG?


    I'm not to sure of our other options though (none / 0) (#8)
    by Socraticsilence on Sat Jul 18, 2009 at 09:55:17 PM EST
    If we've gathered intelligence from an individual and they aren't exactly ideal US immigrants what other than returning them home can we do- indefinite detention?

    I think we are in the same place? (none / 0) (#9)
    by nycstray on Sat Jul 18, 2009 at 10:26:01 PM EST
    What to do with them? Do we send them back to death if we can't keep them here? Indefinite  detention just sounds 'wrong' to me as does sending them back to a death sentence.

    Should we be detaining people and working out as much info as we can if we have no basis to hold them? Perhaps a trial first before "extracting" info?


    From what BTD wrote bringing them (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by MO Blue on Sun Jul 19, 2009 at 06:13:08 AM EST
    to trial is not the objective.

    The unit would focus more on gathering intelligence than obtaining evidence of crimes for prosecution.

    If that is the case, then it seems unlikely they will ever go to trial. Seems the precedent that has been set and that is still being followed is that "We are the U.S. and we don't need to prove anything. We don't need to prove we have a basis to hold them. If our president or his underling says we need to hold them, that is all we need."


    What does it mean to (5.00 / 4) (#14)
    by Anne on Sun Jul 19, 2009 at 08:53:39 AM EST
    gather intelligence, not evidence of crimes for prosecution?

    They don't want to know what happened in the past, but what may happen in the future?  So, they're looking to get the normally all-over-the-place "chatter" in one-on-one, in-person chats?

    Is this a terrorist snitching program?  

    I'm sorry, but I don't trust that this program will be all it is advertised to be, not when Obama is refusing to look into what happened under Bush, not when he's pretty much loving invoking state secrets, not when he won't release the torture photos, and not when he has seemingly abandoned all pretense of the transparency and accountability he was so committed to in Campaign 2008.

    Nope.  Not buying it.