Torture doesn't work — so here's what does

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and you’re tuned to The World. Dotted all throughout the program today, we’ve got our SAFEMODE coverage, #SAFEMODE, about what the intersection of security and technology feels like for a new generation. Later on The World, we’ll hear about changes in attitudes and across latitudes after Edward Snowden’s revelations. But our starting point today is still that scathing senate report on the CIA’s torture program. The technology of torture is not terribly sophisticated and the security it provides is still in question. Right now, I want you to hear my conversation with a former army interrogator about what actually goes on in a lot of interrogation rooms. He’s asked us to use only his first name, Andrew. He was deployed to Iraq in 2009 and 2010. Andrew describes to me what it was like for the typical Iraqi insurgent who was brought into his interrogation room.


Andrew: They’re rolled up sometime in the middle of the night, they’re taken from their bed, authority from a warrant from an Iraqi judge, and then they’re brought into our facility where they get a thorough medical screening to make sure that they’re medically sound. After that, they go through a screening process. So, they start talking to us, where we just get general information about who they are, where they’re from, and then that’s when we go into the circumstances of their capture and begin the intelligence collection process.


Werman: I’m just wondering if you can illustrate all of that with one example that you experienced.


Andrew: We had a gentleman, a high-level detainee -- at that point in time, having seen numbers of his organization that were also higher ranking disappear, he knew exactly why he was there. But there’s always that level of resistance, where they’re not really willing to talk yet. A lot of times, these organizations would tell their members that they were going to be tortured.


Werman: Are we talking of insurgent organizations that we might have heard of?


Andrew: Correct. One of the great things about the changes that have been made is that we use techniques that manipulate people but we don’t physically or psychologically harm them. Having brought that detainee in and talking about his family life and talking about the repercussions of their actions and offering them kindness. They see that this isn’t the big bad American facade that they’re led to believe. It changed their perspective and almost turns their mindset against their organization, thinking “Why would they lie to me?” and then they’re more willing to actually share secrets with us.


Werman: Were there ever any times where the threat of force was used?


Andrew: Define threat of force.


Werman: Slapping somebody, waterboarding them.


Andrew: Oh, no. That was clearly, for all intents and purposes, illegal. We did have to make sure that we were in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. Geneva Convention notifications were actually posted inside the cells of the detainees. Our interrogations were closely monitored, they were recorded, there were cameras in the booth. You may be in someone’s face, you may throw a chair or flip a table, and there’s yelling and screaming, but drawing the line where we don’t use physical violence is typically where it stops.


Werman: How crucial though is the threat of force? You said many detainees expected you to use force.


Andrew: A threat of force wouldn’t have been effective. When you have someone that’s in that state of disorientation, in agitation because they’ve been ripped from their home in front of their children and wives in the middle of the night, building those relationships was more pivotal than threats.


Werman: How did pop culture depictions of torture like we saw on the show “24,” how did that come into or contrast with what you saw?


Andrew: In Iraq, they have a very prevalent bootleg DVD culture. I actually came across a detainee once that was very familiar with the show, and it came up in interrogation when I was telling him that the technological advances we use to get information, such as satellites and phones and all the stuff that he can see on “24”, and when he acknowledged that he was a big fan of Jack Bauer, we made a connection there that ultimately resulted in him recanting a bunch of information that he had said in the past and actually giving us the accurate information, because we had made that connection.


Werman: Were you surprised?


Andrew: I was more surprised that he was a fan of the show, but it kind of let down his guard there, which led to a lot of great actionable intelligence because we were able to capture other higher ranking individuals within the organization.


Werman: It sounds like you’re pretty clear with what you did in Iraq. Do you ever feel any remorse?


Andrew: I was working within the guidelines and within my conscience. I never harmed anybody, I never threatened anybody, and I think at the end of the day, if anything, I provided them with that ounce of hope at least that things would get better as long as they told the truth.


Werman: Andrew, that’s his first name, was an interrogator with the US Army in Iraq in 2009 and 2010. Thanks very much for speaking with us and telling your stories.


Andrew: No problem.