Illustration by: Matt Mahurin
CIA Director Mike Hayden testified before the Senate intelligence committee yesterday as part of the annual Worldwide Threat assessment briefing. (It’s a party over at CIA every February!) In between saying that al-Qaeda was improving "the last key aspect of its ability to attack the U.S." — recruiting westerners for sleeper cells — he dropped this charming little bombshell, as reported by the New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti:
Both Robert S. Mueller III, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers that their agencies had successfully obtained valuable intelligence from terrorism suspects without using what Mr. Mueller called the “coercive” methods of the C.I.A.
But General Hayden bristled when asked about Congressional attempts to mandate that C.I.A. interrogators be required to use the more limited set of interrogation methods contained in the Army Field Manual, which is used by military interrogators.
“It would make no more sense to apply the Army’s field manual to C.I.A.,” General Hayden said, “than it would to take the Army Field Manual on grooming and apply it to my agency, or the Army Field Manual on recruiting and apply it to my agency. Or, for that matter, the Army Field Manual on sexual orientation and apply it to my agency.”
OK, there’s a responsible and an irresponsible critique of the Army Field Manual here. The responsible critique is a bit counterintuitive. One of my intelligence sources for this torture piece told me that restricting interrogations to the Geneva Conventions-compliant standards of the Army Field Manual would have the unfortunate unintended consequence of inhibiting interrogators’ creativity.
"Suppose you did your own research and you came up with your own way of trying to get someone to talk," this source told me. "It would be nothing involving a question of coercive techniques. You talk more slowly, who knows. And maybe it works, but you’ll end up getting told, ‘It’s not in the Army Field Manual, so you can’t try it.’ That’s nuts, but that’s the bind." Such is the way bureaucracies operate. As it happens, I’m working on a piece now precisely about how bureaucracy inhibits good (and humane) interrogation creativity with proven field successes, so watch for that one in the next couple days.
Now the irresponsible critique. Whatever his motivation, Hayden’s rejection of the Army field manual has the effect of reserving for CIA the option of torture. That’s what’s fueling calls from Congress and human-rights groups to make the Army Field Manual govern the CIA. If Hayden in fact shares my source’s objection, then he needs to make it really really clear that he’s not trying to shove CIA interrogations through legal loopholes. Otherwise a more assertive Congress, with a Democratic president, might just impose those restrictions on CIA because it doesn’t trust Hayden.