The History of US/British ‘Interrogation Techniques’ and the Torture Debate

Reprinted from BlackNET Intelligence Channel

In May 2004, just after the Abu Gharib prison photo scandal publicly erupted, national security columnist W. Scott Malone recalled, in rather graphic terms, that the public trail of US and British “interrogation techniques” from previous years were hardly “secret.” Given the renewed debate over the Bush administration’s use of “enhanced” interrogation measures like waterboarding, which some believe is torture, and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge’s position that the technique is in fact torture, is reprinting Malone’s historically constructive report from four years ago.

By William Scott Malone

Bookmark and Share

At best, they are either liars or cowards, in the opinion of their captors. Otherwise, they would have been killed by US or coalition forces in the desert fighting for their beloved Iraq. Instead, they stand accused as terrorists sitting in Abu Ghraib’s terrorist isolation cellblocks 1A and 1B. Being forced to lie naked on cold, hard concrete floors pales in comparison to Nicholas Berg’s rather drawn out, excruciatingly painful and “humiliating” on camera beheading. 
But the real liars and cowards are the politicians, TV pontificators, and Pentagon officials who can’t seem to handle the truth. Perhaps unwittingly on purpose, US taxpayers, via their politicians and bureaucrats, with ample “ignorance” from their media interrogatories, have not only ignored such practices in the past, but have long funded and even encouraged such so-called “abuse.” 
The most appalling irony of the still unfolding abuse story, and a public relations “abuse” all by itself, was the US Army’s cheapskate use of Saddam’s notorious torture center, the Abu Ghraib prison, as a “secret” US interrogation center. And senior US officials then attempting to lay the blame for the entire operation at the feet of enlisted Guard personnel was beyond the pale. It was this second point that was mostly lost in the original CBS “60 Minutes II” program, and, at least at first, in virtually every other media version as well. 
How anyone in their right mind could have believed it would remain secret for long is another lost lesson of history, as rather bluntly pointed out by retired Marine Lt. Colonel and Middle East operator Bill Cowan – the Iraqis know what happened to them. “These people at some point will be let out,” Cowan told CBS [back] in 2004. “Their families are gonna know. Their friends are gonna know.” 
Not to mention at least one conscience-struck US photographer-participant.

Those events have starkly reminded me of a long ago investigation I did for a BBC documentary which aired back in 1988. Re-watching it last week, it occurred to me that such allegations of prisoner abuse against both US and British forces have been around for fifty-plus years. The film itself was a somewhat personal journey of its producer, Richard Taylor, who had served during the Korean War as a British MP then attached to a an interrogation unit. “It was run by a genial American major, and staffed mainly by Koreans and Chinese,” Taylor recalled in his narration. “Sometimes, prisoners of war were tortured. My tent backed on to the unit’s compound, and the screams I heard there still echo in my mind.” 
My precise contribution to Taylor’s film, later titled “The Unleashing of Evil,” was to locate and interview a retired US Green Beret about the US military’s training of various “interrogation techniques.” Luke Thompson had been a highly-decorated Special Forces sergeant who had served five tours in Vietnam and conducted other secret operations around the world before his retirement in 1978. 
“Basic interrogation is taught straight forward at the military intelligence school in Arizona,” Thompson recalled for me on camera. “Regular Army soldiers going through an interrogation course. That’s the conventional method. This is accepted by the Geneva Convention – “the good guy stuff’.” 
Using some rather frightening terms for today’s ears, Thompson went on to describe “the unconventional method:” 
“You use controlled terror. And controlled terror is where you control a man’s emotions. You allow him to see the light of day. You don’t allow him to see how he’s going to make it. He has to have hope that’s he’s not going to die. Everything else is agreeable. You can do anything else to him as you want, except to let him know that death is inevitable. 
“In controlled terrorism you don’t mangle a man – that’s brutality. Of course, some brutality may be necessary, but when you’re trying to control a man’s mind through terrorism, you have to keep the mind asking questions. 
“For instance, if you had a little girl or a son or whatever, and I wanted to terrorize you – holy terror – I would not bring that child in and brutalize them in front of you. You take the kid outside, if it’s brutalized – the screams and so forth and so on – and you let it continue. All of this is done outside of the man’s [sight], and then you bring the mangled body inside and let the man see it,” Thompson said with watery eyes while pointing his index finger to his forehead. “He will wonder how it happened, what happened. And there will always be that question.” 
When asked where he learned about such procedures, Thompson again didn’t mince his words: “In Special Forces you had this in intelligence training. It’s what you might have to do, or might have done against you.” When asked if such instructions were written down, Thompson said, “I can’t recall a manual. I can never recall seeing it written down.” So it was all passed down by word of mouth? “Yes, in fact, any notes taken on this subject never left the classroom.” 
“We’ve trained some of the Special Forces [of other countries] in some of the techniques, but you really don’t have to teach people terror. They define their own terror by their ethnic background. In Vietnam, the Vietnamese done the torture and all that stuff, although it was known by the Americans – we knew it. The torture was performed by the Vietnamese – we had clean hands – we had deniability.” 
And presumably no digital photos. 
As pointed out in the film by both foreign victims and one US-trained foreign practitioner, the various American “instructors” always preferred the psychological over the physical when it came to interrogation techniques. “There’s no reason to [physically] torture someone,” concurred Thompson, “because chances are you’re not going to get what you want. They’re going to give you what they think you want to sustain themselves. They’d give you the Gettysburg Address if they thought that’d make you feel better.” 
Asked off camera about the legendary tactic employed in Vietnam of taking two suspects up in a helicopter and throwing one of them off, Thompson told me it was true. He also made the same point – the guy who was thrown off was technically tortured, while the guy still on the aircraft was psychologically abused – and much more reliable as a consequence. 
And our British coalition partners in Iraq are, obviously, not quite innocent babes in such endeavors either. The Green Berets have long and routinely trained with their British counterparts, the famed SAS, or Special Air Services. “As far as I’m concerned,” Thompson pointed out, “they knew everything I knew, and probably more. And knew it as well as I did or better.” 
The BBC’s Taylor also interviewed retired Major Fred Hulrud of the British Royal Army, who had served in Ireland, amongst other outposts, with the Special Military Intelligence Unit. Hulrud’s description of a process called “deep interrogation” he taught as the officer in charge of “prisoner handling” at Britain’s secret Winter Survivor School will ring familiar and haunting to readers of 2008. 
“They were stripped naked, with hoods put over their heads,” he recalled to Taylor while ambling through the British countryside. “And then put inside [a special cold cell] and frozen for awhile to lower their body temperature. They were then taken to an intermediary point between all the modules which was an exercise yard. There they were made to do physical exercises. Most of them could be persuaded to do this to keep warm in fact, because they were having minor convulsions – shivering. 
“Some of them who couldn’t be convinced that it was a good idea actually had to be held by four or five people who made them physically do the exercises. And the idea of this of course was to wear down their body heat, their body core heat, and to make them disoriented.” 
The British trainee “prisoners” were then subjected to what Hulrud called the five techniques: “Hooding, Wall Standing, White Noise, and Food and Sleep Deprivation.” These were then combined with “violent verbal abuse” and sexual humiliation: “We ridiculed them. They were made to bend over, they were searched–they had anal searches. The woman who was usually present ridiculed their private parts. And they were generally humiliated. 
“They were then taken back in for exercise again. And then they were taken in for interrogation.” 
Irishman Paddy Joe McLean told Taylor of his 1971 experience during a hooded deep interrogation: “That piercing sound [of white noise] would drive you mad. With wall standing, the body has four points of contact – the points of your fingers against the wall, and the points of your toes with your legs wide apart. The result of it is that the small of your back carries the whole weight, and that’s where fatigue settles in. I can’t remember how long we were kept in the position, but I know as far as I was concerned, I was kept there until I fell. Could stand no longer.” 
Taylor’s documentary met with good reviews in the UK, but with complete indifference back in America. It was not met in either country by denial. The point, however, is that this information was then, and still is today, publicly available to any citizen or government official who wishes to know about it. 
Such interrogation “techniques” are also frequently, if rather quietly, discussed in special operations circles. From Vietnam to Lebanon, recalled one veteran Marine officer back in 2004. “Of course it was done. It just wasn’t widely discussed, shall we say.” 
Or as another long-time Special Forces operator told me, the techniques are not all that horrifying when considering the alternatives. Compared to what happened at Abu Ghraib, “I’ve done worse things to American troops in training,” he pointed out, “And that included the now infamous process of “water-boarding.’ ” 
The Abu Ghraib photos obviously looked “staged,” and, as claimed by at least two of the accused MPs, they in fact were. Pfc. Lynndie England told a Denver TV station that she was ordered to pose for the photos as a part of an intelligence “pysop,” or psychological operation. Perhaps equally obvious, if not more important, the photos themselves were also evidence of a “systematic” operation, as Army Reserve Col. Robert Knapp told his local newspaper in San Luis Obispo, CA, back in 2004. Knapp, a psychiatrist and the medical director at Atascadero State Hospital, spent 10 months in Iraq on active duty. For most of his deployment Knapp treated soldiers for stress. 
“These were not rogue soldiers that needed treatment,” Knapp said of the MP guards. “This looked authorized, encouraged or even ordered.” Although abusing prisoners can frequently be a symptom of war stress, Knapp told the newspaper, “such abuse is usually done once by one person.” 
Knapp also doubted soldiers would have documented it with cameras if they thought their superiors were unaware. “Prisoner abuse happens,” he said. “It’s human nature. But (stress-related) abuse doesn’t have the character of being systematic.” 
Perhaps the phrase “one man’s torturer is another man’s interrogator” should become the updated version of the 20th Century aphorism that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Many military officers are now horrified at how their troops might be treated when captured by enemy forces. But our prisoners during the first Persian Gulf War were not treated by their Iraqi captors with Marquis of Queensbury rules, nor were US Marines in Beirut, or the DELTA Operators and Rangers in Mogadishu. 
As the debate rages, we are again reminded, (and as our leaders tell us continually), that we are in a war to the death, and a new kind of war at that. And, as the above history demonstrates, neither we nor our British cousins have always played by strictly Geneva Rules.

No doubt we as a people simply just don’t care to be reminded of it. 

Yet as various senior officials and media commentators have taken pains to point out: It is the very strength of the American political system that is being put on display with the coming speedy trials for various, all be they so far low-level, malefactors. But systemic foot-dragging and/or cover-ups almost always result in the precise opposite of their intended effect. 
As Richard Nixon learned the hard way, it is better to face the truth than to hide from it. Yet his forced resignation over the criminal euphemism known as Watergate may have even contributed directly to the later ending of the Cold War by proving rather conclusively that America was not the Fascist monolith as portrayed in Soviet propaganda. But it was also a lesson lost on several of Nixon’s successors. The criminal charges that almost brought down President Ronald Reagan in the Iranian arms-for-hostage scandal were also directly related to obstruction of justice after the fact, as were all the cases of the convicted Nixon administration criminals. It was also the very basis of the historic impeachment and Senate trial of President Bill Clinton. 
History has clearly demonstrated, time and again, that we, as a nation, can in fact handle the truth. 
Scott Malone is a multiple Emmy and Peabody award-winning investigative journalist who was the then editor of and its counter-terrorism newsletter, BlackNET Intelligence Channel, wherein this article was first published.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s