A textbook case involves the purported mastermind and architect of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. (See prior post.) Arrested in 2003, KSM is a detainee in Guantanamo Bay prison. He soon will make his grand entrance in what is being billed at the "Trial of The Century."
You cannot read about KSM for two minutes without discovering he was subjected to "extended interrogation techniques" by CIA interrogators. Indeed, his name will be forever associated with waterboarding. Some reports claim KSM started talking after only one session. Others picture him as a die-hard recalcitrant, and it took 183 sessions to open him up.
Welcome aboard a trainload of discrepancies, denials, distortions. In all the slag, a thimbleful of truth glistens: the CIA simply did not know how to handle terrorists. The CIA made that admission in a New York Times article.
I asked, "What are we going to do with these guys when we get them?" recalled A. B. Krongard, the No. 3 official at the C.I.A. from March 2001 until 2004. I said, "We’ve never run a prison. We don’t have the languages. We don’t have the interrogators."
The CIA's resounding inexperience, plus a political pressure-cooker atmosphere to "do something," doomed the agency to follow the path of least resistance. The Times article observes:
In its scramble, the agency made the momentous decision to use harsh methods the United States had long condemned. With little research or reflection, it borrowed its techniques from an American military training program modeled on the torture repertories of the Soviet Union and other cold-war adversaries, a lineage that would come to haunt the agency.
In other words, rather than create, develop, and employ techniques relevant to contemporary terrorists -- most of whom are middle class rebels -- the U.S. took lessons at the feet of foes it had defeated years ago. (Sidebar: as would be anticipated, the value of those lessons, which included waterboarding, was at best dubious to begin with; all the more so in dealing with middle class rebels. Sitting in his prison cell, KSM this very moment may be wiring up a classic demonstration of why that is the case.)
I said least resistance because all the CIA did was reach for an off-the-shelf U.S. military training program, "Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape" (SERE):
The interrogation methods [used on KSM and other terrorists in custody], according to a recently declassified Pentagon report reviewed by The Spokesman-Review, are “reverse engineering” of techniques taught in the military’s SERE program, set up to train U.S. special forces and flight crews in the principles of Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape.
The SERE program is used by the Army at Fort Bragg, where Green Berets train, and at the U.S. Air Force Survival School near Spokane, where thousands of other trainees are instructed annually.
The theory behind the Cold War-era program is to expose soldiers to extremely harsh treatment during training — including sleep deprivation, pain and “waterboarding,” or simulated drowning — so they’ll be better equipped to resist if captured by forces that don’t adhere to laws on the humane treatment of prisoners ...
The recently declassified Pentagon report, considered a military secret last year but made public in May by the Inspector General of the Defense Department, confirms that the SERE techniques were “reverse engineered” in 2002 for use against suspected al-Qaeda loyalists in Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan and other CIA “black,” or secret, detention centers.
The techniques include hooding and starving detainees, sleep deprivation, isolation in darkness, mocking their religious beliefs and subjecting them to other forms of extreme stress, including sexual humiliation, the report says — evoking the leaked photographic images of detainee abuse from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq taken from October to December 2003.
It cannot be said, however, the CIA resorted to force alone -- to pure Mutt.
The agency assigned the role of Jeff to one of its agents, Deuce Martinez, a narcotics analyst with no experience with terrorists or their language or interrogation. Martinez worked to win KSM's confidence. He supplied KSM with sweet dates; in return KSM wrote poetry to Martinez's wife. Martinez, a Catholic, debated religion with KSM; he also talked, advised, and patiently listened hour after hour to family stories and complaints, e.g., KSM wanted a room with a view.
Was it Mutt or Jeff that got KSM to talk? Whatever the case -- face busting, trust building, or both -- The Times article claims that KSM and other prisoners became "quite compliant. In fact, according to several officials, they had become a sort of terrorist focus group, advising their captors on their fellow extremists' goals, ideology, and tradecraft ... Thus did the architect of 9/11 become, in effect, a counter terrorism adviser to the American government he professes to despise."
KSM cracked, changed sides: such is the official, happy ending. Start music; roll the credits.
Unfortunately, the official ending is stuck with a singular dilemma: it is not the ending. The real ending will appear only when KSM's trial is over, not before.
In the meantime, as the trial proceeds, what is it that we will likely see, hear, read?
Under torture, he confessed to many things -- make that too many things -- he now disavows. KSM, a mechanical engineer, thereby unveiled his primary weapon: ambiguity. Look for him to use it time and again as leverage to gain mechanical advantage.
To that effect, I am inclined to agree not with scholars or terrorism experts, but with New York Deputy Fire Chief Jim Riches who said KSM is "playing a game with the American government."
Let's consider the three logical possibilities:
(1) Some things KSM said under torture and without it are true. After all, if he lied all the time he would be simply written off -- case closed, over and out. That is why he must occasionally tell the truth; he needs at least some credibility in order to create ambiguity.
(2) Other things he said with and without torture were false. Here, too, leverage is the goal. If he always told the truth, there would be no ambiguity; with no ambiguity, he would have no leverage.
(3) Finally, some things he said were partly true and partly false, maybe in the end indecipherable.
No doubt numerous readers are thinking: wait a second. How does ambiguity create leverage? The answer is that in an ambiguous situation, he who is in the POSITION to know the truth has the power. KSM occupies that position.
We come to KSM's game plan:
(1) Captured in 2003, his short term objective was to gain time. As time passes, the value of any reliable information offered with or without torture falls. KSM as much admitted this goal in discussing his vague response to questions about bin Laden's location. He may be here, he may be there; what is certain is that precious time was gained in KSM's "confusion" -- time that allowed bin Laden and his accomplices to slip away. In the same vein, by confounding his own credibility, KSM gave other terrorists worldwide the time to move and change, to revisit and alter strategy and tactics.
(2) His middle term objective: KSM will work to ensnare in their own middle class mentality not only prosecutors, lawyers, jurists, judges, but also, and more importantly, a huge segment of the general public. KSM will spin an ever-widening web of ambiguities; he hopes we will be intrigued by the "mysteries" he presents. At bottom, it is our desire to find closure on numerous terrorist acts -- acts which presumably he knows about -- that is simultaneously the bait and the hook.
In short, we are supposed to think: knowledge is power. KSM knows things. Ergo ... He leaves it to you to fill in the blank.
(3) I think KSM's long term goal is to put into question America and its legal process. He will be playing to a worldwide stage. A vintage middle class rebel, KSM is driven to search for contradictions to cultivate. In his use of ambiguity as leverage, watch for the following manoeuvre; it will be latent or manifest, according to circumstances:
Suicide is defined legally as the deliberate taking of one's one life. It is illegal in America to aid and abet a suicide. KSM now says he wants the death penalty, that he wants to die a "martyr." The deliberate, voluntary nature of KSM's death wish creates what he no doubt sees as a delicious contradiction: by causing another party to aid and abet his suicide -- his deliberate death -- he transforms that party into the perpetrator of a criminal act. That perpetrator will be the U.S. Government. Thus, in executing KSM, that government becomes, by its own laws, a criminal.
Catch 23. Here it is not the individual who suffers on account of convoluted, governmental bureaucratic reasoning; rather, it is the individual who twists and ratchets up that reasoning in order to cause the government to undergo deprivation, isolation, humiliation, viz., extreme stress. A type of reverse homeopathic treatment occurs; doses of absurdity are administered to fight absurdity, not to cure but to kill. The middle class rebel welcomes absurdity; he lives in, around, and in spite of it.
At present, we can only speculate. We won't know the truth until KSM walks into court. Until then, since nobody else is doing it, I'll play devil's advocate:
As Deputy Chief Richards intimated, KSM's "co-operation" -- that he was "broken" and became a "counter terrorism adviser to the U.S. Government" -- is wrong. Simply put: the happy ending handed us by U.S. officials is mistaken. When the curtain on the courtroom stage opens, a different man than the compliant one they portray is going to walk out, joke, wave to the cameras.
If that other KSM appears, the official happy ending we've been fed -- replete with dates and poetry -- is going to come off as a naive imitation of a clumsy Soviet propaganda film.
If that other KSM appears, a large question will loom behind him. It will shadow everything he says and does.
The question: When it comes to KSM and other middle class rebels turned terrorists, is it possible that the CIA and other security forces still just don't get it?
We'll look at the shadow in Part 3.