A Middle Ground for Interrogations

Posted on February 22, 2010

The CIA has been unsatisfied with the cooperation of Mullah Baradar, the Taliban military commander being interrogated in Pakistani custody, and has pushed for his transfer to an American-run prison in Afghanistan, the Los Angeles Times reported this past weekend. But even should that transfer occur, the United States may not have any greater success eliciting information from him -- because President Obama eliminated the CIA's enhanced interrogation program.

This raises an urgent question: Is there a reasonable middle ground that would allow the Obama administration to effectively interrogate resistant terrorist leaders without compromising its opposition to torture? There most certainly is.

To be clear, Obama did not end waterboarding; it was no longer part of the formal CIA interrogation program he inherited from the Bush administration. Indeed, former CIA Director Mike Hayden says he told Obama's national security transition team, "All those things you think you need to do [on interrogation]? We already did them."

Yet when Obama came into office and issued an executive order requiring adherence to the Army Field Manual, he eliminated effective interrogation techniques that no one could argue were torture: the facial hold, attention grasp, tummy slap, facial slap, a diet of liquid Ensure and mild sleep deprivation (a maximum of four consecutive days). That's it. Former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell told me "playing high school football subjects you to more danger than these techniques."

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