An Interrogator Speaks

   < < Go Back

by Massimo Calabresi,

from TIME Magazine,

The man who calls himself Jason Beale sips a draft beer as he describes how to make someone talk. “Everybody breaks,” says the retired military officer amid the shuffling of waiters at an upscale restaurant in his hometown. There is no anger or hostility in his voice. He is a father and a husband, unfailingly civil in conversation. But the methods for extracting information that he describes are the province of a moral universe unrecognizable to most Americans. Many call the methods torture. Which is one reason this former interrogator has decided, using a pseudonym, to defend what the U.S. government did to make captured terrorists talk in the years after 9/11.

The process begins, he says, with extended sleep deprivation that undermines the foundations of consciousness. “Your brain’s not operating the way it should–you know it’s not–but it’s hard to get control of it,” Beale says. “You’re exhausted, you’re beaten down, and you know you’re going to go in that little room.”

Then a second element is brought to bear: physical duress. During questioning, unsatisfactory answers result in “other measures,” Beale says, including a violent form of manhandling known as “walling,” in which the detainee is thrown against a prefabricated wall designed to be flexible and noisy.

The break, when it comes, is almost always the same, Beale says. “It’s preceded by a period of complete shutdown–no talking–and when interrogators see that, they back off and wait. Then there’s a statement.” When the detainee gives the interrogator the information he wants, there is a turning point, Beale says, in the relationship between the men. “When it’s done, there is a very strange bond that is formed between the interrogators and the detainees,” he says. “The interrogators don’t gloat or celebrate … They would even bring him into their arms, give him a hug and say, ‘Hey, it’s not your fault.’”

He nonetheless offered a robust defense of the program based, he says, on declassified public documents and his knowledge of “enhanced interrogation techniques” that he gained from 1988 to 1989 as an interrogator and student in the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program.

Beale’s opinion doesn’t just open a window into the shadows of his nation’s recent past; he and others believe it provides a view to our future.

The program’s … defenders say the abuses occurred mostly in the panicky years after 9/11 … When the attacks happened, the CIA had little experience in detention and interrogation, and initially the agency’s efforts were a disaster. The worst abuses took place at a hastily established, dungeon-like site in Afghanistan called the Salt Pit after the U.S. invaded in 2001.

In 2002 the CIA formalized its detention and interrogation program with the blessing of George W. Bush’s White House and Justice Department.

By the time Beale joined the CIA program late [2004], the agency had reined in most of the abuses and the pace of detentions and interrogations had slowed, the Senate report’s authors say.

Before 9/11, The U.S. prohibited enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and physical duress. It chastised other countries for using some of those techniques and prosecuted people for doing so. In August 2002, Bush Administration lawyers issued legal opinions arguing that the CIA’s techniques weren’t torture. Those opinions have since been rescinded and repudiated, first in Bush’s second term and more recently by President Obama.

[Beale] is convinced the program was ethical and has posted a manifesto against the Senate report on the website of the Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine. He says harsh interrogations are a kind of “man-on-man contest” that has none of the tricks and lies of softer interrogations. “It’s a crying shame that we let the program no longer be run. It was good, and now it’s gone,” he says. But Beale’s not convinced it won’t return: “I don’t think anything about this report stops a President who is inclined to want to use something like this again in the future.”

More From TIME Magazine: