Colonel Brittain Mallow
Criminal Investigation Task Force
Colonel Brittain Mallow served as the commander of the unique Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF), a unit of military investigators formed in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks to prepare criminal cases against suspected terrorists. A former military police officer who rose to become second-in-command of the Army's detective bureau, Colonel Mallow holds an advanced degree in Middle Eastern studies and a working knowledge of Arabic. In 2002, he ordered members of his CITF team at Guantanamo to "stand back " from the increasingly coercive interrogations being implemented at the prison camp.
Colonel Brittain Mallow on...
Interview: September 21, 2007
Interrogations are challenging under all conditions, because it's an adversarial interview. You know, you're trying to obtain information that the other person pretty much by definition doesn't want to provide to you. So you may develop a relationship with them and get them to tell you, you may have some other tactics that you use, but it's always a difficult process. And then even to get an answer, to determine whether or not you've got a reliable or a truthful answer.
So after 9/11, you watched people struggling to figure out how to develop an interrogation policy?
I was involved with it from the very beginning. When 9/11 happened, I was the deputy commander for the Army Criminal Investigation Command, which is the Army's felony investigative, detective bureau, if you will. It's similar to NCIS, what OSI is for the Air Force. Army CID does that, and I was the deputy commander for that. So we were in the investigations business, we'd done work with counterterrorism before, although not much -- in the military we don't investigate as many of those cases. And we do a lot of work with interviews and interrogations. That's part of every investigation. I knew it was going to be a tough target. It always had been for police agencies and intelligence agencies, and it was going to be very difficult for us to work through this. From the very start we knew it.
When we stood up the taskforce, we knew that one of the issues was going to be, how are we going to conduct the investigations, how are we going to interview and interrogate the persons that we're investigating? And so we knew right up front that the target was going to be difficult, there were going to be a lot of issues involved, legal issues. There were going to be a lot of difficulties. It was a -- we knew it was a tough mission from the start.
There's incredible pressure to produce actionable intelligence. And that has been, and was at that time, the number one priority. Everyone was absolutely concerned there was going to be another attack. We need to stop it, we need to find out where the people are who were responsible for this one, track them down, prevent the next attack. At whatever great cost it might take, we really needed to do that. That was in direct conflict with the idea of conducting a methodical, complex investigation into anyone that we captured. Because on one hand you're -- you have a sense of urgency to conduct these intelligence operations and get at the answers. On the other hand, you're trying to put together an investigative case for a prosecution. And it has to be done very methodically. We knew there was going to be a dynamic conflict between the intelligence mission and our investigative mission. At the same time, we were responsible as well to produce, if we could, any intelligence that might aid in the process. So we, too, had a duty to pass along any intelligence that we developed. But our primary job was investigations. And we knew it was going to be very difficult.
Who were the Afghan detainees?
These were persons who had been captured all over Afghanistan, in military operations. Many of them had been initially held down in Kandahar, because that was the center of our early operations. That was the stronghold of the Taliban. And so some of them had been held in Kandahar first and then brought up to Bagram. Some were brought in from other locations where they'd been captured.
Did you have names?
In some cases. I mean people don't walk around in Afghanistan with an identity card, especially not up in the mountains. So for many of these folks we didn't have any identity documents. We had what they told us, and what the other detainees told us about them, and in some cases what others, witnesses or people that captured them, might have learned. But frequently it was a big mission just to find out who they were, where they came from, and get a baseline of information for them.
Shortly after 9/11, we started hearing phrases like, "We're going to have to move to the dark side," "The gloves are coming off," that sort of thing. Did that have an impact on this whole process we're talking about?
Well, I can't speak for everybody else. I know from our standpoint, we made a decision very early on that our way of operating was going to be the same way that we would operate in any other investigation. And for that matter, with a couple of exceptions, we would treat our subjects, the persons that we were investigating, the same as we would any other subjects that we'd done, whether they were military personnel of the United States that we were investigating, or civilians, or whatever, that we would follow the same sort of rules. So from our standpoint, we didn't change our philosophy towards that at all.
The exceptions were that we knew that the legal rights warning that we would normally use would not apply in all cases, so there were adjustments made for that. And we knew that the conditions were going to be different. In some cases we were going to be operating in a battlefield environment, so the conditions under which we would conduct our interviews were going to different. We decided early on from the law enforcement perspective, in our Task Force, we were going to do things as we always did, the way we would normally operate. There's no reason to do differently.
But, I think we were well aware that there was this great pressure to produce intelligence, and that that pressure would probably result in a difference between us and the intelligence community. Frankly, the intelligence community historically had not done a large number of adversarial interviews in a lot of years. The doctrine for interviews and interrogations on the intelligence side goes back to post World War II. And so there's a great deal of difference between the circumstances post World War II, early Cold War, and today.
You said you decided early on to operate by the same rules. How do you characterize those rules?
For law enforcement interviews, there's no use of physical coercion of any type. While you might -- by the course of your interview, you might make someone quite uncomfortable with your questions, the way that you ask your questions, the fact that you now have a legal process that you're going to take them to, that implies a certain amount of power over them.
The doctrine for law enforcement interviews is not to provide any physical coercion or pressure. So I mean, in general that's what it's about. You can use a lot of tactics. You can deceive somebody, you can ask them questions, you can imply that it's going to have an effect on their legal outcome, but you don't threaten, you don't coerce, you don't use anything physical.
So you decided from the beginning those were the rules you were going to follow.
Those were the rules we were going to follow. You know, there's a saying in the Army: you train as you fight, and you fight as you train. Our agents were trained to do those kinds of interviews. Adversarial interviews with criminals -- we had a lot of experience with that, but to do them under those kinds of rules.
Early on, were the experienced interrogators outnumbered by those with not very much experience?
Just the reality: the Army did not, at the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, have a large number of experienced, trained interrogators on the intelligence side. Our law enforcement agents were trained to do interviews, but criminal interviews, adversarial but criminal, and under these kinds of rules. But they are a small number of personnel. In the military, the law enforcement arms for the all the services are relatively small. And so I think it's very safe to say that most of the interviewers, the interrogators that came on board for the intelligence community, didn't have a lot of experience. They hadn't really lived through it. They'd been trained, in some cases, in that doctrine that was several years old. But there weren't many of them that had much experience.
And young, mostly?
I think so. I mean they -- it's a broad range. I mean you had some senior warrant officers in the intelligence world who were older. Some of them had had perhaps some experience. Not probably a lot in dealing with terrorism cases, but they'd had some experience. But the large number of, particularly the enlisted interrogators -- and that's where most of them came from in the Army and some of the other services -- they're pretty young.
Once they decided that Guantanamo was the location, we had to create a capability to hold people there. And then you had to decide who you were going to send, because in the course of the early operations in Afghanistan, we captured hundreds of personnel. And we didn't send them all to Guantanamo, obviously, so there was a screening process at several different layers. We participated in that process. We kind of had to shoehorn ourselves into it, because, again, the intelligence decisions were the top priority. The investigative work that we were doing was a secondary concern, but we did have input to the process. And trying to sort out, as we explained earlier, the people for whom you don't know their true identities -- trying to sort out whether or not they truly were involved in something with a few interviews is very difficult. Making those decisions was probably one of the first great challenges that we faced, because we were part of it.
A lot of the evidence that we had, from our point of view, to make the decisions on these people, was circumstantial. You know, they would say, "No, no, I was a -- I was a farmer, and I was just there on a religious holiday, or I was out there selling Korans." But in truth, they were seen, they were captured carrying a Kalashnikov with a bunch of other Taliban soldiers. And they were -- seemed like they might have been closely aligned with someone from al-Qaeda who was captured with them.
Okay, that's circumstantial evidence, but it was -- those were some of the things that we used to make those decisions. Very difficult. And I think we ended up trying to be as careful as we could, but on the other hand, we didn't want to let somebody go. Our fear all along was that we would turn somebody loose, and that they would then perpetuate another terrorist attack.
That must have been a very palpable fear.
It was throughout, not only from the early days, but all the way through later days when we were involved in decisions being made about folks at Guantanamo. As you know, some were transferred to other countries, some were released. And for every one of those, we had to help make that decision. And it was, on the one hand, you have a human being that you've now held in captivity, and you're controlling their life and their livelihood, and on the other hand, you're weighing the possibility that their DNA will be on a US target someday.
It was tough.
Tell me when you began to get reports from what was going on at Guantanamo that made you sit up.
In February of 2002. Some of it was because they were asking different questions. They were concerned with, you know, "Where do we find this other terrorist? What were you involved with? Where's the next attack going to be?" And the questions we were asking were, "Where did you do your training? Who were you involved with? What did you do in the past that we might be interested in for our investigations?"
But we also, I think, realized that this pressure to produce intelligence was going to result in a lot more frustration on the part of the intelligence interrogators there. I think we saw very early on that they were going to be different in how they handled their interviews, more aggressive, more prone to raise the level of tension, even if it was just verbal, in terms of the interviews. And so it became obvious to us that we were going to have a lot of differences in how we operate.
We knew that there were going to be differences between the intelligence ways of operating and the way that we wanted to operate. And we knew that the intelligence interrogators, because of this pressure to produce active -- actionable intelligence, that they were going to be more aggressive. And that proved to be true. There were a lot more of them down there than our agents were, they had a lot of access to the detainees, so there was some friction that developed between the intelligence interrogators and my agents down there. And so we began to kind of pull back from doing any kind of joint interviews.
However, in, I would say, the springtime of 2002, my agents, some of my attorneys who were on the ground down there, began telling me that they were very concerned about the way that some of the intelligence interrogations were going. Our agents would go in to conduct an interview, and the night before someone on the intelligence side had had the detainee up all night and was talking to them, and the detainee was very agitated and so forth, and so now we had to follow that process with our own.
We had decided that the best way to get at this category of persons was to basically establish a relationship. The mindset of folks from that part of the world, the education, the background, the religion, the culture, is such that if you become aggressive with them, they will shut down. And so we had decided early on that we were going to have to establish a rapport, even in a short amount of time, to get some sort of results from our interviews. And that's very difficult to do when you're following a very aggressive in-your-face kind of interview strategy.
Our attorneys, our agents on the ground down there, were concerned about some of the other things they saw, and so by the summer of 2002 we decided we were going to not affiliate ourselves at all with any interviews conducted by the intelligence persons on the ground down there. We were going to be very much separate and operate under our own tactics.
What kinds of things were your agents and attorneys telling you that they had, if not witnessed, had heard was going on?
You know, the yelling, screaming, loud music, kind of threatening, embarrassing the detainees -- those kinds of tactics that put an awful lot of pressure and stress on the detainee. In some cases stress positions, making a person stand up for a long period of time, making it cool in the room, making it warm in the room -- those kinds of things that were -- if they weren't bad treatment, they would give the appearance of bad treatment, and they also, from our standpoint, were unproductive. In some cases, I think, we would characterize them as silly and stupid, because they were just getting in the way of establishing any kind of relationship and getting somebody to talk to you.
You've talked several times about the pressure that the military intelligence people were feeling. Where was that pressure coming from?
I think it was coming from basically all directions. I mean, our government was absolutely frantic, and perhaps for good reason, that there was going to be another attack, imminently. Early in 2002 when we conducted operations in Afghanistan, I think we were absolutely convinced that there was another attack on the way.
And so the pressure came from the highest levels of our government. I think there was pressure internationally for the United States to do something, to produce some sort of action, and I think there was an expectation that we would capture the high-ranking terrorists and that we would do something with them pretty quickly. And so there was incredible pressure from the top, but at all levels, to produce some results.
Were the military intelligence people experimenting? Is that a fair way to describe what was going on?
I think it -- it got to that point. In the early days, I think they tried to operate as they had been taught. I think as time went on, when those tactics didn't work -- and in some cases those antiquated tactics did not work -- I think that produced a lot of frustration. I think that the top level leadership didn't provide very explicit guidance as to what could or could not be done. And as a result, I think the interrogators and some of the lower-level supervisors began to experiment, in some cases on their own and in some cases with the permission of some of their -- some of their higher-ups. I think they were trying to do what they thought was right, but frankly, they weren't experts in this business. They weren't behavioral science experts. They weren't Middle East personality experts. They were not area experts in any regard. They were trying to produce results, but I think they broke down and it got to a point of actually experimenting.
And when you look through some of the documents that were exchanged back and forth about interrogation techniques, when you see the referral to the SERE techniques. I think that's an example of where we were casting about for some sort of results, casting for something that might work. But that's not the way to operate. I mean, you train as you fight and you fight as you train, as I said. You don't just experiment when you get right into things. You have to know what you're doing, and you're dealing with human lives here. You're dealing with questions that if you get the wrong answer you may endanger some of your own lives again. You may send soldiers into a false target and they may be endangered because you got the wrong answer from somebody.
Did your agents engage in dialogue, arguments, with the military intelligence people, trying to affect what was going on?
We had some very heated discussions with the community down at Guantanamo, less so overseas, because we kept ourselves very carefully there. But in Guantanamo we had some very heated arguments. As I said, we had withdrawn, or we began to withdraw from joint interviews, but we still had to deal with the aftermath of whatever was done in the intelligence interrogations. So frequently, when we were involved in meetings and discussions down there, they would -- they would discuss that they were going to -- they were going to try something new with a particular detainee. Well we were going to have to deal with whatever happened from that. And we tried to give the benefit of our agents' experience, we offered the services of our behavioral science consultants, people like Mike Gelles and others, and we said to the commanders down there and the interrogators on the intelligence side, "I think there's an alternative way of approaching some of these subjects. You can establish a rapport, you can get at some answers, without having to experiment and delve down into to coercive and aggressive tactics."
One of the military intelligence people told you something like, "This is being done elsewhere -- these kinds of things are being done elsewhere and people are getting praise for it."
I think we heard that a couple of times. We heard from -- from a lot of different people that, well, "You don't know what you're talking about." That elsewhere -- "That some of these ways of doing business are working for us, they're working for the intelligence community," and so they discounted our input in many cases.
Do you think that early on some of these tactics were authorized at certain levels?
I think probably in the early days it wasn't explicitly directed or even -- maybe even of knowledge to everyone at the highest levels. I think they put out broad guidelines and they let the interrogators start to work, and as they started to experiment with some of these other tactics some of them became known to the leadership and some didn't. So I don't think from the very start it was directed to do specific things. The pressure came down from very high, however, and the pressure created this need to produce results.
In these various conversations, either with the intelligence officials at Guantanamo or with the commander, would you take your concerns?
Absolutely. The very first concern was it wasn't going to work. There is no empirical evidence that tells you that coercive or aggressive, physically coercive tactics are going to produce results.
If they do produce any results at all, your very second concern is, are they reliable? Can we believe what was said, or was the person just talking to us to get us to stop whatever made them uncomfortable? And there is a lot of scientific evidence that indicates that that is a phenomenon that occurs. People will say something in order to stop whatever is making them uncomfortable, physically, psychologically, whatever.
The third concern is, is it right to do it? Is there -- are there legal concerns, for our soldiers who are down there, and many of my agents were military personnel. Many of the interrogators down there were military. There is nothing in the Uniform Code of Military Justice that lets you assault somebody and not have it be a crime, unless it's in self-defense. So if you strike somebody, if you threaten them, those are offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So it may be illegal for you to even do some of those things. To say whether it's moral or ethical -- you kind of have to make that decision yourself. That's a personal decision, but from our standpoint, if it's not productive, it doesn't produce reliable results, that, in itself probably isn't ethical to take action, then.
And then beyond that, whatever you do, you're going to have to deal with the aftermath. The aftermath might be that you now cannot use the information that you derived in a legal process, so you may have, in effect, decided that you're not going to prosecute this person now because you can't use that evidence against them. Or, you might be able to not use it against somebody else, because it was produced with this technique that's not necessarily reliable.
And finally, it's almost inevitable that everything is going to be disclosed. And so how does it pass the Washington Post, the New York Times test? You know, if -- six months from now, two years from now, five years from now, everything that was done is going to be put right out there on the table. And we're going to be measured against the rest of the world and their opinions on what we do. And we're also going to be compared to the terrorists that we're fighting, and the tactics that we use will be compared. So for all of those reasons, it was not productive, it was not reliable, there certainly were legal and ethical problems with it, and you had to face the aftermath that had a lot of consequences. When you go down that to make a logical decision, it's pretty -- pretty clear to me what you do.
But you weren't heeded, or you and your arguments and your agents were not heeded down at Guantanamo?
No, we weren't in charge. We were one voice and we were -- we were strenuously arguing that, you know, just from a practical point of view, you need to try different things. You need to establish rapport. You need to use a relationship and take your time. And while they acknowledged, in some cases, that it would take time, they said, "We don't have the time. We have to produce results. We have to do something now. And so we're not going to do what you say. And oh, by the way, you don't know what you're talking about, because we know this works elsewhere."
You and others took this up the chain of command, took it into conversations in the Pentagon. You took it at least to Jim Haynes, the General Counsel of the Defense Department. Can you tell me about that meeting?
During the summer of 2002, into 2003 -- we had regular meetings with our leadership, which for me went all the way up to the Secretary of the Army, and also with the DOD General Counsel, Mr. Haynes. So on a regular basis we would talk about the progress that we had had in our investigations and so forth. In several of those meetings, we brought up the fact that we were in conflict with the intelligence community on the ground in Guantanamo about tactics, and that we were very concerned that the tactics that were being used would not only affect our investigations -- they were already affecting the way that we conducted our interviews -- but they would affect the outcome of our investigations, and that they would create other problems. I mean at the very least, they were going to -- they were going to create an appearance that we were doing something wrong. And so we told the officials that we briefed that on a regular basis.
You didn't know what you were talking about.
I had that experience, yes, absolutely.
First of all, go back to the intense pressure. The senior leadership in DOD and in the intelligence community was not immune from that pressure either. And they were the ones that were expected to produce results. So I'm sure they were very frustrated in not being able to accomplish that mission.
Secondly, in some cases the people that were making those decisions didn't have practical experience themselves. Some of the people that told me that they knew for a fact that this or that would work had never conducted an interview in their life, didn't work with intelligence officers or law enforcements officers who had done those kind of interviews. And so they were making policy decisions without really having firsthand knowledge or good information to make those decisions on.
And then third, I think the intelligence community and the people who are conducting this business were still operating with a lot of false assumptions. Their doctrine went back years before, so they didn't have -- they didn't have the experience, the base, the education, and they didn't call upon the right experts, I think, to make those decisions. So I think it was a combination of those factors: the pressure, the lack of firsthand experience and good information to make decisions, and then kind of a history. It didn't back them up.
But at least some of these so-called intelligence experts were telling the policy makers they knew what they were doing?
And I guess there are some that probably were experts, and I think there was an awful lot who were so-called. If you look at some of the people that were put in charge of Guantanamo, they had very little experience with intelligence. They had very little experience with detention operations. They had very little experience with interrogations. And yet these were the ones that were making the decisions, and were put under the pressure to make those decisions without a lot of good information.
When did you realize, or your agents realize, that some of this had something to do with this SERE training?
The survival, evasion, resistance, and escape tactics. That took place in summer of 2002, the discussions. And I think -- I don't remember exactly how we first heard about it. I think we first heard about it from someone at Guantanamo, and they talked to us, and we discussed it up in the Task Force. And that's when I talked to Mike Gelles and some of our other advisors there. And we collectively, rather quickly, came to the conclusion that that was a false lead. That was a bad way to go. SERE was designed as a training tactic. It was a way to approximate the pressures that a captured American might be placed under and to train him to be able to deal with some of his discomfort. It was not designed as a true elicitation tactic.
And when you start talking about this phenomenon of experimentation and the chain of frustration, experimentation and then more, I think this is a prime example. Casting about for something that might work. "Well, how about a SERE tactic? I went through that school, and that put me under a lot of pressure, and might that work with these guys?" Again, it was designed as a training mechanism. It was not designed as an elicitation technique. It was not tested. It's never been tested to actually produce reliable results. And again, you have the same problems that I described before. You might simply evoke a response that might not produce reliable information. And is it right to do those same kinds of things to someone who's in detention, truly, and not someone who has signed up to take training? People that go through the SERE training are all volunteers. And it's just that. It's a training mechanism.
And it's a training mechanism, as I understand it, that was modeled on the methods of governments whom we considered unethical at best, and people who tortured at worst.
That's where it was developed. It was developed basically in the Cold War as a result of persons being captured in Korea, and what we believed happened with them, what we believed was being done in Asia, what we believed was later done in southeast Asia with some of our captives. So we were trying to design a training program that would help our people understand what kinds of things go on in their own heads when they're placed under those pressures. But I'm not sure how that translates into an elicitation tactic, a way of really getting the truth.
In other words, getting information.
Do you believe that abusive techniques -- they have lots of other problems, which you have listed, but also put false intelligence into the system?
I think that's probably the number one concern. To be perfectly honest, if you really -- if you say that we have to take a very objective, hardhearted view of it, and we have to get answers, isn't it important that we get the right answers? Because if we don't, might we not put our soldiers, our intelligence officers, and others in danger, acting on false intelligence? And I think it's very easy that that could occur. Now, you might get a good answer, you might get a reliable answer that turns out to be true. But on the other hand, do you want to take that risk? And what -- on what basis do you make that decision? How do you determine what is produced in that kind of an interview and whether or not it's true?
During this time that you're talking about, spring, summer of 2002, it was discovered, as I understand it by the law enforcement people, that there was a potentially high value detainee.
Mohammed Qahtani had been detained at a US border station in Florida. I met the agent who actually detained him several months ago. He had been turned away, and later we identified that that was part of the plot. When he was first captured in the early interviews with him, conducted by intelligence personnel and by the FBI and by the Criminal Investigation Task Force, information was developed that indicated that he was, in fact, the same person that had been turned away at the border. That was relatively early.
He had allegedly been in Florida to meet up with Atta, who had been, we think, at the airport to pick him up. So a lot of -- we didn't know all the facts, but it was relatively early that in the early interviews with him, we identified that possibility. And that was done by law enforcement officers, as well as some of the intelligence operatives down there. As time went on, he was of great interest to everybody, and everyone believed that he could provide a lot more information, so he became a detainee of great interest. And during the summer and fall of 2002, the development of a plan to further exploit and interrogate Mohamed Qahtani became kind of the focal point for the intelligence community at Guantanamo.
Tell me about the conflict that eventually developed over the plan to interrogate al-Qahtani.
You're aware that the intelligence community at Guantanamo had prepared a plan to further exploit Mohamed Qahtani. We didn't agree with aspects of that plan, because it was very aggressive, and it was very intense. It was designed to produce stress and to put him under the impression that he was under great control.
We didn't think that was the best way to get at this particular subject. We, on the other hand, were recommending an approach that would establish a relationship, and in a long-term discussion, probably produce more information based on what he had said before. Build on what he had said before. So while the community at Guantanamo produced this plan, we offered an alternative plan. And it was put together by our agents and our consultants, and we offered that up to the commander down there, and we were basically refused further access.
The dialogue began under General Dunlavey. By the time it came to the point where we were recommending an alternative plan, it was General Miller.
How did he view his mission?
General Miller is an artillery soldier. He had a mission to produce intelligence. He's probably the epitome of someone who was placed into a circumstance for which he was not expertly trained. He wasn't an expert in detention operations, in intelligence operations, and especially not in interrogation. So he relied on the experts that he surrounded himself with.
But General Miller know that he had a mission, to produce results. And as a matter of fact, when I first met General Miller and I brought him to my Task Force, and I briefed him on what our mission was, he ended the conversation in our taskforce with, "I've been hired, I've been assigned to do this job, and I'm going to go down and get results." So I knew that he was -- and this is not a disparaging term -- a simple soldier. He knew what his mission was and he was about getting results. But he was focused on that production of actionable intelligence, and so I think he listened very closely to those people that he believed were the experts.
Those were the intelligence, the military intelligence folks that he had on the island with him there. They were telling him these aggressive ways of getting at it were the best. We offered an alternative. And General Miller basically said, "That's not the way we want to go. And oh, by the way, if you're not going to help us in this, if you're not going to participate in this, if you don't want to -- don't want to be on our team, you're out of here." Not kicking us off the island, but basically saying, "You don't need any more access to this detainee." So we sat back and we waited until later to go back and conduct further investigations.
December 2nd, the end result of this memo, that General Dunlavey sends up on October 11th. Secretary Rumsfeld does, indeed, sign this memo authorizing all of these techniques. Was your Task Force informed that the Secretary had signed off on all of this?
We got a copy of the memo, kind of -- we got it I think through the Army General Counsel's Office. It wasn't a high priority to notify us of the results of that. We weren't addressees on it or anything like that. But we became aware of it relatively soon. We weren't an addressee on it, so we found out about it kind of through roundabout ways. Eventually got a copy of it, though.
Shortly after that December 2nd Secretary of Defense memo, General Miller issues this standard operating procedure SERE proposal for Guantanamo. Were you addressees on that?
We were not. And I think it was -- I think the folks at Guantanamo were very well aware that we were not fans of that tactic, and that whole approach. And so consequently, we were not included in further discussions about that tactic. And none of our agents participated in any training associated with that. And again, we found out about it kind of by the way. As you might expect, there was a strained relationship between my task force and the Task Force at Guantanamo. We worked through it, people were professional in how they dealt with one another, but it was very strained.
At some point you issued an order. Tell me what that order was and essentially what prompted it.
In the spring and summer of 2002, we saw differences in how the intelligence interviews were going and how ours were. We decided to kind of separate ourselves at that point. By the fall of 2002, and I think the first time I did this was in September -- or October - I sent out, by email, instructions to our agents basically saying that "If you see something that you think is wrong, we want you to report it to us immediately. We want you to disengage. We don't want you involved in anything that might be questionable, that you're uncomfortable with, or we think might be incorrect. You are to report back to agents at the Task Force headquarters if you observe anything that you think is wrong." So that was -- that was based on the recommendation from one of my attorneys who had been on the ground in the summer of 2002, and he called it a stand clear policy. And so we used that -- those words, I think, in some of our correspondence. So we first put it out by email.
The question was whether or not the whole policy on how we would deal with these adversary -- or these aggressive interviews -- how would that affect us? My top agent, Mark Fallon, strongly, strongly believed that we could not be a part in any way to anything that might be seen as illegal or improper. And he felt so strongly about that, that he basically said, "If we're going to go down that path, I don't want to be a part of it." And his chain of command backed him up. He convinced me. And he was absolutely correct.
The lesson learned there is that this is an experienced agent who had dealt in terrorism cases many times before, years and years of experience. And he knew from his gut that it would be absolutely wrong for us to even observe those kinds of tactics. And so that was the genesis of our policy. We first did it verbally and by email, and then we later put it into writing. And we made sure that every one of our agents understood exactly what that policy was: "You're going to operate the way you normally do. If you see anything else, you're going to disengage from it and report back to us."
So are you reporting this up your own chain of command in the Army? What are you saying to --
As I said, not only did we have regular updates with Mr. Haynes, but we also -- I had regular updates with my immediate supervisor, who was General Ryder, and the Secretary of the Army. And so throughout 2002 and into 2003, on a regular basis, sometimes monthly, sometimes every two or three months, we would have those briefings. And we reported that we had this conflict with the other interrogators and with the JTF Guantanamo. The Secretary of the Army at that time, Mr. White, was very supportive of what we were doing and told us to do nothing differently. And the same thing with General Ryder. He was very supportive throughout this. And they, too, I believe -- although I wasn't party to it -- had conversations with the Army General Counsel and others in DOD to express our concerns with this.
Guantanamo was described as a battle lab for interrogation. Tell me a bit about that.
"Battle lab" is an Army doctrinal term. And it refers to a center for lessons learned, a center of excellence, a place in which you will develop new tactics, techniques, and procedures. I heard General Miller refer to Guantanamo in several briefings as a "battle lab for interrogation," as a strategic interrogation center. I always thought that was a bad term. I don't think he meant it to be -- meant it to imply that there was experimentation going on. But that's certainly what the term implies, that you are trying out different things to see what will work. And that's just -- that's a bad message to send.
You don't want to say that we're experimenting with detained persons. I never really thought that was a good term to use. I think what General Miller meant was that Guantanamo was a place that, by definition, we were going to learn lessons from; that the way that we conducted interrogations and interviews and operations down there, we would necessarily develop tactics, techniques, and procedures that would be used in the future. But by using that term, I think it suggests that we were experimenting and that we were trying out different things just to see what would work. And I don't think that's entirely untrue. At least at the lower levels, I think that in fact had taken place.
I don't think we ever had an ethical dilemma when it came to deciding what our policy was. We decided for practical reasons. But I think it -- as a result of the training of our agents and our leaders in law enforcement, ways of doing business, I think it came naturally to us that -- why would we do anything different from the way we normally would? We have processes. We have learned how to do things that achieve some results. And we have also leaned on the expertise of behavioral experts and area experts who tell us that absolutely that's the right way to pursue this particular target. You have to establish a relationship. You have to be able to sit down and, through rapport, get the persons to talk.
In the Middle Eastern culture, you have a great advantage as a westerner. And we don't really take advantage of this. And I'm not trying to be stereotypical here, but Middle Easterners, particularly Arabs, love to talk. They are talking people. They're very verbal. That is an advantage that we should take advantage of. That's something that we should have capitalized on earlier. I think one of the big mistakes that we had in this whole process was not getting to know our potential enemies very well. And we are just now beginning to do that. We're just now beginning to get smarter about the people that we're dealing with.
And that's the bottom line, too, is, you know, you talk about a moral argument. You're dealing with people's lives. The detained persons at Guantanamo, at Bagram, at Abu Ghraib, at Camp Bucca, and everywhere else that we hold them, are human beings. They may be very dangerous human beings, and we have to decide how dangerous they are. But you still have to treat them that way.
Do you think that the al Qahtani interrogation was illegal?
Maybe it wasn't technically illegal. But it doesn't matter. That's really an irrelevant argument in some ways because was it useful? Was it right?
And it's proven that like the other things, sooner or later, everything comes to pass. Mark Fallon used to say, "There's no such thing as a secret. It's just a delayed disclosure." I thought that was a great term, and he taught me that. And everything was going to come to light. And in light, it wasn't very well done. I don't think it was very practical, either. I think some of the things that we did with detainees there, Qahtani being one of them as the plan was reported in the press -- I think you could -- I think it would be very easy to describe some of those things as silly and stupid. And they weren't effective.
We didn't learn anything much more than what we already knew.
I don't think so. I mean, I saw the interrogation reports. I know there were things that were produced. I don't think we learned a lot more as a result of that. I think we might have learned a lot more, no matter what, as time had gone on. I think we might have even lost the benefit of some of our information by wasting time doing that.
But as I understand from the Pentagon itself, in a press release issued some years ago, he implicated 15, 18, 20 other people who were already detained at Guantanamo. How reliable is that information?
Again, I think you better -- when you obtain information under those kinds of circumstances, you better be able to corroborate it otherwise. It might lead you to ask other people questions. But it's hard to use that information with any degree of reliability.
How did something that we viewed as examples of what an unethical government would do, whether it's Soviet Union, China, Korea, North Korea -- become something that we did?
I think you can sum it up in two words: frustration and to some degree desperation, absolute need to stop the next attack and produce something, at all cost. By some people's thinking, at all cost, at any cost. And it kind of gets you to the question of total warfare. You know, how far are we willing to go against our adversaries? Are we willing to use any tactic in order to protect our interests, in order to protect our citizens? Is it okay to go beyond the pale in terms of how you treat one human being if you can save 500? And so I think that's the basic question.
But I think the real reason is we were frustrated that other things were not working. We were desperate to find something that might. And we chose, I think wrongly, to go down some of these paths. Now, some of the intelligence officers that were at Guantanamo and some that were overseas -- I would say many that were there and many that were overseas -- operated ethically and did what they thought was right and in many cases was the right thing. And many of them will tell you today that they firmly believe that the way to get at this target, if you need to interview these people, is to establish a relationship. And it's funny because General Dunlavey says that today.
So does General Miller.
And neither one of them said it when I first met them. However, there are those few that were in that pocket of frustration, in that time of great pressure, and I think they experimented. They turned with some desperation to other ways of doing business. And I don't think it worked. I don't think it produced reliable results. And so I think -- I think we were right in what we did and the ways that we did business. I think there were some serious mistakes that were made.
At the very least, before we go down those paths, it should be a considered decision on the best information that we can get. We ought to bring in all the experts. When it comes to doing interrogations and interviews, we should have brought in the law enforcement experts who had done those kinds of things. We should have brought in the behavioral science experts that knew what the state of the art is. And we should have made very considered rational decisions before we went down the road and created our battle lab mentality.