‘Some Will Call Me a Torturer’: CIA Man Reveals Secret Jail

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Wed Jul 6 02:33:22 PDT 2011

(plenty of comments)


bSome Will Call Me a Torturerb: CIA Man Reveals Secret Jail

    By Spencer Ackerman Email Author July 1, 2011  | 2:43 pm  | 

    Categories: Spies, Secrecy and Surveillance

Admitting that bsome will call me a torturerb is a surefire way to cut
yourself off from anyonebs sympathy. But Glenn Carle, a former CIA operative,
isnbt sure whether hebs the hero or the villain of his own story.

Distilled, that story, told in Carlebs new memoir The Interrogator, is this:
In the months after 9/11, the CIA kidnaps a suspected senior member of
al-Qaida and takes him to a Mideast country for interrogation. It assigns
Carle b like nearly all his colleagues then, an inexperienced interrogator b
to pry information out of him. Uneasy with the CIAbs new, relaxed rules for
questioning, which allow him to torture, Carle instead tries to build a
rapport with the man he calls CAPTUS.

But CAPTUS doesnbt divulge the al-Qaida plans the CIA suspects him of
knowing. So the agency sends him to bHotel Californiab b an unacknowledged
prison, beyond the reach of the Red Cross or international law.

Carle goes with him. Though heavily censored by the CIA, Carle provides the
first detailed description of a so-called bblack site.b At an isolated
bdiscretely guarded, unremarkableb facility in an undisclosed foreign country
(though one where the Soviets once operated), hidden CIA interrogators work
endless hours while heavy metal blasts captivesb eardrums and disrupts their
sleep schedules.

Afterward, the operatives drive to a fortified compound to munch Oreos and
drink somberly to Grand Funk Railroad at the bJihadi Bar.b Any visitor to
Guantanamo Baybs Irish pub b ObKellys, home of the fried pickle b will
recognize the surreality.

But Carle b codename: REDEMPTOR b comes to believe CAPTUS is innocent.

bWe had destroyed the manbs life based on an error,b he writes. But the black
site is a bureaucratic hell: CAPTUSb reluctance to tell CIA what it wants to
hear makes the far-off agency headquarters more determined to torture him.
Carlebs resistance, shared by some at Hotel California, makes him suspect. He
leaves CAPTUS in the black site after 10 intense days, questioning whether
his psychological manipulation of CAPTUS made him, ultimately, a torturer

Eight years later, the CIA unceremoniously released CAPTUS. (The agency
declined to comment for this story.) Whether that means CAPTUS was innocent
or merely no longer useful as a source of information, we may never know.
Carle spoke to Danger Room about what itbs like to interrogate a man in a
place too dark for the law to find.

Wired.com: Do you consider yourself a torturer? At the end of the book, you
wrestle with the question.

Glenn Carle: According to Justice Department lawyer John Yoobs August 2002
memo on interrogation, the answer is no. As one can see from the entire book,
I opposed all these practices and this approach. I was involved in it,
although I tried to stop what I considered wrong. I feel I acted honorably
throughout my involvement in the CAPTUS operation, and tried to have him
treated properly, but much of it was disturbing and wrong.

Wired.com:: Youbre maybe the only CIA officer to publicly describe a bblack
siteb prison, your Hotel California. What was it like to be inside a place
completely off the books from any legal accountability? Did it make you feel
like you could act with impunity? How did you restrain yourself?

Carle: No, I never, never felt like I could or should act with impunity. No
one I know felt that way. We all felt we were involved in an extraordinary,
sensitive operation that required very careful behavior. What was acceptable
was often unclear, despite the formal guidance that eventually was developed.

bHow did I restrain myselfb implies perhaps that I was inclined to act in
unrestrained ways. I never, ever was; nor were, in my experience, my
colleagues. From literally the first second I was briefed on the operation, I
was acutely aware that I would have to weigh every step I took, and decide
what was morally, legally acceptable. There was never the slightest thought
that I or anyone could act with impunity. We were acting clandestinely; but
never beyond obligations to act correctly and honorably. The dilemma comes in
identifying where those lines are, in a situation in which much was murky.

Wired.com: You came to believe that the man you call CAPTUS bwas not a
jihadist or a member of al-Qaida.b Well, even so, was he still dangerous? Did
you ever feel he duped you? You write that he lied to you, after all.

Carle: CAPTUS himself was not a terrorist, or a dangerous man. He had been
involved in activities of legitimate concern to the CIA, because they did
touch upon al-Qabida activities. Thatbs a fact. But he was not a willing
member of, believer in, or supporter of, al-Qaida. He was not a terrorist,
had committed no crimes, had not intentionally supported jihad or terrorist

Did he dupe me? He evaded and lied on occasion, yes. And I always wrestled
with the question of whether he was duping me. In the end, I had to decide,
though, and I decided he was, fundamentally, straight with me. Never totally,
but fundamentally, yes. This is not a black- and white-hat situation. I try
to make that as clear as can be in the book. Little was simple b thus, my
descriptions of the bgray worldb in which knowledge is imperfect, motivations
and actions are sometimes contradictory b in which CAPTUS, perhaps, was
truthful, innocent, disingenuous, and complicit simultaneously.

Wired.com: Did you ever feel, at Hotel California or before, that
interrogating CAPTUS put you in legal jeopardy down the road?

Carle: I think everyone was concerned with this, at every level, and at every
second of onebs involvement in interrogation operations. We all worked very
hard to act legally.The challenges are how to reconcile contradictory laws,
which are morally repugnant, perhaps, and which leave room for broad
interpretation and abuse.

No one consciously broke the law, ever, in my experience or knowledge. But
what should one do? How could one follow onebs orders and accomplish onebs
mission, when it was flawed, objectionable, and perhaps itself legally,
albeit blegallyb ordered. Thatbs the supreme dilemma I wrestled with, and
others did, too.

Wired.com: When you first interrogate CAPTUS, you write that you tried to
establish a rapport with him b even as you kept him fearful that you
controlled his fate. When that didnbt get the intelligence CIA HQ wanted,
they shipped the both of you to Hotel California. Did CIA consider the
possibility that he wasnbt who they thought he was?

Carle: I had slow, partial, success during my time of involvement in bringing
colleagues and the institution to see him more as I did. But I failed,
ultimately. The view that he was a senior al-Qaida member or fellow-traveler
remained decisive for a long, long time. The agency or U.S. government didnbt
change its views for eight years. Perhaps it never did.

Wired.com: Run me through how CAPTUS was treated at the Hotel.

Carle: The objectives are to bdislocate psychologicallyb a detainee. This is
done through psychological and physical measures, primarily intended to
disrupt Circadian rhythms and an individualbs perceptions. So, noise,
temperature, onebs sense of time, sleep, diet, light, darkness, physical
freedom b the normal reference points for onebs senses are all distorted.
Reality disappears, and so do onebs reference points. It is shockingly easy
to disorient someone.

But that is not the same as making someone more willing to cooperate. The
opposite is true b as the CIAbs KUBARK interrogation manual cautions will
occur, as I predicted and forewarned and as occurred in my and other
officersb experiences.

Wired.com: In 2003, according to declassified documents, your old boss,
George Tenet approved the following benhanced interrogation techniquesb for
use on high-value detainees: bthe attention grasp, walling, the facial hold,
the facial slap (insult slap), the abdominal slap, cramped confinement, wall
standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation beyond 72 hours, the use of
diapers for prolonged periods, the use of harmless insects, the water board.b
Were any of these used on CAPTUS? Did you take part in any of their use?

Carle: No. These measures were formally set out, I believe, after my
involvement in interrogation. And in any event, from my first second of
involvement in the CAPTUS operation I simply would not allow or have anything
to do with any physical coercive measure. I would not do it. That point I was
certain of instantaneously. I also had literally never heard of waterboarding
until the story about it broke in the media.

Wired.com: Did you get any useful intelligence out of CAPTUS? If so, what
interrogation techniques bworkedb?

Carle: Oh, yes, CAPTUS definitely provided useful intelligence. The methods
that worked were the same ones that work in classic intelligence operations:
establishing a rapport with the individual, understanding his fears, hopes,
interests, quirks. It is a psychological task, very similar to what one
should do when establishing any human relationship.

The plan was to be a perceptive, and sometimes manipulative, thoughtful,
knowledgeable, and purposeful individual who understood the man sitting
opposite him, and earn his trust.

Wired.com: You came to question whether even the mild psychological
disorientation you induced on CAPTUS was too severe an interrogation method.
Why? Did you sympathize with CAPTUS too much?

Carle: There is always a danger for a case officer to bfall in loveb with his
btarget.b Thatbs the term we use. Any good officer guards against that, and
always questions his own perceptions. Always. But I was the one who looked in
CAPTUSb eyes for hours and hours and days and days. It was I who knew the
man, literally. Ibm confident in my assessment of him.

And yes, I at first accepted my training: that psychological dislocation
induced cooperation, and would not be lasting or severe, therefore could be
acceptable in certain circumstances. I came quickly to conclude that this was
founded on erroneous conclusions b nonsense, actually b about human psyche
and motivation. [It] did not work, was counterproductive and was, simply,
wrong in every way. So, I came to oppose it.

Wired.com: How did the CIA react to you publishing this book? Huge sections
of it are blacked out.

Carle: The agency redacted about 40 percent of the initial manuscript,
deleting entire chapters, almost none of which had anything to do with
protecting sources or methods. Much of it was so the agency could protect
itself from embarrassment, or from allowing any description of the
interrogation program to come out. One would infer, obviously, that large
segments of the agency would have preferred to leave CAPTUSb story in the
dark, where it took place.

Wired.com: David Petraeus, the incoming CIA director, suggested to Congress
that there might be circumstances where a return to benhanced interrogationb
is appropriate. What would you say to him?

Carle: That there is almost no conceivable circumstance in which the enhanced
interrogation practices are acceptable or work. This belief is a red herring,
wrong, and undoes us a bit. We are better than that. Enhanced interrogation
does not work, and is wrong. End of story.

Wired.com: The Justice Department decided on June 30 to seek criminal
inquiries in two cases of detainee abuses b out of 101. Was that justice, a
whitewash or something in between?

Carle: It wasnbt a whitewash. Itbs in general better not to seek retribution,
but to seek to inculcate correct values and behavior going forward.

Wired.com: Did you ever learn what happened to CAPTUSb treatment after you
left at Hotel California? Why was he was released? Have you tried to find
him? What would you tell him if you saw one another?

Carle: No. I left the case and knew nothing about him for years. I presume he
was released because the institution, at last, accepted what I had argued as
strongly as I had been able to do so. He was ultimately let go, I hope,
because the institution and U.S. government, at last, came to accept my view
of CAPTUS. His release validates b substantiates b everything I argued.

I came to respect CAPTUS. We are from such different worlds, and his and my
circumstances b he a detainee and I one of his interrogators b are so
radically different that conversation would be awkward if we ever met again.
It is natural that he feel resentment. And little was ever clear in the
entire operation. Thatbs the nature of intelligence work. He is not a total
innocent, I donbt think. But his rendition was not justified by the facts as
I came to learn them, which was at odds with the agencybs assessment of him.

Wired.com: Finally, how many CAPTUSes b people you believe to be innocent men
swept up in the CIA benhanced interrogationb system b are there?

Carle: I do not know.

Photos: DoD, U.S. Southern Command, U.S. Army,

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