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In the fall of 2002, CIA case officer Glenn Carle was given the most important mission of his career: interrogating a high-profile Al Qaeda member. But as the case stretched over months and years, he became convinced his agency had the wrong man. And he found it increasingly difficult to reconcile his idea of honor with his orders. He joins Kojo to discuss his new memoir.
- Glenn Carle Former CIA Case Officer (1985-2007); and author, The Interrogator: An Education (Nation Books)
Excerpted from Glenn Carle’s “The Interrogator: An Education.” Copyright 2011 by Glenn Carle. All rights reserved. Excerpted by kind permission of Nation Books.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It was an early breakthrough in the so-called war on terror. In 2002, the CIA captured a senior al-Qaida operative believed to be one of the top five or six figures in the entire organization. The agency hoped he'd help them take down al-Qaida's financial network and maybe even locate Osama bin Laden.
MR. KOJO NNAMDITrouble was the detainee wasn't talking very much. It could have been a career-making case for Glenn Carle. After almost two decades with the CIA, he was flown to a friendly country in the region to serve as interrogator. Trouble was the more time he spent on the case, the more he began to doubt the case against his detainee and the more troubled he became with the agency's evolving interrogation policies.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIGlenn Carle's memoir begins by acknowledging that some might consider him party to torture. He offers an insider perspective on the darker side of our counterterrorism policies and the ways bureaucracy can stifle dissent. Glenn Carle joins us in studio. He's a former CIA case officer from the years 1985 to 2007. He is author of the book, "The Interrogator: An Education." Glenn Carle, thank you for joining us.
MR. GLENN CARLEThank you very much for having me.
NNAMDIBeginning in the fall of 2002, you were brought in by the CIA to interrogate a high-value detainee being held in a friendly country. You're not allowed to name either the detainee or the country. But some journalists have noticed that the basic contours of the story overlapped with the public accounts of the story of Pacha Wazir. What can you tell us about the person you call CAPTUS?
CARLEWell, I'm not allowed to say the individual's name or the countries where I served. But I do think that knowledgeable followers of the war on terror and our counterterrorism activities can probably work out the blanks or fill them in. I was told what you summarized, which is that this was one of the top members of al-Qaida, and he could well help us possibly locate where bin Laden was and at the least could help us seriously damage the institution.
CARLEAnd this was early days in the war on terror and the CIA's counterterrorism response to that. So the agency had no interrogators. It's not the business the agency does. So they found operations officers, which is what I did in my career, and that's what the agency does overseas to meet the task.
NNAMDIBefore this book could be published, you had to submit the transcript to the CIA's Publication Review Board, which redacted many of the details in this story. Apparently, 40,000 of the 100,000 or so words you first submitted came back blacked out. You can actually see the blackouts in this book. Page 88 virtually is all blackout. Why did you decide to do it that way?
CARLEWell, I debated whether to leave some in or not. And for all of the extensive blackouts that are in the book, they are just a small hint of the initial devastation that the Publications Review Board inflicted on the manuscript. And in talking with my editors, I thought, well, this will break up the story, and the reader will be disoriented. And they felt and I think that they made the right decision that to see the struggle that I had and the issues that one cannot discuss was itself illuminating. They decided to leave them in.
NNAMDIYeah, we'll post a picture on our website, kojoshow.org, where you will see the aforementioned page 88. You spent how long working on the book, how long negotiating with the agency?
CARLEWell, I think the writing time was five or six months is my guess, relatively quickly. But the back and forth with the CIA on what they took out and what I tried to have put back in took about two years.
NNAMDIWhen you were first brought on to this case, this was a very raw and emotional time within the U.S. and within the CIA, just months after the 9/11 attacks. Clearly, this was a great, well, opportunity for you, but you also had misgivings from the beginning. Why?
CARLEWell, initially, I was told -- my boss came to my office, and he said, to summarize, there's a very important case. I need you to go away tomorrow for, initially 30 days, and it could be 60 or 90, easily. It's very important for the agency. It's important for the country, and it's important for you. Can you go? That's all that I knew. So, of course, one says yes to that.
CARLEOnce I had spoken with my wife and worked out the issues there, within an hour, I was told to go and see somebody else, who then said to me, we have one of the top members of al-Qaida. We're interrogating him, and we need your language skills. And the interrogation isn't going well. We'd like you to become involved.
NNAMDIWhen you were first brought in and told about your assignment, you questioned whether you were really allowed to do the things you were being asked or told to do.
CARLEYeah, that's very important. So once I was told this 30-, 60-day business, I was then sent to a different part of the -- of headquarters for the briefing on what, actually, I would be involved in. And the officer who was briefing me on the case, said, we captured this fellow. We're interrogating him. It's not going well. And you will do whatever it takes to get him to talk. Do you understand?
CARLEAnd I understood. I knew where I was going. And I knew the reputation of that country. And I knew the implications of his words. So I responded, well, we don't do that. And he rejoined, well, we do now. So from the first seconds, literally, of being briefed, I was quite conscious that this raised issues of grave concern for the agency and for me as the officer involved. It was quite clear to me.
NNAMDIAnd the supervisor asked you a very pointed question, which flag do you serve? What did that mean and imply to you?
CARLEWell, the exchange continued. When I said we don't do that, he said we do now, I then said, well, we would need at least direct presidential authorization. And the response was, well, we have it. The it turned out to be John Yoo's letter from July 2002, which essentially said, I, the president, authorize you, the CIA, to do whatever you want or whatever you need in the conduct of the interrogations.
CARLEThat's the gist. But it was a get-out-of-free card kind of thing, which troubled many people who read it eventually. And then, I thought okay. We have presidential authorization. And I said, well, supposed something happens that I think is unacceptable. And at this point, I was starting to irritate the fellow because I've been brought in for all of two minutes.
CARLEAnd who am I to question what the president, the attorney general, the director of the CIA, et cetera have all formally authorized and ordered? And he said, well, if something happens you don't find acceptable, you walk out of the room. You won't see anything, and nothing will have happened then, will it? And at that point, I thought okay. This -- of all times in my career, this is clearly a critical one for me and for the agency.
CARLEAnd I can't just roll on this, and I have to raise fundamental questions. So I said, well, what about the Geneva Conventions? And that's not something that one generally bandies about in the directorate of operations. We leave that to the lawyers. And he became irritated that I was continuing to challenge or at least raise questions about the program. And he responded, well, which flag do you serve?
NNAMDIWhat did that mean to you?
CARLEWell, either you follow your orders and you serve the American flag, and as I just said, the entire structure and processes of the U.S. government had formally authorized and approved this program. So either you follow your orders and you're part of the effort, or you're insubordinate.
NNAMDIThere was an interesting detail in the story. When you are told that the rules are expanding for what you could or could not do to detainees, you asked a very specific question about a specific directive, Executive Order 12333. What is that?
CARLEWell, it's a term that will be completely obscure to a normal citizen, probably happily. But Executive Order 12333 is, in many ways, the founding guiding document for the CIA. It was written after the scandals of the late '70s with the Church and Pike committees that found abuses by the CIA or operations that the CIA conducted on American citizens. And the civil laws were changed. It outlawed assassination.
CARLEIt outlawed having the CIA have anything to do with Americans and so on. It's our guiding document. And I can't -- I don't think anyone can quote a chapter and verse, except maybe the lawyers. But it's very important and part of my training to know what its principles are. And we obey the Constitution. We don't spy on Americans, and part of the Constitution is no cruel and unusual punishment.
CARLESo it was clear to me that the issue was raised, and that's why I mentioned it.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, in the public imagination, the CIA are -- is made up of people who kind of go out and do their own thing and do whatever is necessary. We are not only specifically unaware of 12333, but we're unaware that just about everything you do is governed by rules and regulations.
CARLEWell, there is the myth -- the expression that came out of the '70s was that the CIA is a rogue agency, off doing its own things and disobeying the law and ignoring political guidance. And, of course, movies reinforce all of this. But that's all foolishness. So that simply is not true. Everyone in the agency, from the top down to the very most junior employee, takes very seriously his or her oath. And we obey the laws and only act when authorized to do so.
CARLEThat doesn't mean that there aren't gray areas. The agency exists to break other countries' laws, and we will be instructed to push the limits. We serve the executive according to the law, and that is simply always what the agency does. Now, people may object to the policies and say that the policies break the laws. But the agency only follows its quite clear legal guidance.
NNAMDIOur guest is Glenn Carle. He is a former CIA case officer and author of the book, "The Interrogator: An Education." We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you think these issues of torture and enhanced interrogation look different from the inside or the outside? How best should we remedy excesses of the past? 800-433-8850. Does it make sense to pursue legal actions against CIA officers who cross the line? 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIYou can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to email@example.com. Today, Glenn Carle, most -- many of the policies that you write about have been explicitly rejected by the Obama White House. But there are still heated debates about how to address previous policies and possible constitutional and human rights violations committed by the CIA.
NNAMDIThe White House has mostly rejected the idea of prosecuting CIA interrogators with the exception of a narrow investigation by special counsel John Durham. What do you feel about all of this?
CARLEI think the Obama administration has made, really, the right decisions. I think it is important as the administration has said to look forward. I also think that the point we were talking about just a moment ago is very important. The agency and its officers were vigorous from the beginning of the war on terror in obtaining clear legal and policy guidance on what was authorized and what we were expected to do and ordered to do.
CARLEThe dilemma comes because the legal guidance, as I -- as we were talking about a moment ago, I found to be -- and many others, too -- in conflict with other laws and other obligations. And that raises the terrible dilemma that I explore in the book.
CARLEWhat do you do when the president has authorized you, according to -- following all of the formal accepted procedures for establishing a law and giving an order, when he orders you to do something that conflicts with other legal obligations, with the Constitution, with the Convention against Torture or Executive Order 12333? An officer is then in an acute dilemma. And that was the problem for years.
CARLESo, I think, to prosecute people put in that almost insoluble situation is not the right thing to do.
NNAMDIIn a recent op-ed in The Washington Post, Kenneth Roth, head of the -- head of Human Rights Watch, said it was essential to prosecute these cases, not to be vindictive, but because to avoid prosecution sets a dangerous precedent. How do you feel about that?
CARLEWell, I take the points. He and I -- I don't know him at all. But he and I appear to share the same objective. And I think many people would. And that is to do what we can so that excesses and these procedures -- so that torture, frankly -- is not part of America's activities, is repudiated and doesn't happen again, and that our laws are not put in conflict with each other or subverted.
CARLEI think a great lesson to learn from our history is that we're strengthened by looking ahead and by reconciliation, rather than thinking that retribution or punishment in some way strengthens our social compact. To me, the goal is to have Americans repudiate these approaches from ever being part of what American officials are allowed to do. And the way to do that is to turn away from them and denounce them, but not to divide us by going after the people who were put in a terrible situation in order to do things.
NNAMDIWell, of course, people have been conducting polls on this issue. And according to Public Religion Research Institute, 49 percent of Americans agree that torturing suspected terrorists to gain important information is never justified compared to 43 percent who disagree, but, broken down, that data tells a slightly different story.
NNAMDIThe 49 percent who say torture is never justified, that's broken down into 25 percent who completely agree and 24 percent who mostly agree, so that there is some sentiment, it seems, among a majority of the American people who are polled that some level of -- if you don't want to call it torture, some level of enhanced interrogation technique might work. What do you think about that?
CARLEWell, it's one of the main reasons why I wrote the book. I'm one of the few people to have been involved in these programs, although, happily for me, it was just several months and not for years and years. And the American public happily has not. But I, too, have seen the polls. And even without them, I've sensed what, to me, is a very disturbing, coarsening of our society and increase of acceptance that American officials may do these things under certain circumstances.
CARLEAnd I find that it is deeply alarming that the legacy of 9/11, for a decade now, has been to change the attitudes that Americans unconsciously have, actually, about what it is to serve the flag. And that's the first chapter the book is, which flag do you serve, just as you mentioned. And it's rhetorically concise but very important that I don't think anyone, if they really think about it, would accept that America embraces torture of the other.
CARLEAnd who are we torturing? I can't imagine people would say it's okay to torture someone we pick up off the street who's an American and looks like an American and so on. These are -- there's an element, frankly, of unthinking racism in this because they are foreigners, and they don't look the same. And so they aren't the same, and so -- and they're bad guys. And so it's okay. None of that is true. All of that is wrong.
CARLEAnd I can't -- I don't want to accept that Americans think this way. And that's why I wrote the book.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation with Glenn Carle. He's a former CIA case officer. His book is called "The Interrogator: An Education." Again, if you have questions or comments, 800-433-8850 is the number to call. Or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Glenn Carle. He's a former CIA case officer and author of the book, "The Interrogator: An Education." He was a CIA case officer from 1985 through 2007. You have said that some people might think that you are guilty of torture. But you insist that you never engaged in any sort of physical practices like waterboarding or walling.
CARLEWell, I never, actually, had even heard of the word or term waterboarding or the concept until it became public. It simply was -- it's not something I ever would have even conceived of, so I learned of that in the news. And the physical measures that -- you use the term walling. That came to be clearly defined by the Office of General Counsel and the agency. Those formal definitions and procedures and methods didn't exist when I was involved.
CARLEI was involved early days in the program. And we were just told to pressure the detainee, never given any specific order to do any specific thing. Was I -- I say I didn't do those -- the physical things from the first second that I was brought into the case and briefed on it. I just wouldn't do. I simply wouldn't do that sort of thing. I say some people would call me a torturer and others a hero.
CARLEI found that both things have occurred, as I anticipated. Some feel any involvement in the program or in the CIA by definition, you know, makes you complicit at the least. And others, more happily for me, have read the book and seen my efforts to act honorably and fulfill my mission at the same time and to oppose measures that I thought were unacceptable from any number of levels.
NNAMDIThere are a lot people who have defended what they call enhanced interrogation techniques, who have said, we defend them because, frankly, they work. Some of the most important information we got was a result of enhanced interrogation techniques. This book directly tries to challenge the idea that certain extreme interrogation techniques work or even that they should be used, even if they did work.
CARLEWell, I have two firsthand perspectives on that. One was my direct experience in the interrogation of this fellow whom I call CAPTUS in the book. This is the detainee we're talking about. And the other were -- was my subsequent years as the deputy national intelligence officer for essentially terrorism from 2004 to 2007 when I saw -- because it was relevant to my job -- reporting from all different sources.
CARLEAt the time, the Bush administration did tout in public the great successes and triumphs of uncertain cases in which enhanced interrogation techniques or torture were used, waterboarding primarily. In fact, subsequent to the dissemination of all of these intelligence reports -- which means they're writing and then sending them to policymakers -- I think just about every one of them was recalled, formally recalled by the agency as untrustworthy.
CARLEBecause the information obtained under duress was frequently proven to be wrong, more frequently proven to be unverifiable and untrustworthy, and, to my knowledge, there was essentially no useful information that came from enhanced interrogation techniques.
NNAMDIWell, before we get to the phones, and there are a lot of people waiting for you, there a couple of aspects that I want to look at. Do you think that the response that you found in polls that tends to favor enhanced interrogation techniques comes from a visceral human response that said, if you subject people to enough pain, ultimately, they'll give you what you want?
CARLEWell, even though -- we all know the expression that even a broken clock is right twice a day. I think enhanced interrogation is more effective than a broken clock. Sen. McCain pointed out, too, and he was careful to do so, and he was right. He said he wouldn't be foolish enough to say that enhanced interrogation never obtains useful information. But that misleads the debate. One, it rarely does.
CARLETwo, if it does, it's exponentially more difficult to identify if the information is correct. So that makes it harder to use even if it is good. And, three, we shouldn't even really be having this debate because we don't need to do these measures to obtain the intelligence we need. And it is wrong for Americans to say it is okay to cause pain, severe and lasting pain to anybody.
NNAMDIYou also believe that there's a bigger flaw in the broader strategic idea of defeating terrorists and preventing terrorism, that we have an unrealistic idea of what the problem is, so our solutions can't ever really work.
CARLEWell, this is one of the most important evolutions in my awareness and thinking and discoveries, you could actually say, is early on about -- in 2001, I shared the standard view, which was that the terrorist threat was coherent, pervasive, growing, if not existential even. And progressively, as I learned more from the case that I was involved in with the detainee, and especially in my work, looking at all of the intelligence and assessing the strategic issues, I came to see that we had vastly misunderstood the nature of the threat.
CARLEThere are people who are trying to kill us. There are people we need to oppose in the intelligence community and counterterrorism officials need to go after. But that is not the same thing as saying it is an existential threat and that it is pervasive.
NNAMDIIn the case of the detainee referred to in the book as CAPTUS, tell us about how your impressions of CAPTUS evolved because at one point you began to doubt that he was guilty of what the CIA higher-ups said he was.
CARLEWell, the briefing described him as -- as we have said here on the air -- as one of the top leaders, critical information and so on. And I know my colleagues to be talented, diligent, hardworking and to challenge their assumptions. That's one of the things we were supposed to do in the business. And so I assumed that they had. That's what one does. The body of work done on this fellow was, really, very impressive. So that's -- I took that as convincing.
CARLEI was the one, however, sitting directly across from him, looking in his eyes and talking to him all day and able to assess his answers, whether they were verifiable or misleading, whether he seemed, to me, to dance around and assure to be truthful. And I progressively found him to be fundamentally, not entirely, but fundamentally responsive. And his responses actually undermined the assessment that we'd made, that he was a central member of al-Qaida's organization.
NNAMDIIndeed, you said he wasn't necessarily innocent. And the United States began targeting terrorist funding networks, and this guy was involved in moving money, so to speak. The U.S. began confronting difficult cultural questions here. Money often courses through the economy through a system called hawala, which is informal and has little paper trail.
CARLEIt does have some paper trail but not a formal one in institutions, the way our banking -- western banking system works, certainly. It is a dilemma. I mean, at what point does one become complicit and an accessory to a problem? Is a banker in Citibank who conducts transactions for illegal activities -- is he an accessory to the crime? If he does so knowingly and with the intent to avoid detection, it's certainly yes. But if he doesn't, it's a much murkier question.
NNAMDIAnd that's what you found in this situation, a murkier question?
CARLEOh, everything was murky in this.
NNAMDIHere we go now. We'll go to Hal in Washington, D.C., on the phone. Hal, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HALThank you. This is a comment for your comment. We have prosecuted waterboarding in the past in the U.S. Comment: It is the persons who ordered those acts. And this means Bush, Rumsfeld, et cetera, who should be investigated and warranted, prosecuted. The fact that the Obama administration has taken no action whatsoever, allows this country to stand as just one more torturing government.
HALAnd it seems, to me, because of that, there is no reconciliation that is possible. We are simply a government that approves torture.
NNAMDIHal, thank you very much for your call. I'm going to move on to John in District Heights, Md., who has a similar concern as you did, Hal. So here is John in District Heights. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNThat gentlemen echoed my sentiments exactly, except I want to go one step further. The rest of the Islamic world, the Muslim world, we have absolutely no credibility with them whatsoever. We want to take everybody to the court in the Hague for the crimes against humanity. But when it comes down to holding our government officials accountable, we want to look ahead and don't want to look back. That is extremely hypocritical.
JOHNIt shows we are not a nation of laws. We believe American people are above the law. The higher you are in the government, the further you are above the law. But now other nations know -- no, no. You're going to go to court in the Hague, and we're going to see that you get home.
JOHNI mean, what President Bush did and Cheney and that whole crowd, and then turn around and have the lawyers to legitimize what they did, and then the President knows the Constitution, it's unconscionable to think that we can hold our head up in the world and say we are a nation of laws and then want everybody else to embrace our form of democracy. This is why they don't want it. It's such hypocritical. Thank you.
NNAMDIJohn, thank you for your call. Glenn Carle, what do you say to John and our previous caller?
CARLEWell, I think both points are very powerful. And at the end of my book, I think I touch upon similar perspectives. And I try to make clear, how could all of this have happened? And, shockingly, I found that -- maybe this won't be shocking to the -- to people who commented or to other listeners, that our government was not this vast bureaucracy with checks and balances and laws of dozens or hundreds of thousands of people.
CARLEBut it actually was run by an incredibly small number of people making the decisions, even down to a dozen bypassing the laws. And I do write that the people who are responsible for what happened are this small number. And I think they're most deserving to be on the bench.
NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned that because, even though the CIA is supposed to have, I guess, firewalls, you know, to prevent the institution from being too drastically swayed by policy changes at the very top, as you pointed it out, you placed a lot of the blame for what happened on a relatively small number of people in the White House, former President Bush, legal advisors like John Yoo from the Office of Legal Counsel, presumably Vice President Cheney.
NNAMDIWhat does it say about the structure of the CIA that a handful of people were able to, at least in your eyes, tarnish the agency?
CARLEWell, not just the agency, I think that as the commenters meant, the entire United States government and our society. I think it is profoundly disturbing, and this is why I wrote the book. I could not believe what I was and all of us were either grudgingly, unwillingly or sometimes willingly, ignorantly, consciously party to.
CARLEThat despite the opposition of many people in the Department of Justice and in the Office of General Counsel of the CIA and on the chain of command of the CIA and of the U.S. military, despite all of that, despite our laws, a half dozen or 10 people were able to write laws and issue orders from the executive branch that said all of this is legally authorized and constituted. And you will do it.
CARLEAnd I wrote at one point, I found -- goodness me, we aren't the nation of laws that I took an oath to preserve and protect. What have we become? And that's why I wrote the book. I was just shocked. And when I would mention that, I'll just -- when I would dare to mention this at the time, people often would look at me as though I was some sort of extremist or partisan.
NNAMDIWhich flag do you serve?
CARLEAnd, yeah, that's right.
CARLEAnd I'm neither one, but it was stunning.
NNAMDIBut it also raises the question about the future. The administration in office right now is opposed to the use of these enhanced interrogation techniques. What happens if the next administration in the White House happens to be led by somebody who favors these techniques, feels that they work? Can we be going through all of these all over again?
CARLEWell, I think suspending them was certainly better than ratifying or continuing them. But I do think that it falls a little short. You can argue that we needn't -- they are illegal measures. We have the laws that define what is acceptable or not, the Geneva Convention, the Convention Against Torture and so on. So I don't think we necessarily need more laws. But to affirm them, I think, rather than just to suspend measures is probably important, yes.
NNAMDIBut here's this email we got from Dan, "With all of the horrific acts that terrorists have conducted against innocent civilians, would you feel the same if these techniques were used to extract information to save the life of your family member?"
CARLEYes, I would. I mean, it's a false debate. This is a sort of a variant of the ticking time bomb scenario that Vice President Cheney used to justify all of these measures. And the thing is 9 million times out of 9 million and one, that case does not obtain, and you develop your law -- you write your laws and develop your practices on what is overwhelmingly likely to be the case that you would confront.
CARLEIt's almost inconceivable that there would be a terrorist in my control, whom I would know has information about an imminent attack. And you don't betray your principles under any circumstance, really. Now, if ever I were to know that I could obtain something that would save thousands of lives, of course, I and anyone would do whatever was -- would work.
CARLEBut those cases are truly so extraordinary as not to be relevant for devising -- developing one's laws and practices.
NNAMDINow, let me draw something from popular culture because a lot of officials, or quite a few officials, drew from it, and they said, look, you ever watch the television series "24?" This stuff works all the time. We're simply following that course.
CARLEYeah, well, I refuse to watch the program on principle and wouldn't -- I never saw the thing. I thought the thing was offensive. Its cowboy. It's a cowboy show put into the modern era and sort of propaganda for the Bush administration's approach to measures. And we should know what our principles are, what are our laws are. And we either fulfill them and abide by them, or we betray them.
CARLEAnd if the measures don't work, we aren't -- shouldn't be cowboys who disobey the law. And that's not how the real world functions. And I would note, who were the people who speak against these measures? They're the professional officers who have some knowledge of what they are talking about, Steve Kleiman or Matthew Alexander or, to a lesser extent, myself simply 'cause my involvement was not as a lengthy as theirs, et cetera, et cetera.
CARLEThe only people whom of I'm aware who speak in favor of these things are armchair interrogators who are defending political positions but don't know what they're talking about.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back you, can still call us, 800-433-8850. What are your views are of enhanced interrogation techniques? Are you for or against? And do you think that people who used them in the past should be prosecuted? 800-433-8850. Or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Glenn Carle. He's a former CIA case officer. And his book is called, "The Interrogator: An Education." He was a CIA case officer between 1985 and 2007. And, Glenn Carle, I'm guessing that, in your experience, you didn't run into anything that you have heard about that was on the show "24" because you didn't watch the show? So you may have heard some things?
CARLEWell, that's -- I think that's true. I can talk about the enhanced interrogation techniques that were being put in place and used when I was involved. And they conform quite closely to the measures that have become public, where they are measures that become public. And there were two approaches. The goal was to dislocate someone psychologically, the theory being that in doing so you made the person more malleable and willing to share information.
CARLEThe way you do that are by using physical and/or psychological measures. The physical ones I've talked about, whatever they might be, I simply refused from the first second to have anything to do with myself and stopped whenever I had any control, any of that from being even contemplated. The psychological measures, I've been taught, worked. I had been subjected to them in part of my training.
CARLEAnd so, initially, I thought, well, if it's not severe and lasting, our formal guidance is that that's the definition of what's acceptable or not. And if it works -- and I'm told by the experts it does -- we need to get this information. I found that that was also spurious and sort of crazy science and is all wrong. However, the larger point, I think, is -- pardon me -- that there's a visceral assumption that being tough is necessary to protect us.
CARLEThat's understandable but misleading. What you want to be is smart and effective. And you'll be tough when it is necessary and conforms to your principles, but you don't have to be tough in a visceral way. What you want to do is accomplish the mission, which, in this case, is obtain information. And it's not by intimidation necessarily or physical or mental pain. It's by knowing how to get the information. It's not the same thing.
NNAMDIIndeed, you make the argument that how you actually break someone, at least in your view, you're a firm believer in establishing rapport with your subject.
CARLEAbsolutely. This is one of the crazy debates that I had with the agency for a year-and-a-half, which I, frankly, was flabbergasted by. I initially wrote -- I made clear that there's a distinction between breaking someone down and breaking someone -- breaking someone, being convinced -- getting this person in a state where he or she will provide information. The agency took all this out for the longest time. Eventually, I managed to get it back in in the whole.
CARLEI think they found that it would take us in a direction that they didn't want to go 'cause it looks really bad. And it does. Breaking someone down is very easy. That's physical or psychological deterioration. You can do that in 36 hours. Breaking someone is a totally different thing. And because you make someone unhappy or in pain, what you do is increase resentment. You don't increase a willingness to cooperate.
CARLEAnd I found the skills required to do the job of interrogation were identical to those that I had been hired and trained to do as an operations officer. And that is to understand the person sitting across from me and what his hopes and fears and attitudes and aspirations and quirks are in a way that I can help him realize some of his dreams and avoid some of his fears. That's the job of an interrogator.
NNAMDIIn this story and even in the public debate about torture and enhanced techniques, there's been an interesting secondary question. If you think it's wrong for the United States to torture, is it wrong for the U.S. to look the other way when our allies might be doing that right under our nose?
CARLEThat's a tough question. And it's broader than just torture 'cause there are all sorts of policy issues. And it's been a challenge for the United States and throughout its history of international relations. Politics, international relations is a tough business. And there are times when the government will, in its own interest, in our own interest, decide that it is preferable to deal with state X or on issue Y when, theoretically, we'll find those -- or we might find those practices or policies objectionable.
CARLEBut there are an almost infinite number of factors that go into deciding what our policies should be. So I -- one cannot be too purist in foreign relations, or else we'll end up accomplishing nothing.
NNAMDIThis book also takes the reader into the world of black site prisons. And the world you described is a very weird blend of places with rules and absolutely no rules. Give us a sense of what black sites look and feel like.
CARLEWell, I found that it seems the one I went to, which applies the measures of enhanced interrogation, was right out of the training that I had received. And this was part of when I was interrogated. I -- in order to learn how to cope, there are measures that one can learn to cope with these terrible things happening to you, which is very useful training. The measures were applied to our detainees.
CARLEAnd as I've said, their -- the objective is to dislocate a person psychologically. And so how do you do this? You do this by altering one's senses. We have -- we see and perceive the world and understand ourselves through our five senses. So if you alter what is normal, you lose a sense of reality.
NNAMDIHere is Andrew in Alexandria, Va. Andrew, your turn.
ANDREWYes. Thank you very much for taking my call. And I would like to thank the guest today for revealing, you know, writing this book and revealing some of the practices in how we do business. You know, we've earned up the trust of the American people, and there's a necessary veil of secrecy around what we do. But it's also important that that veil be lifted in cases that are -- that it's possible to do that in order to maintain the democracy that we have.
ANDREWI did want to talk very briefly or ask the caller -- or the guest to talk about extreme rendition about sending our prisoners to countries that we know will do things that we ourselves cannot do and what his feeling about that is in relation to the extended interrogation techniques.
NNAMDIYour turn, Glenn Carle.
CARLEWell, there are two parts to that. And thank you for the question. I think it's a good one. I find that rendition is a useful tool for the United States to have. Now, rendition means if there is an individual that the National Security Establishment, the U.S. government finds poses a grave danger to American lives and interests, but that person is beyond the reach of the American law or American government and in a situation where he's beyond the reach of any other legal system or the willingness of a country to provide this dangerous person to us, then in those rare instances, the president can decide we will render this person to justice, meaning American justice.
CARLEThat started, in particular, under President Clinton. I think that, in carefully controlled instances, that can be a legitimate tool of American policy. However, the permutation of that came under the Bush administration, which was we're now in a war on terror. Here are these dangerous people. We have to get information from them. If we bring them to America, they will be protected by and subject to the American legal system, where we can't do anything to these people.
CARLESo what are we going to do if they don't touch down on American soil? They aren't subject to American protections? We'll send them someplace else, where other things can be done. That's not acceptable at all because we're turning a blind eye consciously to measures that we oppose, theoretically oppose. So that change, I think, is not acceptable.
NNAMDISo your view of rendition is that we can get them and bring them here in the American justice system.
CARLETo be subject to the American judicial system, yes.
NNAMDISome people would say if this is going on -- and let me read an email from Scott, who says, "Every government employee takes an oath to protect the American Constitution, not the American people or American lives. This is one thing that sets us apart from other countries and governments. The Constitution and its principles will, worst case, outlive this country and its people. And it's that fine a document.
NNAMDI"In that sense, the people that torture are cowards and traitors." To which I would add, then why not just blow the whistle? What kinds of challenges exist for dissent or for questioning orders?
CARLEA complex question and another good one. This is the terrible dilemma that colleagues and I found ourselves in. As I described earlier on in the discussion, I was informed the presidents, the attorney general, the entire structure of the United States government, which I won't iterate, once again, had formally authorized and legally constituted the guidance and the laws and the policies.
CARLEAnd I -- the equivalent at the time of Lieutenant Colonel, say, on the other side of this entire equation -- had received my orders. And for almost -- for my entire life, for all of our lives, we believe we are a system of laws. And I took an oath to preserve, protect, defend the Constitution and the government, as is constituted. So everything was done properly. The challenge was that the -- that all of this supposedly proper process led us to subvert the principles that we were sworn to defend.
CARLEAnd that's a terrible dilemma for an officer to face because you either become insubordinate or you commit treason. Or you follow your orders, and that's a hard thing for anyone, at any level of the hierarchy, to decide how to address.
NNAMDIYou have addressed the question of why. So I'd like to ask the question of when did you decide to write this book.
CARLEWell, I progressively became profoundly disturbed. As I've said, I knew from the beginning that I was involved in an extremely delicate, very important issue that raised matters of law, principle and the Constitution, actually, from the beginning.
CARLEWhen I thought I should write the book, I think that I and other colleagues were so distressed by what was happening to our government and our laws and our society that, upon retirement, I, frankly, felt if I didn't try to inform the public about this, that I would -- my silence would be complicity. And so I would say about the time I retired, I thought that I needed to do this. Now, it's an important point because I'm not telling tales out of school here.
CARLEProtecting sources and methods, the operations in which I engaged and the agency engages, I accept as very legitimate. This is a different issue. This is what we were doing that subverted our principles. So that's why I've written this book. I'm not just -- I'm not telling tales of derring-do for the fun of it and the titillation. This is a much deeper issue.
NNAMDIWhat would have been the likely consequence had you simply refused?
CARLEWell, I think the likely consequence would have been, for me, relatively minor. An officer could refuse. You would probably not get other assignments that you might have had you accepted. But at the time, I could have refused. The consequence, however, in the larger sense -- and I explore this at length in the book -- is I weighed how can I be most likely to accomplish the mission and have an impact and get things to occur in a way, I think, is acceptable and right?
CARLEAnd by walking away, I would have had zero impact. By challenging formally, I would have accomplished just about nothing. But by becoming a respected person involved in the operation, then you have the credibility to have some influence and to try to get things right. And that's what I tried to do. I had some success and failed more often than I succeeded.
NNAMDIWell, the reporters who follow these things say the Pacha Wazir case -- Pacha Wazir is believed to have been sent to Morocco. Is the part of the book involving CAPTUS, does it take place in Morocco?
CARLEWell, the agency was -- this is among the almost infinite number of things the agency has deleted or not allowed me to say. So I can't say the name of the two countries where I went, although I think people, as I mentioned, who know the issues will be able to work it out.
NNAMDIDarn. I wasn't able to say busted. Glenn Carle is author of the book, "The Interrogation -- The Interrogator: An Education." He's a former CIA case officer. Glenn Carle, thank you so much for joining us.
CARLEThank you. I appreciate it.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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