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OPR Report: “Rapport Building” Succeeded in Identifying KSM

February 24, 2010

Per the recommendation of James Fallows, I am reading the Office of Professional Reponsibility (OPR) report on the misconduct of former Bush administration lawyers Jay Bybee and John Yoo, whose infamous memos provided the legal justification for waterboarding and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques (a.k.a. torture). Over the next several days — it’s a massive, 289 page document, so I don’t expect to get through it too quickly — I will be sharing my reactions here.

In a May 2009 appearance on “Face the Nation” (see here for the video and transcript), Dick Cheney defended the use of enhanced interrogation as an essential means to keeping America safe, telling Bob Schieffer that

at the heart of what we did with the terrorist surveillance program and the enhanced interrogation techniques for Al Qaida terrorists and so forth was collect information. It was about intelligence. It was about finding out what Al Qaida was going to do, what their capabilities and plans were. It was discovering all those things we needed in order to be able to go defeat Al Qaida.

Perhaps the part of the OPR report vindicating Cheney’s assertion is yet to come. Just 33 pages in, however, the report describes an incident in which traditional “rapport building” techniques succeeded, and enhanced interrogation failed.

In 2002, senior al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah was captured during a raid in Pakistan and transported to a secret CIA prison facility, where the FBI planned to assist the CIA in his interrogation. Significantly

Because the CIA interrogators were not yet at the site when the FBI agents arrived, two experienced FBI interrogators began using “relationship building” or “rapport building” techniques of Abu Zubaydah. During this initial period, the FBI was able to learn his true identity, and got him to identify a photograph of another important al Qaeda leader, Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, as “Muktar,” the planner of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

That’s right: the FBI discovered the identity of the chief architect of the 9/11 attacks, not through waterboarding or sleep deprivation, but through “rapport building.” This success was, however, apparently not good enough for the CIA interrogators, who were “convinced that Abu Zubaydah was withholding information and that harsh techniques were the only way to elicit further information” (p. 33). When the CIA took over the interrogation, the OPR report tells us that – surprise! — Zubaydah “became uncooperative” (p. 33)

Cheney’s preferred interrogation techniques, it would seem, were as ineffective as they were immoral.

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