FBI interrogator: Torture doesn't work, breeds jihad

Here's a former FBI interrogator -- who interrogated Al Quaeda suspects -- saying categorically that torture does not help collect intelligence, but that it does sell impressionable people on the legitimacy of jihad, on the grounds that a regime that tortures deserves to be attacked.

Former FBI Interrogator Jack Cloonan explains that regular interrogation tactics work well on even the worst terrorists, that there's no such thing as a "ticking timebomb" scenario, and that waterboarding has done much more harm than good. You can also see interviews with Jack Cloonan in the Oscar award-winning documentary, "Taxi to the Darkside."
Link (via Jon Taplin)

Update: From the comments, TCD004 sez,"Thanks for the link to our video. There's also a second video available of Cloonan where he describes some of his specific techniques he used for getting people to talk. Cloonan describes the FBI's approach as "rapport"-building, so agents often find themselves befriending and helping the terror suspects. Don't miss his story about teaching a terrorist how to swim.

You can see the rest of the Cloonan interview here."


  1. If torture worked, 7 years of it would have gotten us to Osama Bin Laden by now.

    This is and has always been about humiliating the Muslim world and justifying a juggernaut military budget.

    Juggernauts require sacrifices, your rights are next.

  2. Silly Cloonan. Torturing their leaders doesn’t embolden terrorists! Criticizing our leaders emboldens them.

  3. Thanks for the link to our video. There’s also a second video available of Cloonan where he describes some of his specific techniques he used for getting people to talk. Cloonan describes the FBI’s approach as “rapport”-building, so agents often find themselves befriending and helping the terror suspects. Don’t miss his story about teaching a terrorist how to swim.

    You can see the rest of the Cloonan interview here.

  4. I’m somewhat taken aback by the G.Park comment.

    Our criticism of our leaders if anything shows the world the value of inclusive government and free speech. I hope he will note that those who have attacked us do not practice democracy, do not have free speech, neither do they practice free religion or independent thought.

    Our greatest strength lies in our ability to change our government, improvise our world, and adapt immediately if needed to a shifting world. Their failure lies in their inability to do any of these things, which is why their standards of living are infinitesimally small compared to ours, and their people live in perpetual fear and silence.

    If we refuse to permit open and free debate, our society will share the same fate.

  5. Oh this is happy news that happens to show up right on the heels of news that Bush vetoed a bill that would have outlawed waterboarding “because the CIA interrogation program has already prevented a number of terrorist attacks and is vital to making sure that continues.” Right…never mind that we have convicted Japanese generals of war crimes for using waterboarding on our own soldiers but even as recently as 1983 we convicted a sheriff and three deputies in Texas of the very same. They each received ten years in prison as a result.

  6. G. Park, you really need to put down the freedom fries and engage in some critical thinking here. Your suggestion that we should not criticize our leaders is a much scarier thought than a terrorist’s knowledge of dissent of the U.S. public. Your claim sounds really snappy but frankly doesn’t make sense.

  7. Well someone has to get paid for talking the other side I guess and he has the credentials to make his voice get paid.

    But its a major “well duh”, and leads me to believe that jihad is something we think we want.

  8. @7-
    Are you saying that opponents of torture are only in it for the money?

    And honestly, I think that the neocon contingent does want jihad, because nothing has earned more votes for evangelicals or support for imperialism than the threat of “Islamic Extremism.” They’re convinced that as long as we’re afraid of Big Bad Osama, we’ll continue to give up more of our liberty in exchange for “security.”

  9. For the uninformed:

    1. CIA Director Hayden testified to Congress that the CIA has tortured (“waterboarded”) detainees. source

    2. President Bush has vetoed a bill that would have banned waterboarding, beating, electrocuting, burning, using dogs, stripping detainees, forcing them to perform or mimic sexual acts. source

    For the record, this stuff is already illegal. War crimes and/or aggravated assaults.

    So why has Congress responded by trying to pass another law reiterating the illegality of these actions?

  10. Gee, it’s almost as though the proponents of torture have some sort of political need for America to be attacked.

  11. The problem in presenting torturers with evidence that torture does not work is that they have no interest in it. This seems to me to be the biggest lesson we have yet to learn from the Internet: most people, most of the time, are not in the least bit convinced by evidence. Wishful thinking trumps empirical fact.

    We need to come to terms with this reality: the past three hundred years of scientific enlightenment have had no impact on most human beings. Presenting evidence is only a convincing argument to people who have learned that evidence is the basis for convincing arguments. Huge and powerful forces are at work to prevent children from learning this, and so far it is clear that they have for the most part been very successful.

  12. In the U.S.A. that I grew up in, popular media always depicted the “bad guys” as being the ones who tortured.

    Nazis, Viet Cong, Stasi, KGB, drug cartels – these were the enemies of freedom and democracy and their use of torture embodied their draconian ideology and disregard for human suffering.

    Nowadays, if Jack Bauer needs some information then it doesn’t matter what he does as long as it produces “results”.

    The end justifies the means… A pretty telling benchmark on how this country has abandoned its ideals.

    And we’re just the frog in the pot of water while they’re turning up the temperature.

  13. The use of torture is completely understandable when you view it from the angle that you want to maintain jihad against your country because you need a real basis for constant public fear in order to rail through military spending increases, reduction of public freedoms and massive citizen monitoring.

    If you can find another explanation as to why our government goes literally out of its way to conduct torture in the face of all evidence, argument, and outrage against it, shout.

  14. @8: The neocons miss the Cold War, so they need a new one. Plain and simple. We replaced evil Russkies with evil Towelheads. We replaced nuclear annihilation with sudden coordinated terrorism.

    In fact, it’s even better now, because they could warn people about nukes with the DEW system, and people believed they could go hide in a bomb shelter and ride it out. But you can’t hide in a bomb shelter while you’re on a plane or in the subway.

    Robert Heinlein called these “the Crazy Years”.

  15. Tom @ 10 — I do have to say this however — the other side thinks THEY have the facts and that we are the wishful thinking crowd. After making a hobby of arguing with right-wingers on line (yes, I know, what a dumb&pointless hobby), they are thoroughly convinced that liberals are bereft of facts and arguments and just shout slogans. Why? Well, because there are just a few idiots (like me) who will come to their discussions boards to take enough abuse to try and talk them outta the tree. Why? Because they are armed with a whole different set of facts than us. They usually have a way to discredit any fact that comes from our side (the NYT LIED, therefore it always lies, etc.), and they have contrasting polling places, where they claim THEY HAVE the numbers. Or, more specifically, be an idiot (like me) and try to argue evolution with them. With my last science class being High School physics, I got destroyed by these guys. They go to classes to learn how to debate evolution. They can even frustrate college physics guys. SO, in their minds, there facts are good, because they see themselves WINNING all the arguments. They watch Bill O’Reilly, and to them — he seems to win the argument every time. I.e., WE HAVE THE CORRECT facts. It’s like the O.J. trial where each side gets their own science person with seemingly reasonable sounding facts to a lay person like me. And then, because living in their echo chamber where they win every argument, they think that anyone outside it must be crazy or ignoring reason. So they get derisive and annoyed. Why should I consider your sides’ argument when it’s so clearly flawed? It’s just slogans (blood for oil!), etc. They have books that help explain to them how liberals who went to college could be so lacking in reasoning skills.

  16. I think that is partly true Tom but another aspect is that they simply get their rocks off on it and then rationalize it afterwards. It’s sadism, Bush, Cheney and the rest are sadists. Remember, Bush tortured small animals as a child, classic sadist. Cheney shot a naked old man and then made him apologize on national TV afterwards, sadism. (That he was naked is the only explanation for his wounds from the neck down.)

  17. I agree with TOM #10, but I think there’s also another idea at work there, people who are in favor of torture I think tend to follow this ‘either-or’ mindset: “either you are with us or against us”; so if someone says the US government shouldn’t torture then that person MUST (by their logic) be sympathetic to the terrorists. That’s a place conservatives in the US cannot dare to go, so naturally they would rather be tough on terrorism (or at least appear to be tough) than get actual reliable information out a suspect.

    The “ticking time bomb” scenario is a great weapon in arguments, but can any one who proposes that scenario provide evidence that it has ever happened? No? Fine– so IF and WHEN that ideal scenario arrives we will discuss whether we should use torture, but in the meantime that doesn’t mean you get to use it whenever a suspect looks at you cross-eyed. That’s what the ideal scenario is for– to provide an “in” whereby those in favor of torture get you to relent and say “Oh, I guess torture is OK then” and suddenly whether that ideal scenario ever happens or not is moot.

  18. TOM and MADDY have really great explanations for why things are the way they are.

    Seems like the only argumentative path that would yield any successful results would be one starting from within their “fact” bubble, or constructed using their “facts.”

    But ultimately, there’s no arguing with an authoritarian power who looks to fit the facts around their decisions rather than the other way around.

    Instead you have to remove their power by convincing enough people outside the bubble that they are wrong. And, actually, I forget whose quote this is, but you can’t change things by attacking the current model. You have to create a new and better model for people to adopt.

  19. Noen #16, right on.

    These people torture because it’s what they do, because torture defines what they are and what they aspire to be – they are torturers. It’s not because they want information, or because they believe there is something to gain.

    Look at the facts: They torture. They don’t have to. They don’t need to. They don’t achieve any objectively quantifiable benefits from it – only a purely subjective gratification. THEREFORE – they must do it because they are driven to do it by their sick and twisted minds, or because they just plain LIKE it. Just like all the other torturers throughout history – Torquemada, Mengele, Dzerzhinksy, they’ve all been the same, Bush and friends are not a unique set of animals.

  20. XOPL @ 18 — yup, the inside-their-“fact bubble” was one of my most helpful tactics — but, surprise — their fact bubble didn’t usually contain as many helpful facts as my bubble did for advancing my cause! SNOPES was usually neutral enough to work, I used to use a great site called SPINSANITY (sadly no more).

    I came to the same conclusion — you have to work to save the people outside the bubble from going inside the bubble. So anytime where I get one of those e-mails that is clearly wrong and flawed, but seems on the surface to be correct — I SNOPES it, or do some quick research and de-bunk AND THEN SEND TO EVERYONE. Yes, REPLY to EVERYONE, and then if it’s been forwarded a million times, I go down and cut&paste all those addresses into the bcc. It’s gotten some folks really mad at me, but I refuse to stand by and let the swift boats of stupidity sail again … I really do believe that that e-mails from “friends” is where the battle is being lost — no one generally takes the time to counter because it puts them in a position of risk on so many levels … (risk getting in an on-line tussle, risk losing a friend, risk being wrong) … and at a certain point many people scratch their head and go “well, I don’t really Obama is a muslim terrorist, but jeez, just to be on the safe side” …

  21. Anyone reading who hasn’t seen Taxi to the Dark Side should do so. During the interview, Cloonan slips into his role as an interrogator for less than 60 seconds to illustrate his approach, and its effectiveness is immediately apparent to anyone.

  22. What I wish I’d been hearing the last six years:

    “America stands for a world in which there is no torture. In which no man, no woman and no child needs to fear arrest and torment at the hands of any nation, anywhere.”

    Oh what a wonderful world that would be. Could have been that way, too.

  23. So our foreign policy makes extremist group recruitment easier …

    Doesn’t this sound strikingly similar to what Ron Paul has been saying since the beginning of the election cycle?

  24. Bad news: just more evidence of what an enormous hole the US has put itself in.

    Good news: there is a whole world of need out there, and the US can do a great deal to help. Some may look the gifthorse in the mouth, but most people sincerely appreciate a helping hand during times of need.

    No more words. Deeds. Now is our time of action. That’s the best way to clear away the obfuscation of invested interests and muddied politics…genuine, unalloyed, non-ideological, help. I don’t care what political stripe, I think most Americans would get behind that kind of policy.

  25. I think the reason the torture goes on is relatively simple. If we know anything about GWB and his career, it’s that he can’t abide being wrong, ever.

    Before the war, Bush & Co. set up special intelligence pipelines that were designed to bypass the usual processes of intelligence analysis and assessment, and instead deliver to Bush any raw info that tended to support his desire for a war with Iraq. This is a recipe for bad intelligence.

    Bush & Co. went to war on bad intelligence and bad planning. It didn’t turn out as they’d envisioned, to put it mildly. This unfortunate outcome would tend to suggest that Bush was wrong, but Bush can’t be wrong. Therefore, he’s going to keep torturing prisoners until they yield up whatever information it takes to prove he’s been right all along.

    If he lets the torture end, he has no alternative to being wrong. He will never let the torture end if he can possibly help it.

    DGouldin (23): No, not particularly.

    Xopl (9): I expect they passed a new law because the old one was being ignored.

    Tom (10), I utterly deny that evidence has no effect on people. Furthermore, if you believed that, you wouldn’t be bothering to argue. Evidence doesn’t have an immediate and sufficient effect on everyone, but that doesn’t mean it’s useless.

    G.Park (4), the anonymous commenters are worried that you meant that.

    Maddy, you are a hero. Somebody ought to fund you or clone you or something.

  26. I disagree in part with the gentleman’s statements.

    He said “the damage has been done” with the implication that the certain revenge referred to is indeed coming.

    It can be averted. America need only try Cheney for the crimes he has committed. His pet is irrelevant.
    Put Cheney in the dock. Charge him with the frauds and profiteering committed against his own country and charge him with the international war crimes staining his hands. Give him a fair trial, convict him with the overwhelming evidence and hang him.

    Uphold the rule of law and do it before the world. Get back Anerica’s credibility and soul.

    This one act could reverse a huge amount of the hatred built up against America.

    The law permits it. The facts support it. It is the right thing to do.

    I am opposed to the state having the power to kill on principle. This would be an execution by the people.

  27. All those decades of torture by the inquisition did a pretty good job of rooting out the heresies that would have resulted in the protestant reformation?

    Hmm, no, instead they created martyrs to the faith. And justified the following history that has reduced the inquisitor’s parent organization to a shadow of its former power.

    We’re just repeating history here on a slightly different venue.

    Something that the Neocons need to think about, their wish for fueling the Jihad to keep them in power will have bad long term consequences. But then they probably think they’ll be raptured before the Piper needs to be paid.

  28. “they probably think they’ll be raptured before the Piper needs to be paid.”

    oh how I wish you were exaggerating…

  29. Keep in mind GWB’s “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” comment. The neocons sees the world as divided into two groups, “us” and “them”. Because of 9/11, they feel justified in doing anything and everything to “them”. After all “we” are at war, and these people are not entitled to “our” civilized standards and rights, if they are people at all.

    Non-americans sees the world as divided into 3 groups, the Americans (300 million), their enemies/terrorists they are fighting (a few thousand, or at the most a few tens of thousands, definitely nowhere near 1 million), and everybody else (6 billion people). They do not appreciate being lumped together with the second group, and do not want to be conscripted into the first group. They have other more pressing problems and wish the first 2 groups to go away and don’t bother them.

    Most of the world believes that a sizable portion (if not most of) the Gitmo immates are just innocent people wrongly caught by mistake. They therefore identify with the prisoners. When you torture them, the first thought that comes to mind is “hey, that could be me, my son, father, brother, sister, etc”. Americans do not identify with the prisoners and think “well, it’s not so bad, we’re not killing them, and if *THEY* suffered a little for our benefit, well the tradeoff is worthwhile”.

    The way I see it, group 3 has more to fear from group 1 than group 2. Group 2 at least makes a token effort to target group 1 only, while group 1 does not even recognize a difference between group 2 and 3.

  30. t’s ntrstng tht tchnq s ffctv s trtr s clmd t b nffctv by ths wh mndlssly pps t. t’s ngh tht th smpl-mndd wshd t ddn’t wrk fr thm t blv tht t dsn’t. f crs, f n s fllwr f th blfs nd vls f ths bng trtrd, t s prfctly rsnbl t dvnc sch nnsns t th wtlss thy wld mk thr tls. Thr r cntlss lssns f th vl f trtr n hstry. Lk n frthr thn th Frnch ndrgnd’s dsmntlng by th Gstp n Wrld Wr . vry mmbr knw vry thr mmbr, s cptrng nd brkng sngl rsstnc mmbr gv th Grmns th dntty f mny thrs. thr rgnztns tk cr t s tht clls cnsstd f nly tw r thr mmbrs, lmtng th nfrmtn crtn t b gnd by trtr, tctc sd by mny slmc trrr grps tdy. My pnt s nt t jstfy trtr, t s ssntlly vl. Bt wld mply t n mmbrs f grp knwn t b plnnng strk n NYC? Y btch. W mstn’t cmmt ntnl scd t stsfy th lft. ftr ll, why wld ntn tht frly klls mllns bfr brth hstt t hrt fw ndvdls? nd jst t blck n brtn rgmnt, ‘m ll fr t n mny css, lthgh blv t, lk trtr, s wrng.

Comments are closed.