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Veteran Army Interrogators: Torture doesn't work. Torture is wrong. Torture helps the enemy.

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Once again, our profession is in the spotlight. As a former interrogator and instructor, now a leader in this schoolhouse, I would feel remiss not to speak out.

In the wake of Usama Bin Laden's death, politicians, pundits, 24-hour TV chatterboxes, and other such attention-seekers have begun again to sharpen their teeth on that debate which should never have existed in a free country like the United States: the notion that torture is justified.

Some are pointing out that one of the couriers who led us to UBL gave up this information under the stress of waterboarding. The reality is that it took us over 14 long, painful years to get Bin Laden. For at least five of those years it seems he was hiding within a stone's throw of the Pakistani Military Academy, in an embarrassing amount of comfort for the world's most wanted terrorist.

That it took so long from the time the alleged waterboarding-derived information was revealed, seven years ago, according to some reports, until UBL's demise only demonstrates how extraordinarily counterproductive our overt policy of torture was. We got a name only. Perhaps had we used some of our more sophisticated approaches -- our minds rather than brutality -- we would have had a detainee willing to take us directly to Bin Laden.

We will never know how many lives might have been saved had we held fast to our Army values instead of flaunting them out of fear of the unknown.

I need not remind you:

This is not a subject for debate as far as you are concerned as a military intelligence professional or contractor, especially as an instructor. We do not torture. We do not teach it. There are no winks, no nods, not a scintilla of reverence for "special warfare types" who might operate outside the rules. (Truth be told, anyone who has ever worked with JSOC, CJSOTF, Ranger Bat, OGA, etc., knows they have as many or more lawyers and rules than any odd Army BCT or Marine Det., and they don't torture.)

I need not remind you:

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In World War II, our nation executed Japanese officers for water torture.

In World War II, our nation executed German officers for torture.

I need not remind you:

Torture is illegal; it is wrong; it is against military law, values, doctrine; and it is against the basic human rights we soldiers have fought and died for in centuries of service to the United States of America. We don't teach it. We don't do it. It is cowardly and dishonorable. Do not let the moral flexibility of the political class sway you otherwise.

We know, to be sure, our experiences as interrogators have never been without significantly emotional moments. Good HUMINTers are tough, aggressive, if need be, push the envelope, but know well where and when to draw the line. Good HUMINTers don't need to torture. We are calm and reasonable students of human behavior who can develop rapport with a source quickly and acquire valuable intelligence information, then just as quickly put that information forward in a coherent report or use it to stage a movement to the next critical target.

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Torture is antithesis of everything we are. Torture is by nature anti-rapport building. Worse, torture paints the picture of the U.S. military and its soldiers as goons and stooges, the bully-imperialists, The Great Satan, the very picture our enemies would like their followers to believe is true, and we know is false.

It was analysis, insight, and smart detective work that got Bin Laden. This same kind of thinking we try to impart upon our students in the planning and preparation, approaches, and questioning phases of interrogation training. What's really import in interrogation? We know: Strategic thought. Psychological insight. Preparation. Analysis. Patience. Restraint. Thinking before doing or acting. Having a reason for every word said and paying attention to each word said to you, the interrogator. Tenacity. That is interrogation. It is a game of thought and mental strength, not of brutality.

The popular press and, unfortunately, many otherwise well-meaning and some not-so-well meaning politicians can be tragically ignorant of our job, more informed by Hollywood fantasy and fear of the unknown than the cold hard facts of this discipline.

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Stephen Soldz is psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and is President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility. He was a psychological consultant on two of (more...)

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