Host, Marcy Wheeler:
In The Interrogator: An Education, retired CIA clandestine officer Glenn Carle tells how, in fall 2002, he was sent to the Middle East to interrogate a purportedly high level al Qaeda figure he calls CAPTUS. While Carle does not identify either the detainee or the countries in which he interrogated him, Scott Horton reports the detainee is an Afghan named Pacha Wazir who, before he was captured, ran a hawala al Qaeda used; the two locations are Morocco and Afghanistan’s Salt Pit. After some weeks of rapport-based interrogation, Carle became convinced CAPTUS wasn’t as involved in al Qaeda as CIA believed him to be.
The parts of Carle’s straightforward narrative that describe his failed efforts to prevent CAPTUS from being abused offer a number of damning details, such as the revelations he never got documents CAPTUS had with him when he was rendered and two cables he wrote decrying the abuse disappeared. The afterword, in which Carle argues that the CIA’s abusive interrogation program “obtained little of critical benefit,” is an important addition to debates about our torture program. But I was most interested in the ways the book textually replicated the sheer insanity of that program.
For example, to narrate what happened just after he and CAPTUS arrived at Afghanistan’s Salt Pit, Carle juxtaposes a description of his own dislocation as a result of SERE training…
I descended into a world of trauma and dreams, where I was not awake, or asleep, or coherent, or able to think straight. For the first time in my life, I lost the ability to distinguish where I ended, and where the outside world began. I could not tell. I started to lose control of my personality, to inhabit a world in which I was completely isolated, and in which I could not trust my senses. I hallucinated—I saw slimy things, told myself they did not exist, but also told myself I had better stay still so that they would go away.
It all accumulated on my mind. It never stopped. Nothing existed but the dark, cold, confusion, pain, fear . . . and the slow loss of myself. The only salvation was the moment of sanity when I sat facing an interrogator.
… With CAPTUS’ slow recognition of Carle (whom he knows only as “Jacques”) after he had been rendered to Afghanistan’s Salt Pit and abused by Americans:
“CAPTUS.” He looked at me, not understanding what was happening. My tone was declaratory, matter-of-fact, not imperious.
“CAPTUS, it’s Jacques.” He continued to stare, his eyes glassy, not making sense of anything yet. I could see his mind starting to work.
“CAPTUS, it’s Jacques. I am here too, now.”
“Jacques . . .”
He realized now who I was. His circumstances were so disorienting that it took a moment to put someone he knew into this context. I gestured, in a way I hoped was kind, for CAPTUS to take a seat. He rose slowly, hunched over, with a murmured “choukran, choukran.”
“CAPTUS, what has happened to you [redacted]? You do not look good.”
He tried to dismiss his appearance, responding vaguely and softly, “Your men . . . arriving. No. No men. It is nothing, it is nothing. I do not mind. It is no trouble.”
I persisted. “What ‘arriving’ and ‘men’? My men did this?” I found that unbelievable.
“No, no. Yes. [redacted]. It is all right.”
Narratively, Carle’s learned helplessness experienced many years earlier melds with that of CAPTUS in the Salt Pit. This provides a way for readers to understand, if only a tiny bit, what produced CAPTUS’ obsequiousness. But it also, I think, conveys how abusive interrogation affects both the interrogator and the detainee.
The form of the book adds a layer of disorientation to readers. As Carle explains, in the course of getting the book approved by the CIA Publications Board, “the CIA [has] imposed numerous redactions and elliptical phrases” on the book. The process remains visible in the book, most obviously in the many black redactions.
In addition, Carle resorts to quoting declassified documents–like the CIA IG Report–to hint at what he described behind the redactions. In short, narratively the book is a mess–a valiant, but ultimately, not entirely successful attempt to tell the story of our interrogation program. But perhaps that kind of narrative mess is the appropriate way to describe the cognitive mess and moral confusion produced by interrogation program.
And while I expect we’ll get into a heated discussion in comments about Carle’s role in all this (and his belief the interrogators shouldn’t be prosecuted), the narrative mess definitely supports one of his ultimate judgments on the program and our counterterrorism program more generally:
There are evildoers who killed many of us, and who merit cold excision from the world of men. I did my best to make it happen. But our own atavistic reflexes and errors are the deepest failure of 9/11, not the attacks themselves, because although we sometimes must suffer the deeds of others, we always must be responsible for our own.
Please welcome Glenn Carle to Firedoglake.
[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]