Blindfolded Iraqi prisoners being led to interrogations in Baghdad. (Photo: AP)
Support for a wide-ranging criminal investigation into the Bush administration's use of torture has grown to include a former top FBI interrogator and a career military intelligence officer with more than two decades of experience conducting interrogations.
Jack Cloonan, a former FBI security and counterterrorism expert who was assigned to the agency's elite Bin Laden Unit, and Col. Steve Kleinman, a career military intelligence officer recognized as one of the Defense Department's most effective interrogators, said ignoring clear-cut evidence of interrogation-related crimes would encourage more law-breaking in the future.
Cloonan and Kleinman, who conducted interrogations of terror suspects after 9/11, disputed claims by former CIA Director Michael Hayden and Republican lawmakers that a criminal investigation would damage intelligence gathering and could lead to another 9/11-type attack on the United States.
In an interview, Cloonan and Kleinman said Hayden and the lawmakers were sounding "false alarms" in an effort to keep serious crimes from being exposed. "What this is really about is cover your ass," Cloonan said. "To suggest [intelligence gathering] will come to a screeching halt if there were an investigation is not accurate."
Cloonan, who retired in 2002 after more than 25 years in the FBI, said he doesn't believe an investigation would lead to a terrorist attack. Kleinman, who most recently served as a senior adviser on a director of national intelligence-commissioned study on strategic interrogation, agreed.
"I'm a professional interrogator, I have 25 years of experience in this and I don't have any concern whatsoever that an investigation into how we conducted ourselves since 9/11 would in any way undermine our ability to continue gathering intelligence," Kleinman said.
Furthermore, Kleinman and Cloonan believe many of their colleagues in the intelligence community share their views. But many are unable to speak out publicly, Kleinman said, "because to do so is almost a career ender."
Kleinman and Cloonan added that the outside contractors and the interrogators, who lacked the training and experience, are the ones who saw the use of torture as a means to gain valuable information. Moreover, they are the ones who fear an investigation.
"The people who are true professionals don't see anything wrong with an investigation," Kleinman said. "I conducted interrogations in three separate military campaigns. I can look back if they called me in tomorrow and I would not even be thinking about getting liability insurance."
Ex-CIA Director Hayden had a different view. At a panel discussion on the outsourcing of intelligence last Thursday, Hayden said an investigation, "no matter how narrowly defined," would undermine counterterrorism efforts.
"Continuing looking back, continuing to pull these good people through a knothole will teach people never to play to the edge, will teach people 'yeah I got an opinion from Justice and I know the President wants me to do it and the director [of the CIA] says it's a good thing and I know I'm capable of doing it but I just don't think so.'
"We will teach timidity to a workforce we need to be vigorous and active. And no matter how narrowly defined this look back might be it'll start pulling threads, you'll have a significant number of agency folks being pulled through this process, in my mind, to no good," he said.
A day earlier, nine Republican senators sent a letter
Cloonan, Kleinman and Matthew Alexander, who was the senior interrogator for the task force in Iraq that tracked down al-Qaeda-in-Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006, sent a letter on Friday to the chairs of the House and Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees calling for the creation of a bipartisan commission to "assess policy making that led to use of torture and cruelty in interrogations." ("Matthew Alexander" is a pseudonym used by the interrogator for security reasons.)
They wrote that a special counsel is an "important step forward" by reaffirming "the enduring power of our system of checks and balances."
"The prohibition on torture in this country is unequivocal," Cloonan, Alexander and Kleinman wrote. "To ignore evidence of criminal wrongdoing would incentivize future breaches of law."
However, they added that an investigation and the potential for prosecutions "of individuals who violated anti-torture statutes alone ... will not prevent policy makers from making similar mistakes in the future."
The veteran interrogators said an examination was needed into the problems created when "policy makers ignored the advice of experienced interrogators, counterterrorism experts and respected military leaders who warned that using torture and cruelty would be ineffective and counter-productive."
House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers and his counterpart in the Senate, Patrick Leahy, have advocated a truth commission to look into the use of torture and other abuses that took place during the Bush administration.
But Leahy said he would not follow through on his plan without the support of Republicans, which he does not have, and Conyers's proposal never even gained the support of key Democrats. President Obama told lawmakers in closed-door meetings earlier this year that he did not support those efforts.
But Kleinman, Cloonan and Alexander said a serious investigation was needed because the Bush administration's policies "came with heavy costs."
"Key allies, in some instances, refused to share needed intelligence, terrorists attacks increased worldwide, and al Qaeda and like-minded groups recruited a new generation of Jihadists," they wrote.
"A nonpartisan, independent commission with subpoena power should assess the deeply flawed policy making framework behind the decision to permit torture and cruelty. Our system of checks and balances is designed to produce sound policy decisions which advance our strategic interests and are in accordance with our core values of due process."
Kleinman said he also was "disappointed" with a Washington Post op-ed by CIA Director Leon Panetta, who urged lawmakers to "move on" from talk of investigations and to resist focusing on the past.
"Every world-class intelligence organization look at where they come from to get better," Kleinman said. "I think it's critical a lot of people say this is a witch hunt. I think they're wrong."
Cloonan and Kleinman also doubted claims, like those made by Dick Cheney, that the use of torture produced actionable intelligence, the type that helped prevent another terrorist attack on US soil and "saved hundreds of thousands of lives," to quote the former vice president.
Cloonan said he had a "long conversation" with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee after he testified before the panel last year and was told that there isn't a smoking-gun document that will show torture was effective on any of the high-value detainees who were brutally tortured.
Kleinman noted that the news media reported over the weekend that the CIA's inspector general report will show that agency interrogators conducted a mock execution, brandishing a gun and a power drill during the interrogation of at least one detainee.
"I defy anybody in the intelligence community to bring forward the research, the thoughtful objective analysis that purports to support that mock executions is a consistent and effective means of getting accurate information from people," Kleinman said. "Show me the studies that say causing a great deal of fear is consistently successful in getting useful information. 'Cause there won't be.
"What people are doing is they're just scrambling because they don't know what else to do. They're scrambling for some sort of technique and they're just using things that they think 'well that will scare me so it must scare them. It would make me talk so it must make them talk.'
"Sure, they'll talk. But they're talking because they are afraid they are going to die. And they will say anything to keep from dying."