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Not the Boreworms!!!
November 18, 2004 3:28 AM   Subscribe

An interview with Michael Koubi. Koubi was an interrogator with the Israeli security services for 21 years, and its chief interrogator for 6 years. He claims he can make anyone talk.
posted by biffa (31 comments total)

 
Sorry - just about any one.
posted by biffa at 3:32 AM on November 18, 2004


I do it without using any kind of physical pressure.

strange boast coming from the head interrogator in a country that used the necessity of making people talk as justification for legalizing torture from 1987 to 1999 (background).
posted by andrew cooke at 4:06 AM on November 18, 2004


incidentally, my brother in law was interrogated and tortured. in quite a mild way - psychological, no physical damage, the kind of thing this man would use, i presume. obviously, one never really knows with these things - worse things happen to others, who survive better - but his life since has been difficult. i'd rather not go into details, but this echos down and out through family and friends. so many lives can be changed by one arrogant man forcing his will on another.

for all my protesting that we should understand and embrace, if someone gave me a gun and the chance, i would be sorely tempted to shoot the people involved. i'm not sure i'd be particularly worried about pulling the trigger if faced with this guy. which makes you wonder whther it is really worth it. well, obviously israel never wonders about that.

thankfully my life is rather more mundane.

anyway, if anyone is interested in reading a very interesting, fairly detailed account of interrogation and torture (both the physical experience and the mental pressure) this book is very good.

the person tortured in that book, incidentally, was a jew and a zionist. ah the irony.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:18 AM on November 18, 2004


Long two-part article featuring Koubi and some examples of his methods by journalist Mark Bowden (author of "Blackhawk Down" among others).

These days, we hear a lot about America's overpowering military technology; about the professionalism of its warriors; about the sophistication of its weaponry, eavesdropping and telemetry, but right now the most vital weapon in its arsenal may well be the art of interrogation.

So Andrew, I don't understand what you're saying, though maybe this is too emotional for you with your indirect personal experience. Are you saying no one should be interrogated ever? Even if it can prevent people from dying?

Bowden concludes:

If interrogators step over the line from coercion to outright torture, they should be held personally responsible. But no interrogator is ever going to be prosecuted for keeping Khalid Sheikh Mohammed awake, cold, alone, hungry and uncomfortable. Nor should he be.
posted by Turtle at 4:47 AM on November 18, 2004


my point was that this man is the person responsible for motivating a glut of suicide bombers. i'm a pretty rational guy, i don't know him from adam, and i'm prepared to shoot him. you think that's a smart policy? you think he's brought peace to israel, or are you just justifying people like this because in your bleakest nightmares the middle east could be in a very slightly worse state than it is now?
posted by andrew cooke at 4:57 AM on November 18, 2004


in other words, i was trying to use my emotional experience to educate armchair generals who rationalise torture with moral gymnastics and are then surprised when they're faced with a bunch of fanatics.

no more from me on this foul topic.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:04 AM on November 18, 2004


How physical are you allowed to get during interrogations, with permission?

Very low levels. It could be two slaps in one interrogation, or to shake him, but not very strongly, or to put a cover on his head to scare him. We have never insulted a person's religion or humiliated them. There is no torture in the security services
.

Riiiight.

Forgive me if I'm skeptical of Israels's former head torturer interrogator's word. The screams coming from other cells? Just a tape recording!
posted by sic at 5:28 AM on November 18, 2004


God's Chosen Inquisitor.
posted by Optamystic at 6:10 AM on November 18, 2004


Ah yes. God's Inquisitors.

"* The Judas Chair: This was a large pyramid-shaped "seat." Accused heretics were placed on top of it, with the point inserted into their anuses or genitalia, then very, very slowly lowered onto the point with ropes. The effect was to gradually stretch out the opening of choice in an extremely painful manner.
* The Head Vice: Pretty straightforward concept. They put your head into a specially fitted vice, and tighten it until your teeth are crushed, your bones crack and eventually your eyes pop out of their sockets.
* The Pear: A large bulbous gadget is inserted in the orifice of choice, whether mouth, anus or vagina. A lever on the device then causes it to slowly expand whilst inserted. Eventually points emerge from the tips. (Apparently, internal bleeding doesn't count as "breaking the skin.")
* The Wheel: Heretics are strapped to a big ol' wheel, and their bones are clubbed into shards. Not very creative, but quite effective."


"Civilized", contemporary methods don't break the body in such a drastic and vicious fashion : they break the mind and the spirit.
posted by troutfishing at 7:22 AM on November 18, 2004


Look, Torture produces inaccurate information, is morally reprehensible, illegal according to the geneva conventions, and is not something you would want done to yourself or anyone you know under any circumstances.

Sometimes, when people choose to do evil things, you cannot stop them. This is the problem of free societies. You cannot stop them all the time, even if you torture everyone you get your hands on who might know something. Even with perfect information you will not stop every person who decides to do evil. To live in a free society is to accept the possibility that because of your freedom, someone somewhere is given the ability to hurt you. Even at war.

Psychological manipulation is highly morally suspect. I think there could be strong arguments that psychological manipulation can be just as harmful in the long term as physical torture. I think that the costs do not outweigh the benefits. But then again, I don't have to make the decisions.
posted by Freen at 7:24 AM on November 18, 2004


"no interrogator is ever going to be prosecuted for keeping Khalid Sheikh Mohammed awake, cold, alone, hungry and uncomfortable. Nor should he be." - Turtle, I assume you're aware that, according to the Red Cross, a majority of those held in the Abu Ghraib prison, during the time of American torture practices alleged to have been committed there, were innocent - simply scooped off the street, by US soldiers, for random reasons or turned in to American authorities by fellow Iraqis as payback for grudges and feuds.

It's a real shame that humans don't come with big neon signs on their foreheads proclaiming : "Warning : I am a terrorist fanatic willing to ruthlessly kill civilians - in huge numbers if necessary - to further my political goals.".

But, they don't.

"...no interrogator is ever going to be prosecuted for keeping Khalid Sheikh Mohammed awake, cold, alone, hungry and uncomfortable" - This bears a strong similarity to the "would you kill Hitler if you could be transported back in time?" question-chestnut, to which most dutifully respond - "Fuck, YEAH."

But, few in torture chambers around the world are comparable to Hitler or even Sheik Mohammed. Further, the methods you sanction - when taken to extremes ( and they ARE routinely - that's the POINT of torture ) are quite brutal.

_______________

Isolation/solitary confinement ( complete lack of stimulus ) and the complete lack of routines : lights turned on and off randomly, temperature varied wildly and randomly, random feeding schedules, random loud noises blasted into the confinement cell......

Temperature : temperature variations are quite useful for braking down subjects :cold - freezing cold, constant cold, low grade hypothermia generating cold - coupled with random fluctuations to uncomfortable levels of heat.

Hunger : low grade starvation saps the will of the subject to resist, and dietary restriction can sap physical and mental strength for resistance while providing for minimal caloric requirement.

Sleep deprivation : one of the key weapons in the interrogators arsenal, subject sleep can be constantly, ceaselessly interrupted for days, weeks even - by loud noises, shaking, and other stimulus.

Discomfort : an arena where the creative interrogator may exercise a wide latitude of imagination - to move beyond such tried and true methods as listed above, and - potentially - to break new ground.
posted by troutfishing at 7:49 AM on November 18, 2004


I'm intrigued. When Koubi is asked: "Do you think you could be broken if you were interrogated?" He replies: "No. I would use the same methods I use when interrogating someone, only the opposite. I would give nothing away. Nothing."

Very interesting.
posted by wobh at 8:15 AM on November 18, 2004


wobh, I sincerely hope he'll get the chance to prove that statement, someday.
posted by vorfeed at 10:22 AM on November 18, 2004


Even if it can prevent people from dying?

As Freen points out, there's no guarantee of that. That assumes that a.) you have the right person; b.) that you know you have the right person; and c.) they aren't trying to tell you anything you want to hear just to get you to stop. And you can never be sure of that.

What happens when you're torturing someone who can't prevent people from dying? Who genuinely might not know what you're trying to extract?

In the absence of these ironclad guarantees, torture is repellent enough that its elimination is justified.
posted by Vidiot at 11:49 AM on November 18, 2004


Heck Vidiot, I'd say even with those ironclad guarantees, torture is pretty damned repellant. Even psychological torture.

The bottom of the matter is this: Humans are free, they are not information sponges, and nothing that has to deal with humans is ever certain. Ever.

We just did the whole Guy-In-A-Gorillasuit that nobody saw already didn't we? Wanna bet a finger there wasn't a ferret that stuck it's head in the lower left hand corner of the shot?
posted by Freen at 11:59 AM on November 18, 2004


I misspoke. Torture is reprehensible and illegal. No one should do it.

I was mainly trying to point out that the "Even if it saves a life?" objection has no real-world basis and isn't useful.

And gorilla suit? ferret? finger? huh?
posted by Vidiot at 12:05 PM on November 18, 2004


The question of torture is really a manifestation of a larger issue: When do important ends override moral restrictions on the means? I doubt we'll ever have a simple answer, but here is an abstract question that I think sums up the problem:

Let us say that we know that person A posses information that if known will save the lives of some number of persons N. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that we know that this person will talk if put to the torture, and give us said information. Given this premise, is it acceptable to use torture? Does the answer change depending on the value of N? Does the degree of torture matter?

Incidentally, the subject title rules. That dialogue belongs in the 100 greatest quotes.

Get me.......the Bore Worms
No! Not the Boreworms!!!
posted by unreason at 1:39 PM on November 18, 2004


The title is great. Nice, biffa.
posted by homunculus at 1:41 PM on November 18, 2004


But no interrogator is ever going to be prosecuted for keeping Khalid Sheikh Mohammed awake, cold, alone, hungry and uncomfortable. Nor should he be.

I read somewhere a torture victim saying that sleep deprivation was the worst thing he'd experienced, that he'd prefer to undergo all but the worst physical torture rather than suffer that again. Sorry I don't have a specific source, but the statement made a deep impression on me and destroyed my easy assumptions about the relatively benign nature of keeping people "awake, cold, alone, hungry and uncomfortable." Torture is torture. And in the real world, as opposed to the fantasies of "if you knew that your captive had information that could save the lives of blah blah blah," it doesn't do any good. It just brutalizes everyone involved.

I also remember reading (again, no citation, sorry) that the most effective SS interrogators during WWII used no torture of any kind; they manifested sympathy and kindness towards the captive and cleverly suggested they knew everything already, until the captive let down his guard and confirmed what they wanted to know. I'm not vouching for this, but it's an interesting thought.
posted by languagehat at 2:22 PM on November 18, 2004


The question of torture is really a manifestation of a larger issue: When do important ends override moral restrictions on the means?

Using statistical analysis to discuss human suffering seems wrong to me. Be it torture, Hiroshima, Ford Pintos, recent (egregious) heated debate over the Lancet's statistical analysis of 100,000 Iraqi deaths... (is it okay to kill 20,000 Iraqis versus 150,000?) There are some things that, if done, relieve you of your moral legitimacy, period. Torture is one.

If you want to play the bad guy, that's fine, too. Some people respect bad-asses. Israel would, IMO, be less censured by some liberals by simply admitting they're not democratic and tough luck to their enemies. (America, too)
posted by faux ami at 2:25 PM on November 18, 2004


I agree with you faux ami, there are certain ethical problems that should never be resolved using a mathematical equation.

Unreason, your unfortunate comment reminds me a bit of the movie Conspiracy, which is based upon a meeting between different departments of the German government during WW II where they, for the most part, coldly and rationally discuss the best way to exterminate millions of jews. They calmly discuss the differences between a 1/8 Jew and 2/3 Jew, some are just to be sterilized, others "evacuated".

It is far more frightening to find cold rationality behind torture and murder than to be faced with a foaming-at-the-mouth madman.
posted by sic at 2:54 PM on November 18, 2004


The Kmer Rouge were great at interrogation also. I'd like to see an interview with their lead interrogator.
posted by cell divide at 3:00 PM on November 18, 2004


> in the real world, as opposed to the fantasies
> of "if you knew that your captive had information
> that could save the lives of blah blah blah,"
> [torture] doesn't do any good.


Interesting choice of words. I would have thought, especially where Israel is concerned, that you have the real world and the fantasies exactly reversed, especially if we use the broader term "interrogation", rather than "torture", as the article did (anyone find it strange that this appeared in "New Scientist", by the way?).

I'm pretty sure that in the context of crime or war, a no-interrogation world is utter fantasy. So the important questions are, what is effective, and what forms of interrogation can we allow, within what circumstances? Answering "nothing" and "none" seems comfortably naive.

And it's not just the evil Israelis and Americans who do this, of course. For example, Canadian police do it:
"The technique is designed to break the individual down psychologically so that he repeats back to them what they want to hear. All that’s all very good if the person in fact is guilty and the original thesis was right."

There's clearly a fine line between interrogation and torture:
"A well-conducted interrogation is not torture, which in practice is widely known to be ineffective at producing reliable information. Prisoners of war routinely undergo interrogation, which the laws of war permit." (Wikipedia)
posted by Turtle at 3:02 PM on November 18, 2004


Unreason, your unfortunate comment reminds me a bit of the movie Conspiracy, which is based upon a meeting between different departments of the German government during WW II where they, for the most part, coldly and rationally discuss the best way to exterminate millions of jews.

You misunderstand my point. I am not saying that torture is acceptable. I believe, in fact, just the opposite. That is my point. There is some number N at which torture becomes acceptable. IMHO, that number is infinity, that is, it is never acceptable. For a man like Koubi, I suspect the number is quite small. The question is, is there such a number? Does it exist? I would say no. Proponents of torture would say yes.

Oh, in the future, kindly examine someone's post more carefully before comparing them to a Nazi. It's considered common courtesy.
posted by unreason at 3:46 PM on November 18, 2004


Let us say that we know that person A posses information that if known will save the lives of some number of persons N. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that we know that this person will talk if put to the torture, and give us said information. Given this premise, is it acceptable to use torture?

But it doesn't make sense to formulate it this way, unreason, even "for the sake of argument"...because we simply cannot know all that we're assuming in your hypothesis above.

As I pointed out, you can never guarantee that torture will be effective, that it's going to elicit correct information, and that you're applying it to the right people. Even if you think there's some wiggle room on humanitarian grounds -- which I don't -- formulating a possible argument for torture in this way just doesn't add up; arguing this line of thought is assuming that torture has an efficacy that is frankly unproven.
posted by Vidiot at 5:24 PM on November 18, 2004


Someone once told me about a t-shirt someone from the U.S. Army Psyops (Psychological Operations) unit wore. It said "PSYOPS: Because Physical Wounds Heal."
posted by beth at 5:46 PM on November 18, 2004


Even if you think there's some wiggle room on humanitarian grounds -- which I don't -- formulating a possible argument for torture in this way just doesn't add up;

It isn't an argument for torture. It's a sedcription of the essential problem. What I am saying is, that the real question is: Is torture wrong even under circumstances where it might actually work? I'd say yes. What would you say?
posted by unreason at 3:41 AM on November 19, 2004


I would say yes.

But my point is that we never know under which circumstances "it might actually work"...therefore it's next to useless as a tactic.

(It's like the death penalty. I'm opposed to it because I think it's morally wrong, but I'm also opposed to it because it's applied unfairly and erroneously and is irreversible.)
posted by Vidiot at 6:25 AM on November 19, 2004


Sorry unreason, I didn't mean to imply that you were a nazi. What I was pointing out is that framing the torture question in such a coldly rational way reminded me of the movie Conspiracy where they framed the Jewish problem in the same coldly rational way. Whether you are using it to argue for or against torture (and I understand that you are against), it still seems like a very bad idea.
posted by sic at 6:38 AM on November 19, 2004


Every minute you don't tell us why you are here, I cut off a finger.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:42 AM on November 19, 2004


That's ok. The point I was trying to make, (and I think I put it badly) is that most of the posters were giving utilitarian arguments against torture. The real question, I think, is what do we do when it is only a question of morality, and practicality is no longer a concern. That's when we find out whether we are moral, or if we are only practical.
posted by unreason at 9:06 AM on November 19, 2004


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