Since Sept. 11, a series of seismic shifts has altered the legal landscape, and suddenly federal law enforcement is thinking what until very recently was the unthinkable. On Oct. 21, the Washington Post reported that some FBI officials, frustrated by the strict silence maintained by key terrorism suspects in custody, are starting to discuss the possibility of employing coercive interrogation techniques. Less euphemistically, they're talking about torture.
That's not the word the anonymous officials quoted in the article chose to describe what they have in mind. "It could get to that spot where we could go to pressure," said one FBI agent, "where we won't have a choice, and we are probably getting there."
What did he mean by "pressure"? The article says that "among the alternative strategies under discussion are using drugs or pressure tactics, such as those employed occasionally by Israeli interrogators, to extract information." According to human-rights groups, methods used by the Israelis include beatings, sleep deprivation and prolonged shackling.
If indeed the nation is beginning a discussion about using torture in the future, it may want to ponder some of its uses in the past. Critics of the new proposals for coercive interrogations argue that such barbarism is un-American; regrettably, stacks of recently declassified documents suggest otherwise.
To wit, here are some excerpts of once secret papers and manuals, most of them recently released to the public. Officially sanctioned torture, along with its other costs, leaves a grisly paper trail.
CIA "Counterintelligence Interrogation" manual, July 1963. At 128 pages, this was apparently the spy agency's most extensive discussion of ways to make people talk:
"Interrogations conducted under compulsion or duress are especially likely to involve illegality or to entail damaging consequences for [CIA]. Therefore prior headquarters approval ... must be obtained for interrogation of any source against his will and under any of the following circumstances: 1. If bodily harm is to be inflicted. 2. If medical, chemical, or electrical methods or materials are to be used to induce acquiescence. 3. [DELETED--STILL CLASSIFIED]."
"The following are the principle coercive techniques of interrogation: arrest, detention, deprivation of sensory stimuli through solitary confinement and similar methods, threats and fear, debility, pain, heightened suggestibility and hypnosis, narcosis [drugging], and induced regression. ... If a coercive technique is to be used, or if two or more are to be employed jointly, they should be chosen for their effect upon the individual and carefully selected to match his personality."
Army "Project X" manuals. Prepared in the 1960s for training foreign militaries, the manuals were incorporated into lesson plans at the Army's School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., where they were used until 1991:
"I am going to mention some of the mechanical methods to test, which could be used under certain extenuating circumstances. Sodiopentathol compound, which is an anesthetic drug, could be intravenously injected and would have the results of 'truth serum.'"
"The counterintelligence agent could cause the arrest of the employee's [informant's] parents, imprison the employee or give him a beating as part of the placement plan of said employee in the guerrilla organization."
CIA "Human Resources Exploitation" manual, 1983. This document was used in training military intelligence units in Latin America:
"Solitary confinement acts on a person as a powerful stress. ... The stress and anxiety become almost unbearable for most subjects.
"If a subject refuses to comply once a threat has been made, it must be carried out."