Roger’s guest this week, Mark Fallon, has been involved in some of the most significant terrorism investigations and operations in recent history, including the prosecution of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman (known at “the Blind Sheik”) and the attack on the USS Cole. They discuss counterterrorism tactics vs. strategies and the unintended effects of Western intervention and torture policies on extremist recruiting.
Former Guantanamo Bay detainees Mourad Benchellali and Nizar Sassi on Wednesday described their ordeals of ill-treatment and abuse at the facility as US President Donald Trump is asking for recommendations on whether torture works.
It was only a matter of weeks before Benchellali, a Frenchman detained first at Kandahar in Afghanistan, cracked and confessed to confess to being a member of the al-Qaida network.
The only problem, he said, was that it was a lie.
“Because I was afraid, because I hurt, and because I told myself, when this is all worked out, I’ll tell the truth.
But for now, better to tell them what they want to hear,” he said.
The words “concentration camp” flashed through Nizar Sassi’s mind when he found himself in a pile of naked men after being violated in front of a roomful of military physicians in Kandahar.Trump, who has pushed for tougher interrogation techniques, said he would consult with new Defence Secretary James Mattis and CIA director Mike Pompeo before authorizing any new policy.
Trump claimed he had asked top intelligence officials: “Does torture work? And the answer was ‘Yes, absolutely.'”
Even if it were, the answer is resoundingly negative, said Mark Fallon, who served as a U.S. counterterrorism investigator and tried to oppose the torture at Guantanamo when he learned about it during the administration of President George W. Bush.
“Torture is a very effective method to get somebody to say something you want them to say. It is not an effective method to get somebody to tell the truth or reliable information,” he said.
“Torture doesn’t work,” said Alberto Mora, the former General Counsel of the US Navy in the George W. Bush administration during 2001-2006.
“I’m afraid that (US) President (Donald) Trump has seen too many television shows and hasn’t spoken enough to interrogation professionals or military law enforcement professionals who understand that non-abusive relationship-based interrogation techniques are vastly more effective at producing truthful information faster than torture.”
In the days following September 11, the United States was still reeling from the attacks on the World Trade Center. Almost everyone was terrified of another attack. In hopes of obtaining intelligence, the Bush administration developed methods of torture to “break” prisoners of the so-called war on terror. These men would be stripped of their humanity, beaten and waterboarded. Less well known is the fact that they were also systematically sexually humiliated and sexually assaulted.
The decision to use these techniques in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and other secret locations would forever change the face of the United States. It would open the door to the use of multiple forms of torture that would cause prisoners physical, psychological… and sexual trauma.
The Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF) was created by the Department of Defense to investigate detainees in the War on Terror. Mark Fallon, the CITF’s deputy commander, was in Guantanamo to gather enough information on the detainees to try them.
Zero Impunity met with Fallon — 27 years as a NCIS Special Agent followed by 2 years as a senior executive in the Dept. of Homeland Security — on October 19, 2016. Fallon, a retiree with laughing eyes, is still haunted by the time he spent at Guantanamo. He was one of only a handful of high-ranking officials with whom Zero Impunity met. Zero Impunity also met with Alberto Mora, former General Counsel of the Navy, who also tried to sound the alarm, as well as Steven Kleinman, a career military intelligence officer at the Department of Defense, who was blacklisted after he criticized brutal interrogation methods in 2003. who tried to sound the alarm about what was happening in Guantanamo, to denounce these “shameful and deplorable” acts.
Fallon is known for his extensive experience as an interrogator while serving as a special agent. This man of austere appearance spent years blending into criminal networks, disguising himself at times as a drug dealer, an elephant poacher and an arms trafficker. Fallon began investigating Al Qaeda in the 1990s, so it was logical for the American authorities to call on him when they decided to set up an intelligence service on the prisoners detained in Guantanamo.
Throughout his campaign and in the weeks following his victory, President-elect Donald Trump has made it clear that the question of whether America should torture suspected terrorists in its custody could – and should – be rekindled.
Upon taking the oath of office eight years ago, President Obama banned waterboarding as a form of torture. Mr. Trump has said repeatedly that he would like to bring it back, along with techniques that are “much stronger” and “so much worse.”
“Don’t tell me it doesn’t work – torture works,” Trump told the Sun City retirement community in South Carolina last February. “Believe me, it works. OK, folks?”
A 2014 ABC NEWS/Washington Post poll found that 58 percent say that torture of suspected terrorists is sometimes or often justified, and 19 percent say that it can be justified, albeit rarely. One fifth rule it out entirely.
“There was so much false and fabricated information coming out of these interrogations – though I hesitate to call them interrogations because it discredits professional interrogators – that we wasted time and resources, and the threat level kept going up and up because of fabricated information,” says Mark Fallon, an interrogator and former deputy assistant director for counterterrorism at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
“People died in CIA custody – we killed people. Atrocities were committed,” Fallon says. “We need to talk about that.”
Senior advisors to the FBI-led team that interrogates terrorist suspects has blasted an impending executive order from Donald Trump as a dangerous and ignorant potential return to torture.
Opposition was quickly coalescing to an executive order the US president was expected to issue that would create a pathway to restoring the detention of terrorism suspects at facilities known as “black sites”, formally ending Barack Obama’s thwarted order to close the Guantánamo Bay wartime prison. This would also remove limitations on coercive interrogation techniques set by a longstanding army field manual intended to ensure humane military interrogations, which is mostly compliant with the Geneva Conventions.
Senator John McCain, a torture survivor and co-author of a 2015 law barring the security agencies from using interrogation techniques that surpass the prohibitions in the army field manual, pledged defiance over a return to torture.
Fallon, the former Guantánamo investigative official, said the call for surpassing the torture prohibitions was not coming from interrogators. “It’s against what practitioners are calling for. What President Trump needs to recognize is that interrogations professionals are not looking for additional techniques, they’re looking for the science to aid existing techniques,” he said.
Hours after the supposed draft order leaked, representatives of the CIA and the Pentagon distanced themselves from the unfolding political fracas.
“At this time, the US army has not made any requests to review Army Field Manual 2-22.3,” a spokesman told the Guardian, using the formal designation for the interrogations field manual. Similarly, CIA sources leaked to Yahoo News that Pompeo was blindsided by the draft of the order.
Channel News Asia reported on a panel Mark was on with other former senior US government officials in Paris, France. The conference and panel was organised by leading rights groups including the International Federation for Human Rights, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights and the US-based Center for Constitutional Rights.
The public was told by Rumsfeld and other top Bush administration officials that Guantanamo was needed because the men who were sent there were the “worst of the worst,” the “sort of people who would chew through a hydraulics cable to bring a C-17 [transport plane] down.”
But according to a new report, there was an ulterior motive for setting up Guantanamo: It was the ideal long-term interrogation facility, a “battle lab” where detainees would be subjected to untested interrogation methods and “exploited” for their intelligence value in what turned out to be a massive “experiment.”
“Although the government continues to mislead the public by touting that [Guantanamo] houses the ‘worst of the worst,’ the facts revealed by the Center unveil a different, more disturbing story,” the report says, adding that Guantanamo “served as the heart of worldwide interrogation testing and training.”
Bush administration officials have long disputed such characterizations, and have said any mistreatment of detainees was the work of a “few bad apples.” However, one former top military official told the Armed Services Committee that Guantanamo was described to him a “battle lab.” Army Colonel Britt Mallow, the commander of the Criminal Investigative Task Force, said Guantanamo officials Major General Mike Dunleavy and Major General Geoffrey Miller used the term “battle lab,” meaning “interrogations and other procedures there were to some degree experimental, and their lessons would benefit [the Department of Defense] in other places.”
In this publication by Guantanamo Truth, Mark’s position against the term “Battle Lab” and the use of unproven techniques on detainees was highlighted.
Mark was interviewed about the origins of the CIA EIT program and discussed the origins of SERE tactics as an interrogation practice.
Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg interviewed Mark for this piece on the flawed intelligence that led to many Guantanamo Bay detainees to remain prisoners. Mark said that the early intelligence was ofter grossly wrong and often based on the sketchiest bit of intelligence. Mark explained that the facts didn’t change, but evolved and could now be interpreted differently.