STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The U.S. military recently captured a Somali man and interrogated him for more than two months on board a Navy ship. Then this month, they flew him to New York and indicted him on federal charges. The case is reigniting debate over whether to prosecute terrorism cases in civilian court, and over what rights terror suspects really have. Those are questions we have considered at length on this program.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
But we rarely have the chance to explore them with someone who has actually interrogated one of those suspects. That was the job of Glenn Carle. He's a former CIA spy and he was assigned, back in 2002 to lead the interrogation of a suspected senior member of al-Qaida.
Carle has written a book about the experience. It's called "The Interrogator." He told us how he first got the assignment.
Mr. GLENN CARLE (Former CIA Agent/Author, "The Interrogator: An Education"): First I was approached and asked if I could go on what we call a TDY, where that's a business trip for 30 or 60 days. That it was very important for the agency, for the country and for me, could I go? And so, the answer of course to that is yes. And one suspects in 2002 that would be related to the war on terror.
And then I went for the briefing and was told we've captured one of the top members of al-Qaida. We think he might be able to lead us to bin Laden. If not, certainly he can help us seriously damage the institution. And you will do whatever it takes to get them to talk.
KELLY: Were you told that anything was off the table during these interrogations?
Mr. CARLE: The short answer to that is no. It was always just pressure him. And I was in the early days of the interrogation program, so the protocols and guidelines that are quite clear that I am able to put in the book didn't exist at the time. And what I was told you will do whatever it takes, my response was, well, we don't do that. And then the rejoinder was we do now.
KELLY: Now, in terms of explaining who it was that you were sent to interrogate and what it was you were supposed to try to get from him - we should be clear you are still not allowed to say his name, his nationality, where you were interrogating him, what he was accused of doing, or even what language you were going to be interrogating him in.
Mr. CARLE: Thats all correct. I was surprised that they redacted or - which is a term of ours for censored, of course - the language I speak because it's easily discoverable. And I didn't think that it was sensitive, but they took that out even.
KELLY: You eventually interrogated him in two different sites. First, in a host country which you are not allowed to name. And then in one of the CIA black sites overseas. You were being told do whatever it takes, pressure him. But your instinct was the physical abuse would be counterproductive, that you were going to have to build some sort of rapport.
Mr. CARLE: Well, I go further than that even. There was no question to me from the first instance that I would ever do or be involved in anything physical, I simply wouldnt. It's just whatever my orders that was just clear to me.
However, there are psychological measures that I had been subject to as part of my training. And we had been taught that the psychological manipulation was not lasting or severe - that's the definition of what would be unacceptable treatment - and did have an effect. I concluded a pretty quickly that was wrong and came to oppose that too.
KELLY: Did this detainee ever provide useful intelligence?
Mr. CARLE: Oh, he did. He did. This is one of the gray areas in the whole case. He did have contact with people of interest in al-Qaida. And he did have information that was what we would call disseminable(ph) - it passed the threshold of useful information to be sent to policymakers.
He didn't have, I believe or at least didn't provide, the critical information them or have the intimate, active, conscious willing links and associations with al-Qaida that we had assessed him to have before.
KELLY: And you came, over the course of the many hours you spent with him, to believe that the CIA had gotten it wrong; that this man was not in fact a dangerous jihadist. He wasn't even a member of al-Qaida, you didn't think.
Mr. CARLE: Oh, I'm confident that he wasnt a member of al-Qaida, and he wasnt dangerous.
Now, did his work facilitate some of al-Qaida activities? You could argue that it did. But I try to give an analogy of a ticket conductor in Grand Central Station. And if you sell a ticket to a member of Al-Qaida going to Long Island, are you aiding and abetting? I think that's a long stretch to make. And I think that CAPTUS was in that situation.
KELLY: CAPTUS is the name to him to give him.
Mr. CARLE: That's right. I'm sorry. That is the detainee whom I called, dubbed CAPTUS in the book.
It gets a little more complex though. He wasn't, I believe, a total innocent. So there were things he couldn't avoid doing, things he knew, some things he didnt want to tell me, some things he did and didn't know the consequences of.
KELLY: When you concluded that this man was not who the CIA believed he was, you concluded that he should be released. You wrote two cables, two pretty strongly-worded communications back to agency headquarters to here in Washington, telling them that. What happened?
Mr. CARLE: Well, they were the two strongest cables I ever wrote. But I found when I arrived back in Washington that no one knew of their existence. And they seem never to have been sent.
KELLY: Why do you think that was?
Mr. CARLE: Well, I think that they were impolitic and upset the apple cart, and they challenged the premises of the specific operation and the methods being used. And they placed in question years of work by a very talented people. They challenged in a larger context actually, much of the approach taken in the war on terror and the rendition, detention and interrogation programs. And so it was a gadfly avoided if the cables didn't go.
KELLY: You know, I was struck by your description in the book of the CIA, like any big bureaucracy, very difficult to stop once the train is in motion. And it's interesting. You, as the person on the frontlines carrying out the interrogation, having grave doubts about the way that it was unfolding, how difficult it was for you to challenge the policy being made back in Washington.
Mr. CARLE: Well, I was deeply disturbed by what I found. And I'm one of the few people to have been involved in these processes that the American people believe were necessary on the whole, were necessary to protect us. And I enthusiastically gave my best to try to serve and oppose al-Qaida, and to help protect us and accomplish my mission. But Americans need to know what we've done to us ourselves.
Out of sight, we have coarsened ourselves and weakened our laws. And I think what we did is not at all what I took an oath to serve.
KELLY: Glenn Carle, thanks very much.
Mr. CARLE: Thank you.
KELLY: Glenn Carle is the author of "The Interrogator: An Education."
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Mary Louise Kelly.
INSKEEP: And Im Steve Inskeep.