MIKE PESCA, host:
The generals fight the previous war, the emergency managers' prep for the most recent disaster, and voters turn most elections into a referendum on the current office holder, even when he's not running. It is just human nature. One big recent example overwhelms all the others. And so with the question of torture, we come to the case of al-Qaeda architect, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Supporters of waterboarding or harsh interrogation methods, whatever you want to call it, will tell you that those methods broke KSM.
Those who say the U.S. should not torture will rebut that fact vigorously. Torture simply doesn't work, is their refrain. This weekend, the New York Times had a big scoop which advanced the story on what made Khalid Sheikh Mohammed talk. Mark Bowden has provided a lot of groundwork on that overall story. He wrote a couple of big pieces in the Atlantic, one back in 2003 contemplating the effectiveness of torture overall. Hello, Mark.
Mr. MARK BOWDEN (Author, "Black Hawk Down;" Journalist; Atlantic Monthly): Good morning.
PESCA: We - good morning. We found out on Sunday the name of the CIA interrogator who got Khalid Sheikh Mohammed talking. His name is Duce Martinez. You reported on interrogation methods extensively. What did you learn from this article?
Mr. BOWDEN: Well, a lot. Actually, it was an amazing piece by Scott Shane, you know, and you know, one of the big questions for the last few years has been, you know, what exactly happened in the interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? And this story pretty well lays it out.
You know, I learned how they got Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, which was an informant who tipped them off in return for a reward and relocation. I learned, you know, a lot of the details about his interview, including the fact that he volunteered the information that he had beheaded Daniel Pearl. It - you know, I think it confirmed for me a lot of things that I knew more in general about the way these interrogations are conducted, but the specifics were new.
PESCA: I think, as far as I know, Poland was named as the first time as the site of the interrogation.
Mr. BOWDEN: Yeah. I actually did know that Eastern European countries were being used as the - as sites...
Mr. BOWDEN: I think we've generally known that, but I didn't know Poland in particular.
PESCA: Right. And there's a quote in there saying, the Poles love America. It's like the 51st state. They'll let you do anything there.
(Soundbite of laughter)
PESCA: So, even with this - this is one of those things where the debate rages on, given all the information in the article, because it was almost a good-cop/bad-cop routine. Duce Martinez came in as the guy who would listen to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who would talk to him.
Mr. BOWDEN: Right.
PESCA: But the bad cops, if you want to look at it this way, softened him up, and they were harsh with him.
Mr. BOWDEN: Yeah, you know, and I think, ultimately, even when the transcripts of this interview are released, you probably won't find people on either side of this argument budging their position. Because, I mean, you can always argue that he would have been as cooperative if he didn't have to deal with, you know, the pain and discomfort of the other - of the dark side of the interrogation process. My opinion is that it probably was very helpful in changing his attitude, and the fact that he was so - he warmed up to Duce Martinez and the other interrogator had a lot to do with avoiding the other side of the hall.
PESCA: On the floors of Congress and in conserve - mostly conservative media, whenever people advocate the use of harsh interrogation methods, they have been bringing up the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mostly based on a 2007 ABC report, where Dennis Rods - Ross said it was an extraordinary amount of time to hold out, the two minutes that he spent being waterboarded without talking.
One former CIA officer told ABC News a redheaded female supervisor was in the room when he was being waterboarded. It was humiliating to him, so he held out. Then he started talking and he never stopped. This report, your report, Jane Mayer's report in The New Yorker, that fills in the picture a lot better. In fact, from what you've reported and what you know, does anything contradict the - that Dennis Ross report of ABC?
Mr. BOWDEN: Well, only that he'd held out for less than two minutes.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BOWDEN: You know, the more recent report is that - 35 seconds, but I think, you know, one of the - the issue of whether to use harsh interrogation methods on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is different than the sort of nightmare that happened at Abu Ghraib and Bagram, and you know, the wholesale abuse of Iraqi and Afghani prisoners, including chilling some of them.
I mean, that's just an outrage, and foolish, and illegal. And it's done more harm to our cause than anything since we've gotten involved in this war. But I've never felt that the interrogation of key figures like Mohammed ought to be conducted in a - you know, according to the sort of FBI, you know, civil rules of interrogation.
PESCA: There are a couple of big questions, but maybe the two biggest questions concerning harsh interrogation is, does it work? And is it right? In the minds of many, the two are connected, but John McCain, for one, says, I don't even want to talk about, does it work? Because it just isn't right. Is that...
Mr. Bowden: Yeah.
PESCA: I mean, should a decent amount of attention be paid to that point?
Mr. BOWDEN: Well, I think it isn't right, and it's something that ought to be avoided, and it - you know, in any event. But it seems to me that even, you know, we can say murder is wrong, but we allow exceptions for self defense. You know, the world is not constructed clearly along the lines of our moral considerations, and you know, I think, you know, the ticking-bomb scenario is one that's always employed, that would drive the most decent person in the world to employ coercive methods against someone to get information. So...
PESCA: Right, but...
Mr. BOWDEN: I think the third question, maybe even the most important question, is whether it's legal or not. And you know, my position has fairly consistently been that it ought to be illegal, and that it ought to be employed - when it is employed, it ought to be very rare, and when it is, the person who does it has to be exposing himself to punishment or prosecution.
PESCA: In your reporting in 2003, you pretty much reveal that there's no definitive blueprint for interrogation. There is something called - I think it's pronounced the KUBARK manual?
Mr. BOWDEN: Right.
PESCA: Which the CIA's put together. I mean, they have done and studied tough interrogation, but there's no exact plan. And as the Times article laid out, a lot of it was haphazard.
Mr. Bowden: Mm-hm.
PESCA: Do you think now, if the U.S. catches a high-profile target with valuable information, it will be sort of better defined as to the exact steps to take, to interrogate that high-profile target?
Mr. BOWDEN: I don't really think, you know, that there's ever going to be a blueprint. There are methods that have proved useful with certain people. What I do think, Mike, that is happening is, over the past six to seven years, we are - we have reconstructed a body of skilled and experienced interrogators who have gotten a great deal of experience now in the field. This fellow, Duce Martinez, as an example, he was plucked out of a drug program and put into work as an interrogator.
He, you know, he did these interrogations with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, without being able to speak his language. Mohammed, of course, spoke English, so that made it a little bit easier, but I think what you'll find is that the interrogators will grow increasingly skilful. They will be increasingly knowledgeable of the language and culture of the people they're trying to get information from, and ultimately, those are the things that in most cases prove to be effective.
PESCA: We have to end it there, but I want to thank you, Mark Bowden, national correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, author of "Dark Art of Interrogation" in 2003, and "Black Hawk Down." Thank you, Mark.
Mr. BOWDEN: You're welcome.
(Soundbite of music)
RACHEL MARTIN, host:
Stay with us. Coming up, it's the BPP's The Most. This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.