American Interrogation Policy in the War Against Terrorism
By Benjamin Wittes, Fellow, Brookings Institution
Reviewed by Francis P. Sempa, Contributing Editor
Brookings Institution fellow and Atlantic Monthly editor Benjamin Wittes, the author of Law and the Long War: The Future of Justice in the Age of Terror, recently attempted to outline for the House Judiciary Committee the broad contours for U.S. interrogation laws. His stated goal was to establish a legal framework that will enable the government to prosecute the war on terror effectively and in a manner consistent with American values.
To that end, he offered a legal framework divided into three parts: military interrogations, CIA interrogations, and the interrogation of special "high value" detainees.
Wittes believes that the proper legal framework for military interrogations already exists by virtue of the McCain Amendment and the Army Field Manual, which are in compliance with the Geneva Conventions and specify what tactics are authorized and which are forbidden.
CIA interrogation rules, according to Wittes, are currently inadequate. They proscribe torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment but are so vague as to provide little or no guidance to agency interrogators. There is a fine line between aggressive interrogations and unlawful interrogations, and current law does not properly delineate it. Wittes believes that CIA interrogators should be permitted to use more aggressive tactics than military interrogators, though he fails to adequately explain why civilian agents should be given more leeway than soldiers in a combat setting. He couples his proposal for more aggressive CIA tactics with mechanisms for Congressional oversight by intelligence committees.
The interrogation of special "high value" detainees is the third and most interesting part of Wittes' framework. These are situations where the normal rules for interrogation will likely be breached in an effort to avert catastrophe. Under his proposed framework, the President could...