Eli Lake reports that ISIS fighters captured in Iraq — of whom there reportedly are almost 100 so far — are being interrogated by Iraqis, not by U.S. intelligence officers. Thus, we’re left to rely on reports from Iraqis to obtain information from the captives.
This may not be all bad. U.S. interrogation policy severely limits what we can do to extract information from terrorists. It’s likely, moreover, that ISIS tells its fighters about the limits on what we will do to them.
Iraqis are not under the constraints we impose on ourselves. Thus, prisoners are more likely to give them information.
Unfortunately, information provided under extreme duress may not be reliable; it may simply be what the prisoner thinks his captors want to hear. There are ways in which experienced, sophisticated interrogators can tell, for the most part, when they are being misled in this manner. However, it’s not clear that the Iraqis who are interrogating the captured ISIS fighters have the requisite experience and sophistication.
Lake points to an additional problem. One former U.S. government official who has worked on the war against ISIS tells him that anything we are getting from the the captured fighters through the Iraqis (other than the Kurds) is probably being vetted by Iran. Thus, we’re not just relying on Iraqis, we’re also probably relying on Iran.
One thing seems clear. President Obama is not in any real sense avoiding the moral and human rights problems he associates with the harsh interrogation of fighters captured by the U.S. and its allies. We are farming out interrogation to foreign intelligence services that, as Lake says, make no pretense of following international law when questioning suspected terrorists.
Thus, prisoners end up being maltreated and even tortured, while we end up with less intelligence than we would obtain if we conducted interrogations as they were handled in the early years of the Bush administration.