- The Washington Times - Friday, November 29, 2002

The Bush administration is heralding its recent success in snaring top al Qaeda operatives and noting that those once-hardened terrorists are now cooperating with interrogators.

"We did bring to justice a killer," President Bush said last week, referring to the shadowy capture of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, suspected of being the al Qaeda operations chief of the Middle East. "We're making progress in the war against terrorists."

But the notion that al-Nashiri and others are cooperating with U.S. interrogators raises questions about why high-level al Qaeda members would divulge secretive information about the terrorist network when pledging to die for their cause is central to the mission.

The 19 men who carried out the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11 apparently had no second thoughts about dying. Neither did those who attacked a French tanker off the coast of Yemen in October or the bombers of a Bali nightclub days later.

But many terrorism experts aren't surprised that the upper echelons of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, which the United States blames for the September 11 attacks, are talking.

"Chiefs don't go kill themselves, they find people who are willing or dumb enough to do that for them," said Milton Bearden, the CIA's station chief in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Added I.C. Smith, a former senior counterterrorism official with the FBI, "You sometimes get the feeling that the soldiers are more fervent in their beliefs than the generals."

While movies and spy novels often dwell on torture techniques for extracting information, those with experience in the field don't endorse it, and U.S. agents are forbidden to employ it.

"I don't believe in torturing people, because then you don't know if they are telling the truth or not," said retired Maj. Gen. Jacob Amidror, who spent years as an intelligence officer in the Israel Defense Forces.

Instead, good interrogators are like well-trained actors, Mr. Smith said. The interrogators play a role in order to elicit information from the subject. They talk to the person and slowly build trust. Time serves as the questioners' ally. Interrogators gain by establishing a relationship with the prisoner.

Breaking down a terrorism suspect trained to defy U.S. interrogators is an art form that requires patience and a keen understanding of how to work the psyche of the person in custody, according to those who have worked in the field.

One former CIA operative said he was able to obtain a confession from a Libyan terrorist by gradually making him believe that his country's power structure was crumbling around him. One tool: a CIA-produced Arab newspaper with false articles about the death of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Brad Garrett, an FBI agent in the Washington field office, said he was able to glean information from Ramzi Yousef, convicted of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, by slowly getting him to trust that Mr. Garrett's word was good.

For example, before Yousef was brought back from Pakistan to stand trial in the United States, he asked Mr. Garrett to make sure that he had decent clothes to wear in front of the media in America. Before they left Islamabad, Mr. Garrett had Yousef outfitted with a suit, tie and shoes.

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