Those who love the Book of Mormon may wince and wonder. We have Captain Moroni held up as an example of a great man whom we should emulate, a man who despised bloodshed yet was one of the most effective military generals ever. One thing that both friends and foes learned Moroni was that he was clever but NICE. He treated captured enemies well. Many times he would release prisoners if they would make a serious oath to not fight against the Nephites again. He abhorred unnecessary killing and looked for clever ways to win without bloodshed. And we can be sure that when he interrogated prisoners, they weren't being tortured.
But how naive to think that such methods could possible work. Could "nice" interrogation ever get anything valuable out of prisoners, any vital information at all?
Actually, the state-of-the-art information in interrogation techniques for several decades has pointed out that "nice" approach is far more effective that torture. It's hardly a secret. And the tough approach that the US seems to taking has had the results one would expect in light of the best information on interrogation: almost NOTHING of value has been extracted by our interrogators. Abu Ghraib was a disaster not just for the harm to our public image and the harm done to the victims and the degradation of American soldiers who stooped to such levels, but it was also a military disaster in terms of failing to extract useful information.
Please read "Truth Extraction" by Stephen Budiansky in the latest issue of the Atlantic Monthly (June 2005). Here is a brief excerpt:
Six months before the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison broke into public view, a small and fairly obscure private association of United States Marine Corps members posted on its Web site a document on how to get enemy POWs to talk.A key point is that torture makes it obvious that the soldier being interrogated is in enemy hands, and strengthens the resolve to be silent. When a man finally talks under torture, the information will often be deliberately incorrect. On the other hand, when prisoners are treated nicely, when there is someone interested in how they are doing and just talking, the prisoners may be willing to tell stories and share incidental information that can be pieced together with other information to provide useful insights. Moran and others obtained far more information from their prisoners that those who took more "aggressive" approaches.
The document described a situation very similar to the one the United States faces in the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan: a fanatical and implacable enemy, intense pressure to achieve quick results, a brutal war in which the old rules no longer seem to apply.
Marine Major Sherwood F. Moran, the report's author, noted that despite the complexities and difficulties of dealing with an enemy from such a hostile and alien culture, some American interrogators consistently managed to extract useful information from prisoners. The successful interrogators all had one thing in common in the way they approached their subjects. They were nice to them.
Moran was writing in 1943, and he was describing his own, already legendary methods of interrogating Japanese prisoners of war. More than a half century later his report remains something of a cult classic for military interrogators. The Marine Corps Interrogator Translator Teams Association (MCITTA), a group of active-duty and retired Marine intelligence personnel, calls Moran's report one of the "timeless documents" in the field and says it has long been "a standard read" for insiders. (A book about the Luftwaffe interrogator Hans Joachim Scharff, whose charm, easygoing manner, and perfect English beguiled many a captured Allied airman into revealing critical information, is another frequently cited classic in the field.) An MCITTA member says the group decided to post Moran's report online in July of 2003, because "many others wanted to read it" and because the original document, in the Marine Corps archives, was in such poor shape that the photocopies in circulation were difficult to decipher. He denies that current events had anything to do with either the decision to post the document or the increased interest in it.
But it is hard to imagine a historical lesson that would constitute a more direct reproach to recent U.S. policies on prisoner interrogation. And there is no doubt that Moran's report owes more than a little of its recent celebrity to the widespread disdain among experienced military interrogators for what took place at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo when ill-trained personnel were ordered to "soften up" prisoners. Since the prison scandals broke, many old hands in the business have pointed out that abusing prisoners is not simply illegal and immoral; it is also remarkably ineffective.
And I bet that Captain Moroni's "nice" treatment resulted in much more useful information as well. If he were in charge of this war, I think we'd be in a much stronger position, with Muslims all over the world questioning the anti-US propaganda, and . . . . Actually, if he were in charge, it's hard to imagine just how different things might be. We might have both Osama bib Laden AND Howard Stern locked up in the same prison cell for all I know. Yes, Captain Moroni was nice, but he wasn't naive and he could take strong measures when essential.