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Beret lieutenant colonel, Gordon Cucullu is now an editorialist,
author and a popular speaker. Born into a military
family, he lived and served for more than thirteen years in East
Asia, including eight years in Korea. For his Special Forces
service in Vietnam he was awarded a Bronze Star, Vietnamese Cross
of Gallantry, and the Presidential Unit Commendation. After separation
from the Army, he worked on Korea and East Asian affairs at both
the Pentagon and Department of State as well as an executive
for General Electric in Korea. His first major non-fiction work,
at Birth: How North Korea became the Evil Twin, is
based in large part on his extensive experience in
Korea and East Asia as a governmental insider and businessman.
[go to Cucullu index]
[Gordon Cucullu] 7/5/05
techniques at Guantanamo Bay – we’ve
all heard the scare stories: attack dogs, seductive women, sleep
deprivation, drugs. But doughnuts? On my recent
trip to GITMO I was able to observe Joint Task Force specialists conducting
interrogations. One detainee, described as ‘a high level
al Qaeda organizational and financial expert’ appeared
relaxed during his interrogation session, happily munching from
a box of doughnuts provided by his interrogator, a thirty-something
woman. Present at the interrogation was an interpreter. Although
the interrogator speaks Arabic she is more comfortable having ‘another
set of ears’ present at each session.
The detainee wore an orange jump suit, the mark
of detainees who refuse to do what guards direct them to do.
He was described
as ‘extremely noncompliant’ by JTF officers. Many
of the most dangerous regularly attack the guards, pelting them
with feces, urine, semen, spit and threats against them and their
families. But make no mistake, all of these men are extremely
hostile and this terrorist casualty munching on doughnut after
doughnut would happily kill every American he could get his hands
on military or civilian, man or woman. How can we be so certain?
Because he tells us exactly that.
Why doesn’t he take a swing at the interrogator, I asked. ‘He
knows the drill,’ replied JTF Commander BG Jay Hood. ‘He
is restrained by leg cuffs and can’t reach the interrogators.
If he tried – and some have – then he would be denied
privileges.’ The woman in charge of behavioral analysis
at GITMO, a dedicated Ph.D who has two years of experience with
these people and has just extended her stay added, ‘This
man is proud of what the did, the people he killed, the targets
he attacked, the plans he made, and the money he raised for al
Qaeda. He met with Usama bin Laden frequently. He tells us these
things as a proud jihadist fighter.’ He eagerly eats the
doughnuts that the interrogator provides at each session, General
Hood added, ‘so that he can throw his food tray at the
guards who deliver it to his cell.’ He attacks guards and
his punishment is to be supplied with doughnuts. Sounds like
torture to me.
What about a woman interrogator? We were told
that these thugs were especially sensitive about having Western
women around them. ‘We
are very effective with some of the detainees,’ another
woman interrogator told me. She looks to be in her forties, slight
build, light hair, quite American in appearance. ‘I dress
modestly when I work with the detainees,’ she said. “Long
sleeves and an ankle-length skirt. I act as a mother or perhaps
a sister to these men. In their culture those role models are
acceptable. Indeed, it provides a comfort level for them to discuss
their activities with a motherly/sisterly figure. We don’t
coerce; we don’t pressure. We just talk. And listen very
What do they hope to accomplish? ‘Most importantly,’ she
added, ‘we are breaking stereotypes. These men expected
to find something quite different. Many are very well educated,
in America and Europe, and have much exposure to Western culture.
But their ideology has implanted a harsh, critical stereotype
of what Western women are like. When we act differently – more
in keeping with women’s behavior in their family circles – then
we connect with their culture and they open up to us.’ So
what, after all these years of confinement, do the GITMO interrogators
hope to get from these people? One would expect that any important
information has long been overtaken by events or grown stale.
The answer to this question frankly surprised
me. I expected to learn that these guys had been milked of
all actionable intelligence
months ago and were simply hanging around waiting for ultimate
disposition by military tribunal. Boy, was I wrong. JTF interrogators
are continuing to develop a large amount of important intelligence.
They focus on ‘building rapport’ with the detainees,
getting to know them, gaining their trust. They ‘break
down stereotypes’ and engage in dialogue. General Hood
affirms that ‘the techniques work.’ Not all conversation
with the detainees is about military or terrorist actions. They
chat, talk about family, background, world affairs. One woman
bakes cookies for her sessions.
Interrogating these terrorists is a challenge. They are from
several countries, speak 17 languages, and are from a variety
of professional, educational, and social backgrounds. They are
not riffraff scraped off the battlefield. Some have advanced
degrees in law, medicine, and engineering from schools like the
University of London or Louisiana State University. Quite a few
are demolitions experts. Many detainees have been extensively
trained in counter-interrogation techniques. They have learned
tradecraft in some cases first or second hand from former KGB
and Eastern European intelligence operatives. They know how to
build a cover story, construct a cover within a cover, and hold
silence under duress.
But the information gained is growing daily.
Integrating this intelligence with Homeland Security agencies
and with military
reports from battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq is helping
penetrate the detainee cover stories and break down defenses.
One man was silent for almost three years. He successfully maintained
a false identity until a captured terrorist half a world away
picked him from a photo and gave his name. Once he was confronted
with the truth he began to talk. From him we are learning about
al Qaeda’s web of financial sources, how funds are moved,
and how money laundering takes place. His information enables
specialists to dry up money sources still functioning.
Another detainee provided personal information
on a current Afghan tribal leader that helped free Afghanistan
a turbulent region. Other detainees gave up operational attack
plans that they formulated that had not yet been implemented.
Police authorities in Europe and America follow up these leads
and continue to break up hidden terrorist ‘sleeper’ cells.
There are many reasons to hold these very dangerous terrorists,
including the wealth of vital information that we continue to
elicit. To make this happen they need to be confined in a special
facility secluded from everyone else where they can be controlled
effectively and interrogated properly. GITMO fits the requirements.
It is not a gulag or torture camp. It is a facility keeping highly
dangerous terrorists from killing more innocent Americans.
During lunch we ate a detainee meal, part of
the approximately 2,600 calorie daily feed they receive. It
was healthy, tasty,
and frankly, huge. I couldn’t begin to finish it. We were
joined by off-duty soldiers and sailors (the Navy is carrying
a lot of the GITMO guard responsibility). I asked one young woman
about her feelings toward negative, erroneous accusations from
the media and from Senators like Durbin and Kennedy. ‘We
hear all that, of course,’ she answered, ‘but we
try not to let us get us down.’ Then she grinned. ‘In
fact every time we see one of those stories it just makes us
want to work harder to accomplish our mission.’ Her name
tag is blacked out as are those of the other soldiers because
of personal threats from the detainees, so I won’t give
it here. But know that we owe these gallant service men and women
a deep debt of gratitude for carrying out this vital but viciously
slandered mission, all the while bearing up with great professionalism. tRO
about North Korea? Learn more in Gordon’s
best-selling book Separated
at Birth: How North Korea became the Evil Twin became
the Evil Twin, Lyons Press available at bookstores now.
Gordon Cucullu 2005