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Gordon Cucullu- Contributor


Former Green 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, Separated 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. [website] [go to Cucullu index]

Separated at Birth : How North Korea Became the Evil Twin
Gordon Cucullu

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Interrogations at GITMO
Breaking Stereotypes…
[Gordon Cucullu] 7/5/05

Interrogation 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 carefully.’

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 forces control 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

Curious 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.

copyright Gordon Cucullu 2005




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