Glenn Carle's bosses asked him if he could go on a trip — one that would last somewhere between 30 and 60 days. His job? To interrogate a man suspected of being a top member of al-Qaida.
It was 2002 and, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 tragedy, the U.S. was heavily engaged in its "War on Terror." Carle, a former CIA intelligence officer, was "surged" to become an interrogator and sent to one of the Agency's secret overseas facilities. He writes about his experience in his new book, The Interrogator: An Education.
Carle tells NPR's Mary Louise Kelly that he was told do whatever it took to make the man talk. When Carle questioned his superiors, saying, "We don't do that," they replied, "We do now."
None of the specifics about the detainee's name, nationality, or location of the interrogations are included in the book. In fact, large chunks of the book are blacked out — Carle says that the CIA redacted close to 40 percent of the original manuscript
But what readers do learn is Carle's feelings about, and reactions to, the situation he was in. From early on, Carle believed that physical abuse would be counterproductive and it would not be something he would take part in.
"However," he says, "There are psychological measures that I had been subject to as part of my training. We had been taught that psychological manipulation was not lasting or severe — that's the definition of what would be unacceptable treatment. .... I concluded pretty quickly that that was wrong and came to oppose [psychological manipulation], too."
The subject of Carle's interrogations — a man he refers to as CAPTUS — had had contact with people of interest. He also had useful information. But he didn't have the intimate connections or the critical knowledge that would have marked him as a member of al-Qaida.
"Did his work facilitate some al-Qaida activities?" asks Carle. "You could argue that it did, but I try to give an analogy of a ticket conductor in Grand Central Station. If you sell a ticket to a member of al-Qaida going to Long Island, are you aiding and abetting? I think that's a long stretch to make."
Carle doesn't believe that CAPTUS was entirely innocent, but he also wasn't who the CIA claimed him to be. Toward the end of his time on the CAPTUS case, Carle wrote two cables saying as much and had them sent to Agency headquarters. When he returned to Washington, D.C., he found that no one even knew of the cables' existence.
"I think that they were impolitic and upset the apple cart," he says. "They challenged the premises of the specific operation and the methods being used. They placed in question years of work by very talented people."
Carle's experience left him deeply disturbed by what he'd found. That was the driving force behind his decision to write the book. "Americans need to know what we've done to ourselves, he says. "We have coarsened ourselves and weakened our laws and I think what we did is not at all what I took an oath to serve."