Sunday, January 01, 2006

Translation of Michael Scheuer interview in Die Zeit (part I)

This is my translation of part 1 of 5 of Die Zeit's interview with Michael Scheuer. You can find this part of the interview in German here. As I forgot to mention earlier, I was apprised of this interview by Captain Ed.

Forward to Part II.

"The CIA has the right to break any law"

Does the US intelligence service have the right to kidnap suspected terrorists? Michael Scheuer, one of those chiefly responsible [for that policy], gives answers for the first time.

DIE ZEIT: You helped develop the system of renditions at the CIA. Terror suspects were apprehended outside the U.S. and turned over to other countries. Were these "extraordinary renditions" a success from the point of view of the CIA?

Michael Scheuer: Absolutely. For a decade it was the United States' most successful anti-terrorism program.

ZEIT: Why?

Scheuer: Because the goals were so clearly defined. First, we wanted to identify the members and contacts of the terror-group al-Qaida and put them in jail. Those in fact who had either taken part in an attack on the United States or who were possibly planning an attack. Second, papers and electronics were to be confiscated. It is being claimed in the media that we had apprehended and hauled off people on the basis of some suspicions, in order to interrogate them. But that isn't right.

ZEIT: You didn't want to interrogate?

Scheuer: If it was possible to interrogate, we considered that the icing on the cake. We just wanted the man and his documents.

ZEIT: Why?

Scheuer: We knew from experience that aggressive interrogations that border on torture don't work. People say whatever the interrogator wants to hear. Either the people lied or they gave us precise but outdated information.

ZEIT: Who invented the system of "extraordinary renditions"?

Scheuer: President Clinton, his security advisor Sandy Berger, and his terrorism advisor Richard Clarke tasked the CIA in Fall 1995 with destroying al-Qaida. We asked the President: what should we do with the people we've apprehended? Clinton: that's your concern. The CIA objected: we aren't prison guards. We were again told that we should solve the problem somehow. So we developed a procedure, and I was a member of this task force. We concentrated on al-Qaida members who were wanted in their home countries or who had been convicted there in absentia.

ZEIT: How did you decide who should be apprehended?

Scheuer: We had to present a huge amount of incriminating evidece to a group of lawyers.

ZEIT: Lawyers? In the intelligence services?

Scheuer: Yes, lawyers everywhere. In the CIA, in the Justice Department, in the National Security Council. We developed our list of targets under their supervision. Then we had to catch the person in a country that was prepared to cooperate with us. Finally, the person had to come from a country that was prepared to take him back. A terribly cumbersome process for a very limited group of targets.

ZEIT: Why did countries want to cooperate with you on their own territory? Couldn't they have dealt with it themselves?

Scheuer: They believed that only America was threatened. And that they would themselves only become targets of terror if they arrested suspects. If we hadn't gotten the ball rolling, no-one would have done it.

ZEIT: Your partner countries wanted the CIA to do the work for them?

Scheuer: Yes, but they had no interest in holding these people in their own country. The CIA itself didn't apprehend or imprison anyone.

ZEIT: Excuse me?

Scheuer: That was done by the local police or the local intelligence service. We always remained in the background. The U.S. government is full of cowards. It doesn't permit the CIA to operate independently at all.

ZEIT: Did the interrogations take place in the destination countries?

Scheuer: We always submitted our questions in writing.

ZEIT: The CIA was never present at the interrogations?

Scheuer: Not that I ever heard. The lawyers forbade us from that.