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Published: Thursday, 9/16/2004

Humane approach works

THE abusive treatment of detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison by United States military personnel, so vividly shown in photographs that shocked the nation and the world, was doubly damaging.

Not only did it tarnish the image of our armed forces, hurting this country in the eyes of much of the world, it apparently was of little help in yielding useful intelligence information.

Instead, the more humane tactics employed since then seem to work better.

The harsh practices originally employed, such as hooding prisoners, stripping them, depriving them of sleep, and threatening them with dogs, were not particularly productive in terms of the information gathered, according to Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who is in charge of U.S. detentions and interrogations in Iraq.

Conversely, the amount of high value, or significant, intelligence gained from prisoners has gone up by more than half since less stringent interrogation methods have been in place, General Miller said.

It appears that building a rapport with the prisoners, and treating them with a measure of dignity - a style of questioning introduced earlier this year after more-coercive methods were banned - is paying dividends. Whether that means greater success against the insurgency in Iraq is uncertain, because guerrilla activity has been growing more intense even as more information is obtained from detainees.

It would be irresponsibly naive to believe that simply asking a suspected terrorist or insurgent a question and saying "please" is going to get U.S. interrogators anywhere. But more humane treatment, more subtle means of ingratiating themselves with their prisoners, do appear to be producing results for U.S. interrogators.

Such was the case when General Miller was in charge of the American detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and it seems to be working again. General Miller noted that the new practices are similar to those used by civilian law enforcement.

In other words, not only do they stay within reasonable bounds, but they're known to work. And their proven success should be no surprise to interrogators and officers at Abu Ghraib.

It surely cannot be a revelation to those personnel who either took part in, or permitted the ill-treatment of prisoners, that their behavior was not only abusive, but counterproductive.

That would tend to support the view of those who saw the abuse not as an effective means of intelligence-gathering, but as something more simple and uglier: a brutal expression of contempt for the detainees.

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