The inside story of how U.S. terrorist hunters are going after al Qaeda
While some may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, officials close to the interrogations can tick off a series of high-profile cases in which the prisoners have proved useful. Gitmo detainees helped place "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh in an al Qaeda camp, for example, and gave tips that led to the breakup of alleged al Qaeda cells in Morocco and Lackawanna, N.Y.
Gitmo, though, is only one node in a network of holding centers and prisons the United States began using in the war on terrorism. There are a half-dozen others, all of them overseas and inaccessible to the press and the public. In Jordan, the CIA uses a special center at the country's remote al Jafr Prison, where it has shipped up to 100 al Qaeda suspects for initial interrogations (box, Page 22). In Afghanistan, the Pentagon and the CIA run major interrogation centers at bases in Bagram and Kandahar, where some 70 prisoners are still believed held. Another facility is at the joint British-American base on Diego Garcia. A tiny speck of real estate in the Indian Ocean, the island was once called "Gilligan's Island with guns" by Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper. U.S. interrogations, employing so-called stress-and-duress techniques, have also come under fire from human-rights groups. The tactics range from sensory overload--use of bright, 24-hour lighting and the playing of loud music--to sleep deprivation. But the most troubling questions are reserved for prisons run by friendly Muslim governments. The CIA has helped move dozens of detainees not only to Jordan but also to Egypt, Morocco, and even Syria. Dubbed "renditions," the transfers have stirred concern by critics over those nations' records for torture.
The Facilitator. The efforts of the Jordanians are especially valued by U.S. officials. Their interrogators are used not only at al Jafr but also at other U.S. detention centers. Asked if they have helped with questioning at Guantanamo, a Jordanian intelligence agent replied: "We did. We do. And we will do." Indeed, CIA officials say they prefer the Jordanians precisely because they do not torture (although human-rights reports note their nasty reputation for falaqa--beating prisoners on the soles of their feet). "It's not that we have better interrogators," the Jordanian agent explained. "But when you want to interrogate a fundamentalist, it is not easy to get into his mind when he considers you an infidel."
In the parlance of the intelligence world, such ties with friendly spy services are called liaison relationships. "The one thing the CIA does better than anybody is manage liaison relationships," says Milt Bearden, the agency's former chief of station in Pakistan. "We've done it for 50 years. Our job is to recruit the spirit and love by giving them stuff--and that gives us stuff."
"Giving them stuff," in fact, has been central to the CIA's war on al Qaeda. The idea is simple enough: After 9/11, the United States began, in effect, to contract out key portions of the war on terrorism. Millions of dollars in covert funding started flowing to friendly Muslim intelligence and security agencies. The top recipients: Egypt, Jordan, and Pakistan. Also on the list are Algeria, Morocco, and Yemen. Total payments have topped well over $20 million, intelligence sources say, an amount they consider a bargain. Washington, of course, has granted other incentives to key allies: training, equipment, debt forgiveness, economic assistance. U.S. aid to Pakistan ballooned from a paltry $5 million in 2001 to over $1.1 billion in 2002. Over the past year, aid to Jordan has more than quadrupled, to $1.6 billion.