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Making Terrorists Talk
by Victorino Matus

America doesn't use torture to get information out of terrorists. Perhaps we just need to use the magic word: "Mossad."

IN A STUNNING article in the Washington Post magazine entitled "Bust and Boom," Matt Brzezinski reports on a terrorist plot in the Philippines that was foiled by Manila police in January 1995. Authorities had been notified about a fire alarm going off in an apartment complex and decided to check it out. When they entered the apartment, they stumbled across a vast array of bomb-making materials--chemicals, watches, and fuses.

One of the suspects, Hakim Abdul Murad, was apprehended while trying to flee (he tripped on an exposed tree root and fell flat on his face). The authorities took him to Camp Crame, just outside Manila. According to Brzezinski, "Philippine intelligence put the screws to Murad. . . . By the time he was handed over to the Americans, interrogators had extracted everything they thought they needed to know."

That's putting it lightly. The Philippine National Police Intelligence Group came down hard on Murad--quite literally--and subjected him to "TI" or "tactical interrogation": They hit him using a piece of wood. They broke his ribs. They threw chairs at his head. And then they made him sit on ice cubes naked.

They were just getting started.

The officers took a water hose and forced it in his mouth. I asked a source familiar with such tactics (this source had witnessed much of it himself) and he nodded with familiarity. "They stick that hose in your mouth," he said, "and when they turn it on, you got water coming out of every hole in your body." But Murad was a stubborn suspect. He refused to name names. So the officers started putting out cigarettes on his body--including on his genitals. And they told him he would be raped repeatedly, and, as a report in Newsweek noted, "that he'd never see the light of day in Manila."

But Murad was resilient, even defiant. According to subsequent court transcripts, Murad told his interrogators, "The United States is the first country in this world making trouble for our, for Muslims and for our people. Killing Americans . . . This is my--the best thing. I enjoy it." The Filipinos were astounded. They would yell at him, "You want to get treated bad again?" But Murad would just yell back, "If, if you treat, treating me bad, treat me." And treat him they did--for 67 days.

Still, nothing seemed to make him talk, until one day, when interrogators walked in wearing masks, telling Murad they were agents of the Mossad. They told him they were ready to take him back to Israel for further "questioning." At this, Murad broke down and spilled everything: He and his roommate Ramzi Yousef, both wanted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, were planning to assassinate the pope. Murad had ordered a cassock, which he would use to slip past security. But there was more. Murad also talked about the plot to bomb 11 American jetliners. And finally, he admitted that with his pilot's license, he was hoping to fly a plane filled with explosives into CIA headquarters. Brzezinski mentions that there were secondary targets too, including Congress, the White House, and the Pentagon. "The only problem . . . was that they needed more trained pilots to carry out the plot."

Brzezinski's article goes into the failures within the U.S. intelligence community from the time of the confession to September 11. But another interesting aspect is how the word "Mossad" instilled more fear in Murad than the water hose, the cigarettes on the genitals, and the possibility of being raped to death.

The Mossad was established in 1951 by Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. Its mission was to protect Israel, which, said Ben-Gurion, "since its creation has been under siege by its enemies. Intelligence constitutes the first line of defense . . . we must learn well how to recognize what is going on around us." And as the first line of defense, the Mossad, or "The Institute," has done whatever it takes to protect the homeland--even if it means assassination and physical interrogation.

There are eight departments within the Mossad, ranging from intelligence-gathering to technological innovations (gadgetry) to propaganda. But the most feared, by far, is the Metsada, also known as the Special Operations Department, responsible for psychological warfare, sabotage, and assassinations. Metsada was responsible for the 1960 kidnapping of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, who was abducted in Argentina and brought to Israel where he stood trial and was later hanged. In 1990, Metsada supposedly killed American scientist Gerald Bull, who was helping Iraq develop a "Super Gun."

So what was it that Murad was expecting the Mossad would do to him? For starters, there's sleep deprivation and starvation. Then it gets physical. The Washington Post reported on Palestinian prisoners lucky enough to survive Mossad interrogations. Some of the tactics include "binding and gagging them in painful positions, forcing them to wear hoods soaked in vomit or urine, . . . and subjecting them to blasts of cold air and loud music." Another method mentioned is "violent shaking."

Upon reading this, the first thought that ran through my head was: Big deal. I used to know nuns who specialized in violent shaking. But the reality of it is much more serious. "Imagine being shaken for a long time--it's like your brain is being scrambled," says one intelligence expert. "Unlike other forms of torture, there is no focal point when you are being shaken violently."

As bad as that sounds, it still doesn't seem much worse than having a water hose shoved down your throat or cigarettes burned on you. (During the Marcos regime, tearing off fingernails was routine, as was the applying of electrodes to the genitals.) In his painfully honest assessment of torture in National Review Online, John Derbyshire wrote about the four elements of torture: pain (all of the above), disgust (the Khmer Rouge's spoonfuls of excrement), despair ("No one cares about you"), and love (torturing of family members).

But with Murad's reaction to the mere mention of Mossad comes the element of fear. It is an element U.S. interrogators should consider carefully when figuring out how to extract information from suspected terrorists, a number of whom are still refusing to talk. And if that doesn't work, we can always buy them a one-way ticket to Israel.

Victorino Matus is an assistant managing editor at The Weekly Standard.

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