In the June 8 issue of TIME, one of the articles caught my eye.
"How To Make Terrorists Talk," tells the tale of two American interrogators, hired by the government to do one job: get Osama bin Laden's former chief bodyguard, Abu Jandal, to talk:
The most successful interrogation of an Al-Qaeda operative by U.S. officials required no sleep deprivation, no slapping or "walling" and no waterboarding. All it took to soften up Abu Jandal, who had been closer to Osama bin Laden than any other terrorist ever captured, was a handful of sugar-free cookies.
Abu Jandal had been in a Yemeni prison for nearly a year when Ali Soufan of the FBI and Robert McFadden of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service arrived to interrogate him in the week after 9/11. Although there was already evidence that al-Qaeda was behind the attacks, American authorities needed conclusive proof, not least to satisfy skeptics like Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, whose support was essential for any action against the terrorist organization. U.S. intelligence agencies also needed a better understanding of al-Qaeda's structure and leadership. Abu Jandal was the perfect source: the Yemeni who grew up in Saudi Arabia had been bin Laden's chief bodyguard, trusted not only to protect him but also to put a bullet in his head rather than let him be captured.
Abu Jandal's guards were so intimidated by him, they wore masks to hide their identities and begged visitors not to refer to them by name in his presence. He had no intention of cooperating with the Americans; at their first meetings, he refused even to look at them and ranted about the evils of the West. Far from confirming al-Qaeda's involvement in 9/11, he insisted the attacks had been orchestrated by Israel's Mossad. While Abu Jandal was venting his spleen, Soufan noticed that he didn't touch any of the cookies that had been served with tea: "He was a diabetic and couldn't eat anything with sugar in it." At their next meeting, the Americans brought him some sugar-free cookies, a gesture that took the edge off Abu Jandal's angry demeanor. "We had showed him respect, and we had done this nice thing for him," Soufan recalls. "So he started talking to us instead of giving us lectures."
It took more questioning, and some interrogators' sleight of hand, before the Yemeni gave up a wealth of information about al-Qaeda — including the identities of seven of the 9/11 bombers — but the cookies were the turning point. "After that, he could no longer think of us as evil Americans," Soufan says. "Now he was thinking of us as human beings."
The Tricks of the Trade
Each interrogator has his own idea of how to run an interrogation. Soufan likes to research his captive as thoroughly as possible before entering the interrogation room. "If you can get them to think you know almost everything to know about them — their families, their friends, their movements — then you've got an advantage," he says. "Because then they're thinking, 'Well, this guy already knows so much, there's no point in resisting ... I might as well tell him everything.'" When Abu Zubaydah tried to conceal his identity after his capture, Soufan stunned him by using the nickname given to him by his mother. "Once I called him 'Hani,' he knew the game was up," Soufan says.
To get Abu Jandal's cooperation, Soufan and McFadden laid a trap. After palliating his rage with the sugar-free cookies, they got him to identify a number of al-Qaeda members from an album of photographs, including Mohamed Atta and six other 9/11 hijackers. Next they showed him a local newspaper headline that claimed (erroneously) that more than 200 Yemenis had been killed in the World Trade Center. Abu Jandal agreed that this was a terrible crime and said no Muslim could be behind the attacks. Then Soufan dropped the bombshell: some of the men Abu Jandal had identified in the album had been among the hijackers. Without realizing it, the Yemeni prisoner had admitted that al-Qaeda had been responsible for 9/11: For all his resistance, he had given the Americans what they wanted. "He was broken, completely shattered," Soufan says. From that moment on, Abu Jandal was completely cooperative, giving Soufan and McFadden reams of information — names and descriptions of scores of al-Qaeda operatives, details of training and tactics.
Soufan's "interrogation techniques" remind me of another genius of a man who also had a tremendous impact on history...
Schindler was able to outwit Hitler and the Nazis, and in the process, saved more Jews from the gas chambers, than any other person, during World War II.
How was he able to do it?
Schindler was the embodiment of the old adage, "You attract more flies with honey than with vinegar."
He dressed like the Nazis, wined, dined and bribed the Nazis (He sent the Nazis bottles of expensive wine, imported chocolates and desserts, fine cigars, expensive clothing, fine jewelry, etc.) He knew how to act, talk, walk and work the part in order to defeat the Nazis at their own game. And for that, he was an absolute genius.
Schindler had many, many flaws...womanizing, lying, cheating, etc....but he also had many strengths...charm, finesse, power, wealth, etc....he was a very manipulative man, but in a very dark time in this world, he still was a good man who wanted to right the bad that was going on around him.
A Schindler survivor, Murray Pantirer, set up a construction firm after the war and has by now dedicated 25 streets in New Jersey to Oscar Schindler's memory. Through all the years the big question always remained: Why? What prompted Schindler to act as he did, at tremendous risk to himself? Pantirer thinks he got the answer:
"He came to my house once, and I put a bottle of cognac in front of him, and he finished it in one sitting. When his eyes were flickering - he wasn't drunk - I said this is the time to ask him the question 'why?' His answer was, 'I was a Nazi, and I believed that the Germans were doing wrong...when they started killing innocent people - and it didn't mean anything to me that they were Jewish, to me they were just human beings, menschen - I decided I am going to work against them and I am going to save as many as I can.' "And I think that Oscar told the truth, because that's the way he worked," Pantirer said.
Was Schnidler a sell out?
But in Schnidler's case, the end justified the means...because it was for a better good....because of him more than 1,200 Jews were saved.
Today there are more than 7,000 descendants of the Schindler-Jews living in the U.S. and Europe, many in Israel. Before the Second World War, the Jewish population of Poland was 3.5 million. Today there are between 3,000 and 4,000 left.
I wish the Bush administration had taken a lesson from Schindler and Soufan.
They both fed cookies to their enemies.
And guess what?
The enemies ate it all up.