Clifford May and Andrew McCarthy provide misleading account of interrogation to defend controversial interrogation techniques

››› ››› EVA HOWE

In an op-ed in USA Today, Clifford May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and former Republican National Committee communications director, and National Review Online contributor Andrew McCarthy misrepresented an incident involving the interrogation of an Iraqi policeman with alleged ties to the insurgency.

In a December 14 op-ed in USA Today, Clifford May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and former Republican National Committee communications director, and National Review Online contributor Andrew McCarthy misrepresented an incident involving the interrogation of an Iraqi police office with alleged ties to the insurgency. In their piece, which defends the necessity of using interrogation measures under certain circumstances that they say would be banned under the McCain amendment currently before Congress, McCarthy and May described the tactics used to extract information from the police officer, Yehiya Kadoori Hamoodi: "[U.S. Army Lt. Col. Allen] West fired his revolver to frighten the suspect. The trick worked. The terrorist talked. American lives were saved."

But, according to news accounts, interrogators did far more than fire a gun "to frighten the suspect." In fact, testimony from West's preliminary hearing into the incident revealed that American soldiers had beaten and threatened to execute Hammodi, according to a December 13, 2003, CNN.com article. Based on testimony and interviews of both West and Hamoodi, the May 27, 2004, New York Times offered this account of the interrogation:

Soldiers testified later that Mr. Hamoodi appeared to go for his weapon and needed to be subdued. Mr. Hamoodi said that one soldier punched him several times, and that he was handcuffed, shackled and blindfolded.

At the base, he said, they threw him, still bound, off the Humvee, then led him into the jail and eventually into an interrogation room. They pressed him for the details of an assassination plan, about which he knew nothing, he said. During the interrogation, he said, the translator kicked him in the shin and told him he needed to confess before Colonel West showed up to kill him.

Mr. Hamoodi said he felt relieved to hear the colonel was expected. He considered Colonel West to be ''calm, quiet, clever and sociable.'' When the colonel first entered the interrogation room, Mr. Hamoodi said, he thought, ''Here is the man who will treat me fairly.''

Then, he said, Colonel West cocked his gun.

Colonel West said that he did not then put a round in the gun's chamber but that he did place the pistol in his lap. He asked Mr. Hamoodi why he wanted to kill him. Mr. Hamoodi said that he protested, ''I've worked with you, I like you,'' but that Colonel West silenced his protest. Colonel West pressed for the names and locations of those involved in the supposed plot, and he got no answers.

Soon, the soldiers began striking and shoving Mr. Hamoodi. They were not instructed to do so by Colonel West but they were not stopped, either, they said. ''I didn't know it was wrong to hit a detainee,'' a 20-year-old soldier from Daytona Beach said at the hearing. Colonel West testified that he would have stopped the beating ''had it become too excessive.''

Eventually, the colonel and his soldiers moved Mr. Hamoodi outside, and threatened him with death. Colonel West said he fired a warning shot in the air and began counting down from five. He asked his soldiers to put Mr. Hamoodi's head in a sand-filled barrel usually used for clearing weapons. At the end of his count, Colonel West fired a shot into the barrel, angling his gun away from the Iraqi's head, he testified.

The Times article reported that West was fined $5,000 and retired from the Army.

May and McCarthy's article also stated as fact that after being beaten and threatened by U.S. interrogators, Hamoodi revealed information that saved "American lives," but the Times article called into question whether the police officer divulged useful intelligence:

But the record of his case is unclear on whether the Iraqi officer provided valuable information, and Mr. Hamoodi said in an interview that he did not, because he knew nothing.

[...]

According to the interpreter [who worked with U.S. interrogators], Mr. Hamoodi finally "admitted there would be attacks, and called out names." Mr. Hamoodi said that he was not sure what he told the Americans, but that it was meaningless information induced by fear and pain.

At least one man named by Mr. Hamoodi was taken into custody, according to testimony, and his home was searched. No plans for attacks on Americans or weapons were found. Colonel West testified that he did not know whether "any corroboration" of a plot was ever found, adding: "At the time I had to base my decision on the intelligence I received. It's possible that I was wrong about Mr. Hamoodi."

From the May-McCarthy op-ed in the December 14 edition of USA Today:

Contrary to what you might have heard, "ticking time-bomb" scenarios are not uncommon. Consider the situation faced by Army Lt. Col. Allen West: Fighting near Tikrit, he captured a suspect who refused to divulge information about a planned ambush.

West fired his revolver to frighten the suspect. The trick worked. The terrorist talked. American lives were saved. And West was accused of torture, charged with assault and drummed out of the military. Next time, will an officer in the same situation decide to let Americans be killed -- believing that's what Americans back home demand?

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Detention
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