GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — Interrogators got intelligence from detainees that helped U.S. troops in Afghanistan attack Taliban fighters last summer — and they did it through casual questioning and not torture, the military's chief interrogator here said.
In a rare interview, Paul Rester complained that his profession has gotten a bad rap due to accounts of waterboarding and other rough tactics used by the CIA at "black sites."
But lawyers for Guantanamo detainees allege their clients have been subjected to temperature extremes, sleep deprivation and threats at this U.S. military base in southeast Cuba.
"Everybody in the world believes that they know how we do what we do, and I have to endure it every time I turn around and somebody is making reference to waterboarding," Rester said. He insisted that Guantanamo interrogators have had many successes using rapport-building, and said that technique was the norm here.
For security reasons, he would only discuss one of the successes, and that was only because his boss, Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, already had described it in a speech last month.
Buzby said several detainees drew detailed maps of the Tora Bora area that enabled coalition forces to wipe out safe houses, trenches and supplies last summer as the Taliban were returning to their former stronghold.
Rester indicated the interrogators casually asked the detainees about Tora Bora, not letting on that it was tactically important for a pending strike. "And it may in fact, since it was five years old, have seemed totally innocuous to the persons we were talking to," Rester said.
Rester said only two detainees were given rougher treatment: Mohammed al-Qahtani, the alleged 20th hijacker who was turned away from the United States by immigration officials just before the 9/11 attacks, and an unidentified man Rester said recruited lead hijacker Mohamed Atta.
"Most of the stories (of detainee abuse) stem from those two," said Rester. "The constant attention on that takes away from the fact that the productive, consistent direct approach . . . has enabled us to possess the vast body of knowledge that we actually have."