O'Reilly falsely claimed that interrogator told him harsh questioning of detainees had saved "thousands of lives"

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

Fox News host Bill O'Reilly falsely claimed that the former chief interrogator at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan told him "on the radio" that the use of harsh questioning techniques at Bagram had "saved thousands of lives." In fact, the interrogator, who uses the pseudonym Chris Mackey, never gave an estimate of how many lives had been saved by the use of harsh interrogation techniques during his 2004 interview on O'Reilly's nationally syndicated radio show. He simply claimed, without offering details or examples, that plots had been foiled using information obtained through a technique called "monstering." Mackey, who co-authored the book The Interrogators: Inside the Secret War Against Al Qaeda (Little, Brown, 2004), also appeared on the July 19, 2004, edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, but he did not make the claim in that discussion either.

From the December 1, 2004, broadcast of Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:

O'REILLY: Did you get information that was helpful to the United States by using this "monstering" technique?

MACKEY: Extremely helpful. The information that my extraordinary bunch of interrogators collected using that technique -- it cannot be overestimated. But we --

O'REILLY: Can you give us an example of it?

MACKEY: Yes. Some of the information that we got using that technique revealed plots that were going on in Europe that were foiled by civilian intelligence agencies. And another one was a couple of very important tactical plots that were being formed against our combat soldiers on the ground. Which is actually our principal responsibility as interrogators.

From the June 29 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, with Fox News military analyst Gen. Wesley Clark:

O'REILLY: Continuing now with new Fox analyst Gen. Wesley Clark. OK. I believe in coerced rehabilitation, and I'll tell you why I believe that. The chief interrogator at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, where a lot of Al Qaedas were held, told me on the radio that using sleep deprivation, loud noise, changes of temperature and all of that saved thousands of American lives, that they got information by breaking these suspects down they would not have gotten by Geneva Convention methods, name, rank and serial number.

He told me that point-blank. This is the top guy, all right? So I say if that's saving lives, I'm OK with coerced interrogation. What say you?

CLARK: Well, I say that, you know, it violates the Geneva Convention. I don't know whether this is true. I don't know if that's the only way to get it. And he didn't tell me that.

The full transcript of O'Reilly's December 2004 radio interview with Mackey:

O'REILLY: All right, let's bring in Chris Mackey. Not his real name; it's a pseudonym. He's a former Army interrogator in Afghanistan and co-author of the book The Interrogators: Inside the Secret War Against Al Qaeda. Now, Mackey arrived in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in December of 2001 -- three years ago. And while he was there, he was a senior interrogator on the night shift. In May 2001, 2002 that woulda hadda been, Mackey was transferred to Bahrain Air Base where he supervised all the interrogations there, until August 2002. Now, he and his team developed a tactic called "monstering," which is basically sleep deprivation, OK? So, Mackey obviously knows what he's talkin' about.

First of all, what do you think about this International Red Cross deal at Guantánamo?

MACKEY: I agree with you, Bill, in the sense that they really tend to meddle when they're advancing their own agenda. Which is not very helpful to our cause.

O'REILLY: And, what do you see as their agenda?

MACKEY: I think that they're -- your assessment is correct. They're looking to qualify these prisoners that we capture on the battlefield and through other means, as criminals rather than illegal fighters -- which is, in fact, what they are -- and limiting our capacity and limiting what we can do with them -- a lot of different outs which would not otherwise be offered.

O'REILLY: OK. Now, it's very difficult to get to Guantánamo, wasn't it? What was the procedure that you were shipped there?

MACKEY: Well, I was in Afghanistan, but when we sent soldiers -- when we sent the prisoners to Afghanistan, the vetting process, as you say, went through several levels and eventually ended up back in Washington. Then, those prisoners were allocated an order of merit list, who were the most important, shipped off to Cuba. And then, when they were arrived there, they were sent under a different order of merit and questioned.

O'REILLY: But, the process from Afghanistan, the battlefield there, to Cuba was an extensive one, was it not? These people were vetted pretty closely.

MACKEY: Well, in the beginning of the campaign there was a set of regulations that qualified who got to go. And there was very little -- we had very little say in who was sent. And, as you say, a lot of the people who were sent in that time were Afghans who were eventually released.

But anyone that fell into those categories, until May, was automatically sent. After May, we could be much more selective. They empowered us to have a lot more input on who was sent and who wasn't.

O'REILLY: Do you believe there are innocent people there that were just caught up in all of this, in Guantánamo right now?

MACKEY: Not anymore. I think it's clear that in the beginning there were some people who ought not to have been sent. But I think the Army's done a good job in trying to get them released. I wish that it had been sooner, but they did as best a job they could under the circumstances.

O'REILLY: Now, the International Red Cross, The New York Times, and these people don't want you to use sleep deprivation to get information. And one of their arguments is it doesn't work. Is that true?

MACKEY: No. I agree in principle with what they're saying. But I disagree with their assessment. It is an effective technique.

O'REILLY: So, you can get information by depriving people of sleep. But you say -- you agree with what?

MACKEY: I agree with the provisions of the convention that they're trying to enforce, which say that there cannot be negative consequences for failure to cooperate. I think that interrogators have to be very careful. And that when we actually exceed our briefs in that circumstance, we see the catastrophic effects as evidenced by Iraq.

O'REILLY: All right, so -- but you would say that sleep deprivation -- you should have the ability to practice that procedure. You want to practice that as an interrogator?

MACKEY: I think that, in the circumstances that we've seen, they've been specifically the illegal fighters. And, the realities of fighting this type of a war, it is a necessary tool for interrogators. And we did -- we tried our best to come up with a tactic -- as you said, "monstering". Which walked the fine line of the conventions and trying to achieve our ends.

O'REILLY: Did you get information that was helpful to the United States by using this "monstering" technique?

MACKEY: Extremely helpful. The information that my extraordinary bunch of interrogators collected using that technique -- it cannot be overestimated. But we --

O'REILLY: Can you give us an example of it?

MACKEY: Yes. Some of the information that we got using that technique revealed plots that were going on in Europe that were foiled by civilian intelligence agencies. And another one was a couple of very important tactical plots that were being formed against our combat soldiers on the ground. Which is actually our principal responsibility as interrogators.

O'REILLY: Now, The New York Times would have you not be able to use those techniques.

MACKEY: Well, I think that if The New York Times were writing in 1945, they probably would have been supporting the Berlin hogblot [ph] or something. Some of the things that they come out with is absolutely outrageous. But I mean -- it's important that we are placed under that kind of scrutiny, I think, to help prevent things like what happened in --

O'REILLY: Naw, the oversight, I believe, should be there. But I think -- the failure of the Bush administration -- here's where they've gone wrong, and maybe you disagree with this. I wanna get your opinion on it. What the Bush administration hasn't done is really define what you can do and what you can't do.

Now, I guess there's a reason for that -- that they don't wanna give propagandists specific information about how you guys operate. But I think if they did that and said, "Look, this is what we can't do, this is what we can do," that the debate would be less intense. How do you see it?

MACKEY: I think that's a good assessment. When we landed in Afghanistan, we were one of the -- some of the first intelligence troops, at least conventional intelligence troops, to go there. And we practiced interrogation techniques that we had learned in the school house. Which were sort of unintentionally enlightened. When we left, I felt that our troops had gone, basically, to the farthest extent that we could without being in violation of the law.

I think the units that replaced us then took that as their starting point and developed new interrogation techniques that were sanctioned by higher authority. That's where they got in trouble.

O'REILLY: So, they went over -- well, look. Nobody -- the dog business -- you didn't use the dogs, did you?

MACKEY: No, but we did contemplate it. It was suggested.

O'REILLY: I don't like that. I don't like that kind of stuff. I mean, I think that you can do and accomplish your mission by the sleep deprivation -- why don't they use sodium pentathol? Why don't they use the truth serum?

MACKEY: I don't know. It was certainly covered in passing in our classes, when I first went to interrogation school and in subsequent interrogation schools. But we never learned about it, and I'm told that it's an unreliable technique.

O'REILLY: Yeah. Well, I've always wanted to know that. Do you ever slap these guys?

MACKEY: No. We were very, very, very careful. Because, we really did feel that if we -- in those early days, if we truly exceeded our brief we would go to jail.

O'REILLY: OK. So, you never laid hands on 'em, then.

MACKEY: No, but we definitely had practiced vigorous interrogation techniques that did not involve physical violence.

O'REILLY: Did you yell at 'em?

MACKEY: Yes.

O'REILLY: Did you put music real loud and stuff?

MACKEY: No.

O'REILLY: What else did you do?

MACKEY: We came up with some very elaborate ruses -- lots of trickery. Lots of deceit. We did everything that we possibly could to confuse them. We started all kinds of rumors in the cages and recruited snitches to help us get information. And, then sort of turned them against one another.

O'REILLY: I see. OK, so psychological warfare.

MACKEY: Right. They're not a monolith -- and you can actually use, like, the prisoner's matrix idea where you can sort of pit the Moroccans against Algerians, and vice versa, to help achieve your end.

O'REILLY: Right. "Abdul's saying this about you -- you gonna let him get away with it?" That kind of stuff.

MACKEY: Right.

O'REILLY: Now, the International Red Cross wants none of that. No psychological interrogation. They don't want any of the medical people, reporting any of the stuff that they may find out -- is that insane?

MACKEY: Well, you have to wonder when you're gonna have the Islamic hordes on the gates of Zurich.

O'REILLY: Never, though. You see, in Geneva they don't believe that they're ever gonna be attacked. But it's more than that. They don't look at it in a realistic way. Aren't they living in a theoretical world here?

MACKEY: Well, they are. And, I think that they just -- they're insulated. It allows them to be unrealistic.

O'REILLY: Would you have gotten any information without these "monstering" techniques?

MACKEY: We -- I think the unit had some extraordinary interrogators in it and they did an excellent job. The "monstering" was an attempt to go as far as we thought that we could and get good information through it. But I'm told that the information -- the unit that replaced us that practiced more aggressive techniques and got still better information faster.

O'REILLY: Really? So, the rougher you are the more you get?

MACKEY: That's a possible conclusion, yes.

O'REILLY: All right. Chris, we appreciate it - again, that's a pseudonym. But it is on his book. And his book is The Interrogators: Inside the Secret War Against Al Qaeda. We appreciate it very much.

During the show, two people did say that the interrogations could save "thousands of lives" but they were callers who spoke later on in the broadcast, not Mackey.

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