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Author of The Torture Papers Says Coercion Not Crucial, Part II

MICHEL MARTIN (Host): I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

We're continuing our discussion about so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. Many Americans consider them torture. Following Osama bin Laden's death, supporters of these techniques are saying that these coercive methods helped lead to Osama bin Laden. We just heard from Professor John Yoo, of the University of California at Berkeley. During his time in the Bush administration, serving in the Justice Department, he authored some of the legal memos justifying these techniques as well as warrantless surveillance.

We're speaking now with Karen Greenberg. She's the executive director of New York University Center on Law and Security. I want to hear more about your perspective on the need for accountability here, and how that should be accomplished. But before you do, I just want to ask one more question about - as you pointed out, it is generally former Bush administration officials making these arguments - which you would expect, since they were the ones who advanced the argument to begin with. Here is General Michael Hayden, who's the former director of the CIA, explaining what he sees as the purpose of these coercive methods.

GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN: I'm willing to concede the point that no one gave us valuable or actionable intelligence while they were, for example, being waterboarded. The purpose of the enhanced interrogation techniques was to take someone who was refusing to cooperate with us, and to accelerate the process by which we would move from a zone of defiance to a zone of cooperation.

MARTIN: So you hear his point.

KAREN GREENBERG: Yeah. I can respond to what Michael Hayden said on several fronts. The first is, we don't know where else we might get information from. I should remind listeners that it was Abu Zubaydah who was water boarded, I believe, in excess at 80 times, who President Bush announced, proves that our enhanced interrogation program worked because of all the information he gave us.

But we have a top FBI interrogator who says that he and his team interviewed Abu Zubaydah and was getting tremendous information out of him before the agency intervened and subjected Zubaydah to enhanced interrogation techniques.

MARTIN: Is it your view that this is mainly vengeance, that it really isn't productive?

GREENBERG: I think there is a belief on the part of the people creating the policy, and carrying it out, that this is about getting information. But I believe, also, that 9/11 struck such a blow to the consciousness of Americans that there was an anger that was unleashed, in both trivial and very serious ways, and this was one of the more serious ways.

MARTIN: I'd like to ask you a question that I asked John Yoo to start with. He says that at least the benefit of Guantanamo is holding detainees, as opposed to killing them. And his argument now is that there is an unwillingness to detain people. And as a consequence, we're using drone attacks; we're using various methods that just really - results in killing them. And is that really better?

GREENBERG: Yeah, that's a very interesting thing for Mr. Yoo to raise, because I'm not sure that's how he was thinking during the Bush administration. One of the issues about detention, that we tend to overlook, is that in the 800 people that we rounded up and placed in Guantanamo, very few were high-level detainees in the first trenches, before we brought Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others there at the end of 2006. And very few had any kind of information to offer that was strategic or tactical.

They were more like a Gitmo-pedia(ph) of the Muslim world, and what we didn't know about it. And now, the sense of who the detainees would be if we did take people into detention is that it would be much fewer in number, much more judgment going to who we would hold and why we would hold them. I think there's been a paradigm shift. And to pretend that we're still on the issue of we're going to detain people, and we don't know what we're going to do with them, is not quite accurate.

GREENBERG: I think in terms of targeted killings, this is something the Obama administration does seem to prefer over on-the- ground invasion, etc., etc. But again, we can't have it both ways, and we're going to have to make some very tough calls. And what Mr. Yoo was right about, the issue of detention is at the heart of it - not the issue, necessarily, of interrogation.

MARTIN: Through that point, NPR has found in its reporting that some of the interrogations happened as late as 2008. Isn't this an argument for holding detainees at Guantanamo? For example, one of the Guantanamo detainees was set to be transferred, but it was recommended to keep him because intelligence officers thought he had more information about bin Laden's courier. So I guess the question for you, Professor Greenberg, is what is your perspective on what should happen?

GREENBERG: What I think can happen, and has happened, is that the use of questioning by legal means to get information needs to be done in a timely fashion. That we need to have good enough people that can get the intelligence they need by legal means, and that that's the bargain we're going to have to strike.

MARTIN: Karen Greenberg is the author of "The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days." The Washington Post called it one of the best books of 2009. She's also the author and editor of two books about the torture debate. She's also the executive director of NYU Center on Law and Security, and she was with us from NPR studios in New York. Professor Greenberg, thank you for joining us.

GREENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.