Just days ago high-profile al Qaeda suspect Anas al-Libi was leading a quiet life in Libya's capital. Now, thanks to a crack American special forces team and a precise operation, military sources say he's spending his hours aboard a U.S. Navy ship floating in the Mediterranean.
The next step for the American government, according to experts, is to get the man who has been wanted for more than a decade by U.S. intelligence to spill what he knows about his former organization, presumably including the location of its leaders and, most urgently, information about ongoing plots targeting the homeland or America's interests abroad.
National security experts told ABC News that to do this, the U.S. has most likely brought in the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), which is comprised of some of America's best interrogators, analysts, subject matter experts and linguists from across the intelligence community. The group was created in 2009 to conduct just such important intelligence interrogations.
But what is the HIG allowed do to get al-Libi to break? Waterboarding? Deception? Torture? Time to separate some fact from fiction:
Can They Waterboard Al-Libi?
Perhaps the most well-known and controversial interrogation tactic is the use of waterboarding, in which interrogators subject the detainee to simulated drowning. A signature tactic among the CIA's Bush-era "enhanced interrogation techniques," some high-profile critics, including President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, considered it flat out torture.
It will not be used in the al-Libi case, as long as the HIG is following the rules.
In January 2009, then-newly elected President Obama issued Executive Order 13491, which revoked previous permissions for extraordinary interrogations and instead directed interrogations to be conducted in compliance with the Army Field Manual. That manual specifically prohibits waterboarding and a number of brutal or humiliating tactics.
How About Physically Hitting, Using Electric Shock?
No, sir. In the same section of the Army manual that bans waterboarding, so too physical abuse is banned.
"If used in conjunction with intelligence interrogations, prohibited actions include, but are not limited to… applying beatings, electric shock, burns, or other forms of physical pain," the manual states. The manual calls physical abuse an "obvious" example of "impermissible coercion."
"EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques] are out the window," Ali Soufan, former FBI interrogator, told ABC News. "They won't have any waterboarding or slapping or anything like that like before. But it will be a professional interrogation and it will be a team that has all the components of the expertise needed in an intel-based interrogation."
What About Threats of Pain?
That's also a "No." And that goes both for threatening that the U.S. interrogators will cause pain for non-cooperation and threats that the U.S. could turn the detainee over to "non-U.S. entities" for their own harsh interrogation, according to the Army manual.
However, interrogators are free to play into the subject's own pre-existing fears.
For instance, should the detainee be in a position to be released, interrogators can exploit concerns he may already have about what he could face back home. As part of what the manual calls the "Fear-Up Approach," if the subject already fears his people could punish him for cooperating with the U.S., the interrogator can point out that he's already at risk and can promise, with the subject's cooperation, to do his best to "ensure that either no one will find out or that he will be protected."
Sleep deprivation, in which the captors simply keep the detainee awake for an extreme period of time in order to wear him down, was also associated with the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques. In "Zero Dark Thirty," the Hollywood dramatization of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, a particularly disturbing interrogation scene includes the detainee being left standing in a room with heavy metal music blasting for hours.
While the Army manual does not include sleep deprivation in its list of prohibited tactics like waterboarding, in another section dealing with the "separation technique" says that tactic – a type of isolation gambit – "must not preclude the detainee getting four hours of continuous sleep every 24 hours."
Can the HIG Leverage Al-Libi's Family Against Him?
Yes, but it's complicated. In this case, several members of al-Libi's family claimed to have witnessed the actual abduction, either in person or by having seen it on security cameras, and that can be an advantage to interrogators, according to Tony Camerino, a former senior U.S. military interrogator who carried out hundreds of interrogations in Iraq.
"We call that Love of Family Approach, where you emphasize that person's love to their family, their relationship to a family member and [say] it will ease their burden by cooperating," Camerino said. "[The interrogators] are going to try to use their knowledge of his family back home."
This can be done in two ways, according to the Army manual. First, the family can also be included in the Fear-Up Approach if the subject is already afraid his family would suffer if he cooperates. In the same way as before, the interrogators can flip that fear on him, saying as long as he cooperates, no one will find out or the interrogator will do his best to protect them.
Secondly, the interrogators can use their control over communication with the family to their advantage.
"[The interrogator] may state, 'I wonder how your family is getting along without you…'" the Army manual says – an attempt to exploit the subject's fear of the unknown. Then, the interrogators can promise more frequent communication with the subjects family should he give in.
Can Interrogators Pretend to Be Someone Else?
Yes, the Army manual interrogators can misrepresent themselves in order elicit information from a detainee, but they can't pose as certain groups of people including doctors, clergymen, journalists or, oddly enough, members of the U.S. Congress.
What Else Can the Interrogators Do?
There are a host of strategies described by the Army manual designed to get detainees to talk. Some are basic, including tips on building a rapport with the subject – which the manual notes "does not necessarily mean a friendly relationship" – and a type of "good cop, bad cop" ploy that the Army refers to as "Mutt and Jeff."
Another technique Camerino said he expects interrogators to use on al-Libi in particular is the "We Know All" approach.
"You try to convince the detainee you already know everything and there's no sense in withholding anything," Camerino said. "You can imagine, they've been chasing this guy for 15 years… [so] they've compiled quite a bit of information on him."
For this reason, Camerino said the al-Libi case may be relatively simple for interrogators.
"I imagine it will actually probably be one of their easier cases. They have so much evidence against him and so much knowledge," he said. "But then again, this is someone who has been fighting for al Qaeda for more than 15 years at a minimum…"
What Happens to al-Libi After the Interrogation?
The first interrogation, the one conducted by the HIG, is known as the intelligence interrogation – designed only to collect information to be used in the battle against al Qaeda and, as Soufan put it, to "save lives."
After that one is finished likely a separate FBI team will be brought in to conduct a criminal interview, according to Soufan, who has conducted both intelligence interrogations and criminal interviews. Before that interview, al-Libi will be read his rights and any information gleaned in that round can be used against him in court when he eventually faces trial on terrorism-related charges in New York City.
It's unclear how long the entire process will take. In a similar case in 2009, a member of the Somalia-based al Qaeda-allied terror group al-Shabab was held secretly aboard a Navy ship for two months before suddenly appearing in New York to face charges. Soufan said that the case of al-Libi could be much quicker, however, since his abduction and subsequent detention were made public so early.