Officers holding Al Qaida clueless about Islam, terrorism

Thursday, March 13, 2003

The U.S. Army has begun training intelligence officers at Guantanamo in the Islamic faith and in extracting intelligence from detained Al Qaida insurgents after it became clear they knew little about their captives.

Congress and Pentagon officials have been critical of the amount of intelligence extracted from detainees at Guantanamo. They said that after an initial CIA interrogation, Al Qaida detainees are left alone with officers and soldiers who don't understand Arabic or Urdu.

"Most of these soldiers are Christians and know nothing about the Muslim religion," Stephen McFarland, a course instructor, said. "And they know nothing about terrorism and why a person turns into a terrorist. That's why we brought in the professor of Muslim studies. His job was to show the other position and explain why do they do this. It really got these soldiers thinking."

Officials said the training course is meant to include intelligence officers and soldiers from the National Guard and the Army Reserve. Reserve units have been replacing standing army troops both in Afghanistan and in the detention center at Cuba's Guantanamo Bay, where thousands of Al Qaida suspects are being held.

The new course is meant to provide limited training for intelligence corps soldiers to obtain information from Al Qaida suspects. The course is scheduled to last three weeks and will allow soldiers in contact with Al Qaida detainees the ability to alert intelligence analysts of the prospect of obtaining additional of information.

The course, termed Intelligence Support to Counter Terrorism, was launched on Jan. 27. The course is meant to train the next rotation of National Guard and Army Reserve military intelligence soldiers heading for Guantanamo.

Officials said the U.S. Army Intelligence Center had concluded that military intelligence soldiers in Guantanamo must be better equipped to gather information from Al Qaida detainees. Last year, the head of the center, Brig. Gen. John Custer, toured Guantanamo.

"The significance of this course is that we have a different threat now and it's based on the global war on terrorism," Col. James Slavin, commander of the 112th Military Intelligence Brigade, said. "The Intelligence Support to Counter Terrorism course's curriculum is the first phase we're doing. This is the initial pilot program and it's focused on supporting Joint Task Force-Guantanamo and the operation against the detainees there from Afghanistan."

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