North of Baghdad, in a warehouse converted into a detention center, George Driscoll stood in front of a man he considered a terrorist.
“What are you thinking right now?” Driscoll, a U.S. Navy reserve commander, asked the man through an interpreter.
“I’m wondering how I can get that pen out of your hand and drive it into your eye,” the man replied.  As he recalled one of the more chilling interrogations he had supervised in Iraq, Driscoll sat in a quiet law library in Martinez.
A senior inspector with the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office, Driscoll is a 20-year member of the Navy reserves and has an extensive background in intelligence-gathering and anti-terrorism work.


He quietly returned to his Walnut Creek home in April after serving as chief of interrogations operations for the U.S. military in Iraq.
The Multi National Force called him to duty in May 2006 to supervise more than 300 U.S. military and civilian interrogators in American detention centers in Iraq.
He received the Bronze Star for his work drafting and implementing a new American detention and interrogation policy for Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, and worked with local Iraqi police and military officers whose background often included torture as a standard law enforcement procedure.
Today he offers a view from an unapologetically pro-American perspective into an interrogation program that has borne past criticism of detainee treatment. After nearly two decades working in intelligence and military law enforcement, this was only one stint among dozens of intelligence-gathering and anti-terrorist missions he has led.
He doesn’t talk much about them, only smiling and saying, “That’s classified.”
He will say that military interrogators under his command in Iraq acquired information to stop a plane hijacking that targeted America and foiled several assassination plots.
“I can’t give you the specifics or the names,” he said.















Driscoll joined the Navy reserves as an officer in 1988 and entered the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. As a member of NCIS, he has traveled to every continent except Antarctica on anti-terrorist and intelligence-gathering missions.
Stories shared by Driscoll and detailed in military documents tell how he traveled to each of the 21 American-led detention centers in Iraq, sometimes by helicopter, other times on land. His convoy was attacked twice.
Driscoll is a true believer in the U.S. presence in Iraq. He sticks to his message: Americans treat detainees well and the local government is building a justice system with great potential.
“We want to establish a system where someone is treated humanely, which was foreign to these folks under Saddam,” he said.
Driscoll insists on using the term “detainee” rather than prisoner. He says the United States is not fighting a war in Iraq, but building a nation. He says the media has given “interrogation” a bad name that it does not deserve.
“The reports in the press have talked about interrogation techniques being inhumane,” he said. “So it seems to me that’s what the pubic hears about.”
Driscoll said that detainees are treated so well that some feel duped by insurgent leaders who have painted a different picture of U.S. troops.
“The success of interrogations is that they’re shocked that we’re so nice,” Driscoll said. “They think, ‘I’ve been misled. Americans are not the devil.'”
Eliminating abuse
During his visits last year to U.S. military detention centers, Driscoll said he witnessed no interrogations like those detailed in reports from 2003 and 2004 Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch.
Those organizations obtained military documents and spoke with former detainees who said that interrogators beat them, used electrical charges and poured hydrogen peroxide into open wounds, among more than a dozen other forms of abuse.
An ACLU analysis of 44 detainee deaths in 2003 and 2004 in Iraq found that 39 were homicides.
ACLU staff attorney Jameel Jaffer said the current state of detainee treatment is unclear because it takes two to three years to obtain reports and information.
Human Rights Watch senior counterterrorism counsel Jennifer Deskal said recent statements by Petraeus that the military will not tolerate abuse shows that changes are coming from the top.
She said her organization believes that abuse by Americans still occurs in temporary holding centers on military bases where detainees stay immediately after their capture.
“We’re still hearing in some areas that there is abuse continuing,” she said.
Driscoll doesn’t believe anything like that occurs.
“My entire time there, not only did I not witness any, I never heard of anything even close to torture,” he said.
Under current U.S. military rules, when troops detain an individual in the city or in the middle of the desert, they must register the detainee in a computer within 24 hours and present the case to a military lawyer and a commander within 72 hours. Detainees temporarily stay at a military base.
If the commander concludes that the detainee poses a threat to the stability of the country, that person can be transferred to a U.S. detention facility. Those who commit crimes, such as robbery or assault, violating Iraqi law go into the Iraqi court system.
Those believed to pose a continuing threat to the country stay in custody. A commander reviews the case of each person held in a detention center every three to six months. The military will keep detainees considered a threat until the Iraqi government is stable enough to take the cases, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Daryl Borgquist, a pubic affairs officer stationed in Baghdad.
“Eventually these folks will all be turned over to the Iraqis,” he said.
Within 14 days, the military gives detainees’ names and basic information to the International Committee for the Red Cross and allows the organization to visit them and contact family members.
A Red Cross spokesman said the military turns over names, but it would not say whether the 14-day deadline is met or whether the Red Cross believes some detainees remain unaccounted for.
“We register people to make sure they don’t drop off the earth,” said Simon Schorno. “It’s reasonable to have that amount of time … it still enables us to do that work.”
When Driscoll arrived in Iraq last year, the military had begun revising its interrogation rules after the reports emerged about abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison — which he refers to as Abu-G.
U.S. military policy already specifically forbade using dogs, sleep deprivation, sensory blocking or other inhumane methods because of the conditions brought to light by the Abu Ghraib scandal.
“Post Abu-G, we have become hypercritical to ensure that that aberration would never happen again,” he said.
Driscoll said he saw positive, informal changes in interrogation techniques, which he transformed into official policy.
In the early years of the U.S. presence in Iraq, Iraqi interrogators might be from a different sect than a detainee, which could lead to mistreatment. Iraqi military and law enforcement have traditionally used torture.
“That’s why their justice system has not matured,” he said. “They’ve always had a confession.”
So now, under rules Driscoll put into effect, when an Iraqi officer interrogates a detainee in a U.S. detention center, at least one American must be present in the room, he said.
Under Driscoll’s new policy, a detainee gets a mental and physical check-up before and after each interrogation. The military then captures each interrogation on video.
“You have instant evidence of abuse,” he said.
Officers and interpreters now watch live interrogation on TV monitors. He said the interrogators have caught insurgents who slipped in with the American military by posing as interpreters so they can watch the televised interrogations and give false translations.
“There were bad guys,” Driscoll said. “They wanted to get in and see what was happening.”
Life at home
In the office of the district attorney, among lawyers dressed formally, the 48-year-old Driscoll lets his tie hang loose with his top shirt button unbuttoned, like an inspector in a film noir movie.
Unlike the office’s 15 other inspectors, he does not carry a gun around the office.
“I’m supposed to,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “But I’ve been in law enforcement for a long time.”
Driscoll was a police officer in Alameda from 1979 to 1984 and then joined the narcotics division of the state Department of Justice. He led the Bay Area division of the justice department’s anti-terrorism task force from 2001 until he joined the district attorney’s office in 2004.
As a member of the Navy reserves, he has left his local job to travel around the world. Looking at a map of Africa, he lists at machine-gun speed the nations where he’s been: “Tanzania, Ghana, Togo, Senegal, Cameroon.”
Although keeping his precise activities vague, Driscoll said his missions tend to involve protecting the U.S. military.
He led a team in 1998 in Tanzania after the bombing of the American embassies in that country and Kenya, conducting what he calls “anti-terrorism work.”
He led a team in 2003 into a remote region of Morocco to find out which individuals or groups might threaten U.S. Army personnel coming to provide relief efforts, such as building homes and hospitals.
“My job was to find out who wanted to kill our humanitarian folks,” he said. “We figure out who’s there, who are the bad guys and make sure that the U.S. is going to be protected.”
While awaiting his next mission, he is investigating crimes with local prosecutors focusing on narcotics and juvenile offenses.
He has no plans to return to Iraq. But he’ll go if the president orders him.
Reach Bruce Gerstman at 925-952-2670 or bgerstman@cctimes.com.