He has been widely recognized as one of the most effective and prolific interrogators in the Department of Defense. Kleinman served as an interrogator, the chief of a joint interrogation team, and as a senior advisor on interrogation to a special operations task force during Operations Just Cause, Desert Shield/Storm, and Iraqi Freedom, respectively. He was formerly the Director of the Air Force Combat Interrogation Course. Kleinman also served as the Director of Intelligence at the Personnel Recovery Academy, a unit of the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency that serves as Department of Defense agency responsible for overseeing Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training for U.S. military personnel.
In 2003, he was chosen to lead a contingent of interrogation and resistance to interrogation advisors to assist a task force involved in the questioning of Iraqi insurgents. What he did not know until his arrival in country was that he would be witnessing the systematic employment of a coercive interrogation strategy that formerly had only been used in the SERE program to train U.S. military personnel to resist interrogation. These methods had been routinely used by Soviet and Chinese interrogators during the Cold War to compel prisoners to produce propaganda. A Senate Armed Services report released in 2008 cited then Lieutenant Colonel Kleinman as the only officer who took action to stop the use of these techniques.
Kleinman was one of the first experienced interrogators, and the first military officer, to offer a strong public case against the use of coercive interrogation practices. Carefully avoiding the politics surrounding this issue, he offered a systematic argument—based on moral, legal, and operational considerations—that torture had no place in American intelligence doctrine.
Kleinman testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee of the United States Senate about the use of interrogation techniques which exceeded those allowed by law. He specifically cited the employment of harsh interrogation methods that were previously reserved for use in programs designed to train U.S. military personnel to resist interrogation if held by countries that were not signatories to the Geneva Convention. Those techniques, to include forced nudity, sleep deprivation, and painful shackling, were being used on Iraqi detainees. "It had morphed into a form of punishment for those who wouldn't cooperate," he told the Senate panel. Discovering the use of such measures in Iraq in 2003 prompted him to order a stop to such interrogations and to warn his superiors that these interrogation practices were abusive and, in his opinion, illegal.
Kleinman was a senior advisor for a major study into interrogation commissioned by the Intelligence Science Board, a research entity under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and wrote two of the chapters that appeared in the study's final report. The findings set forth in this report described the harsh interrogation techniques used again detainees since 9/11 as "outmoded, amateurish, and unreliable.
A colonel in the Air Force reserve, Kleinman has observed that while the U.S. Government has spent billions on spy satellites, very little has been invested in a formal study of the art and science of interrogation. This, he has noted, is in spite of the fact that there is a broad consensus that interrogation might be the best source of information on an elusive, low-tech, stateless foe like Al Qaeda.
On November 8, 2007 Kleinman testified before the Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties of the US House of Representatives:
- "any Americans, understandably angry and seeking some manner of revenge after the vicious attacks of 9/11, have fallen prey to the proposition that excessive physical, psychological, and emotional pressures are necessary to compel terrorists or insurgents to answer an interrogator's questions. Further, this form of interrogation is too often viewed as an inevitable and appropriate means of punishment the detainees deserve for their malicious acts. Such beliefs are equally untrue... oercion is decidedly ineffective. Coercive interrogation methods are wholly counterproductive in winning the hearts and minds of detainees and, I might add, the populations from which they emerge. Instead, coercive methods are almost certain to create what is perhaps the most callous form of degradation one human can inflict upon another: humiliation. Humiliation is an inevitable product of any form of torture".