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July 17, 2011 1:39 AM   Subscribe

It took the photographer Donald Weber more than five years to make his way inside a Ukrainian police interrogation room.

For months, Weber showed up every morning at police headquarters, where he sat on a wooden bench in a drab hallway, waiting to ask the suspects if they’d let him witness their interrogations. When they agreed, he sat and watched from his chair in a small room as a damaged light fixture cast spider-web patterns on the wall.

A range of people were brought in — alleged prostitutes, drug dealers, rapists, and thieves — some cool and collected veterans, others cowering in fear. Weber raised his camera when he sensed that the moment he was there to capture was imminent — when the suspects realized they would admit they were guilty, whether they actually were or not. Every one of them eventually did.

Some, though, took time to break. One man kept denying his guilt and, in a slight to the officer interrogating him, broke into Fenya, a cant language spoken by Ukrainian thieves. “The officer was losing his grip on who had authority,” remembers Weber, who snapped a photo as the officer pressed his gun to the suspect’s head.

This moment lasted just seconds. But when the gun returned to the officer’s holster, everything about the interrogation had changed. The suspect began to speak with respect, and soon he confessed.
posted by plexi (25 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
These are compelling and sad.

Curious: what is "a cant language"?
posted by serazin at 1:50 AM on July 17, 2011


Cant language.

The photo of the guy with the gun to his head is at once disquieting and poignant, and I think says a lot about the system there. That's something we watch on The Shield but (typically) doesn't happen in interrogation rooms here in the US. Perhaps the officer was doing it to put on a show for his photographer, but something tells me that it's just par for the course.
posted by disillusioned at 1:52 AM on July 17, 2011


Cant (Language) from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
posted by floam at 1:52 AM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The photo of the guy with the gun to his head is at once disquieting and poignant

I think every one of those photographs are. The way they all seem to be expressing the same powerlessness in different, and subtly similar ways.
posted by Silverdragonanon at 1:58 AM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Good cop and bad cop have left for the day. I'm a different kind of cop."
posted by bwg at 2:02 AM on July 17, 2011


It took the photographer Donald Weber more than five years to make his way inside a Ukrainian police interrogation room.

Pssh. I do this in 5 minutes. I'm very premium at getting into places trouble takes you.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:12 AM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


when the suspects realized they would admit they were guilty, whether they actually were or not

The trick is to never be in that room. With the proper resources you do not have to go to that room, and obviously you don't want to.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:28 AM on July 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


There is noway he would shoot that man, not in Ukraine.
posted by clavdivs at 2:46 AM on July 17, 2011


Pay the police to create a bit of drama?
posted by Not Supplied at 2:54 AM on July 17, 2011


The "when the suspects realized they would admit they were guilty" link is also a subtle advertisement for the Mordinson Ukraine Marriage Agency who also seem to have a YouTube Channel.

I've spent the last ten minutes searching to see if someone called them out as being a scam agency, instead I found the latest issue of the US Department of State's Ukraine Crime & Safety Report. It states:
Ukraine is still recovering from a severe economic crisis...In 2011, GDP is expected to continue to grow slowly (4 percent). Unemployment is currently running at 8.8 percent.
The unemployment levels sound familiar, the GDP growth rate a little less so. Sobering data.
posted by lemuring at 3:01 AM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just added Michael Mordinson to my circles on Google+.
posted by jsavimbi at 4:14 AM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I just added Michael Mordinson to my circles on Google+.

Don't do this.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:37 AM on July 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


There is noway he would shoot that man, not in Ukraine.

If you were that man, would you bet your life on it? Even if you would, it really demonstrates just which way the power is skewed.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:07 AM on July 17, 2011


But when the gun returned to the officer’s holster, everything about the interrogation had changed. The suspect began to speak with respect, and soon he confessed.

Let's not be giving the American police any more ideas like this, please.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:40 AM on July 17, 2011


Apologies for a self-link... Donald Weber is an infrequent contributor to my blog, and we just ran an interview with him about making the Interrogations book.
posted by msbrauer at 6:57 AM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


There is noway he would shoot that man, not in Ukraine.

Well, all the officer has to claim is that the suspect went for his gun, and he shot the man in self-defense.
posted by Slinga at 7:32 AM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Every single interrogation should be filmed. There should be front-facing video cameras in every police car and it should be standing policy that interactions should be in front of that camera.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:33 AM on July 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


Room 101
posted by growabrain at 8:03 AM on July 17, 2011


>But when the gun returned to the officer’s holster, everything about the interrogation had changed. The suspect began to speak with respect, and soon he confessed.

Let's not be giving the American police any more ideas like this, please.


I've heard of far worse at the hands of American police during interrogations.
posted by telstar at 11:10 AM on July 17, 2011


Every single interrogation should be filmed. There should be front-facing video cameras in every police car and it should be standing policy that interactions should be in front of that camera.

My impulse is say, yeah! to this comment. But then I think about it, and remind myself what every film-biz production pro eventually learns. THE CAMERA LIES. And it's damned good at it.

And even if it doesn't the audience most certainly does.
posted by philip-random at 11:17 AM on July 17, 2011


My impulse is say, yeah! to this comment. But then I think about it, and remind myself what every film-biz production pro eventually learns. THE CAMERA LIES. And it's damned good at it.

A camera is a recording device. It neither lies nor tells the truth.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:05 PM on July 17, 2011


@Ironmouth

"That piss was digital!"
posted by haroon at 8:30 PM on July 17, 2011


Ironmouth: " A camera is a recording device. It neither lies nor tells the truth."

A camera is a recording device, yes. However, footage from cameras can be edited and manipulated to change what has been recorded. Also, perspective is vital.
posted by zarq at 7:49 AM on July 18, 2011


Ironmouth: " A camera is a recording device. It neither lies nor tells the truth."

A camera is a recording device, yes. However, footage from cameras can be edited and manipulated to change what has been recorded. Also, perspective is vital.


That isn't a camera lying, it is a person. And when images are doctored, you hit the karma button--you've got a trail leading back to you.

I do not understand how everyone is not served by videotaping encounters between the police and individuals.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:21 AM on July 18, 2011


Ironmouth: " That isn't a camera lying, it is a person.

This is a non-sequitur.

The camera and the footage it takes doesn't exist in a vacuum, free from human influence. In many cases the camera is being started, stopped or even controlled by a person. The footage the camera takes is in the possession of one or more people who may doctor it at will. The camera's very existence can be used to manipulate an environment -- so that only a biased or abbreviated story is presented to the camera. More on this in a moment.

And when images are doctored, you hit the karma button--you've got a trail leading back to you. "

Doctored footage and images are not always recognizable as such, and often may require forensic analysis to determine.

Also, the reason I included the link to the Guardian ad was to point out that a camera cannot always capture everything. It cannot capture what people do off camera, for example. And it only gives a single perspective.

Ironmouth: " I do not understand how everyone is not served by videotaping encounters between the police and individuals."

Because they may by nature be incomplete. Or biased.

Let's say for example that a prisoner is verbally threatened and/or physically assaulted in his cell by a police officer. He is then immediately brought to a room with a camera, where a "confession" takes place. The coercion in this hypothetical example happened off-camera. The camera footage is used as evidence in court, and is used to convict the prisoner. We know that false confessions do happen, and some of the reasons why.

I personally have nothing against camera footage of interrogations. But it's neither an infallible nor free from possible manipulation. If the footage were transmitted directly to a neutral third party rather than remaining in the hands of the police, then perhaps that would be an improvement.
posted by zarq at 12:10 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


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