"You can cause a lot of discomfort and some people will talk but interrogation is not about talking. It’s about the search for the truth."
October 21, 2012 10:05 PM   Subscribe

"But the technique that all of us in Aden listened to agape was a method that had been developed allegedly very recently, which was to suspend the prisoner in a tank of liquid gelatine which was at 94.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Naked. With your arms and legs tied and your head encased in a sort of diver’s helmet, through which you were breathing. You were hung into this tank, so all you could hear was the [breathing noise] of your own breath. And in theory you would go bonkers. Because you didn’t know which way was up, you had no sense." -Interview with British Interrogator #1

"In the end the guy talks because he wants to...

...Mental damage is what the law and society tells us we can do. …You also have to note that there is a blurring between controlling prisoners and conditioning them."
-Interview with British Interrogator #2

"He is being handled by people who don’t speak their language, doesn’t know what’s going to happen to him, doesn’t know when he’s going to see his family again, doesn’t know when he’s going to get his next meal, or his next drink. All he knows is that he is in the hands of the enemy. That’s all he knows. And it is frankly a very upsetting experience. It really is. And that is shown in a thing called The Shock of Capture." -Interview with British Army Interrogator #3

"Can you imagine killing these people for 2-3 days – you’d been told what to do about them – and you shot them, and you kept shooting them, and they kept coming! Eventually, it turned out, you gave up – to one of them, in my case." -Interview with SAS NCO Trained Interrogator

"They were hooded. They were in a helicopter. The helicopter took off, then bounced about and came down to a couple of feet again, you know, so that the people were so disoriented that they didn’t know where they were. Then they threw them out as if they were throwing them out from a height." -Interview with Senior Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer on interrogation

"I said ‘This shackling and hooding prisoners is inconsistent with the Geneva Conventions, Colonel, and isn’t that what we’re supposed to be abiding by. I haven’t heard anything else.’

That got an official response …the response was, and one that I accepted, that prisoners have responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions, too. ‘Two soldiers have been seriously wounded and one killed by prisoners after they have surrendered, so this is a security measure that is provided for in the conventions. For security purposes you can do this.’

I read the Conventions a little differently.
" -Interview with US Army Interrogator #1

UK Journalist Dominic Streatfeild interviews five interrogators from the UK armed forces and one from the US about their training, tactics and experiences - both as interrogators and as subjects.

Via.
posted by univac (57 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah this has been around for a while. Tom Clancy detailed it in one of his first books...I can't remember which...Red Storm Rising maybe? or Cardinal of the Kremlin?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:11 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm gonna go ahead and assume Clancy thought it was too lenient.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:15 PM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


The body temperature gelatin thing sounds like something John Lilly would have done, only he would have been taking huge amounts of LSD and trying to communicate with dolphins.
posted by hippybear at 10:20 PM on October 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm gonna go ahead and assume Clancy thought it was too lenient.

If we follow his stories, he recommends blowing up congress, nuking Iran and setting up international hit squads to go out and kill all the bad guys.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 10:20 PM on October 21, 2012


I remember hearing that one interrogation technique was to wake someone up at 2 in the morning and give them a sandwich, at which point they became much more likely to give up information.

I have no idea if it's true or not, but seems a hell of a lot better than the alternative.
posted by hellojed at 10:27 PM on October 21, 2012 [18 favorites]


If we follow his stories, he recommends blowing up congress, nuking Iran and setting up international hit squads to go out and kill all the bad guys.

Hey one out of three ain't bad.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:29 PM on October 21, 2012


Yeah. That’s the thing that has always got to me. Sensory Deprivation. We used to get in 1960, 61. It was a lightless room, somewhere where you got no sense of daylight or dark, mostly pitch dark, occasionally broken by loud, very loud music and flashing lights. And the things that amazed me is that it caught on – they have these discos nowadays, it’s exactly the bloody same…
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:34 PM on October 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


The most effective interrogation technique, as implied by the guy in the first link (and most memorably for me by the fictional Det. Frank Pembleton on Homicide) is:

1. Develop a rapport between interrogator and subject. Let the subject believe that he's in trouble, but this situation is not the end, and

2. You the interrogator know everything anyway. Without actually giving the subject any information, imply that you just need him to confirm things that are already proven.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:36 PM on October 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


But they said ‘Don’t worry!’ ‘Don’t worry!’ they said. ‘This is what the guys who practise this haven’t thought about: they have deprived you of all sort of external sensory capability, but the male person has one very sensitive organ – between his legs – over which, under this circumstance, it has been proved, you still have control. So the answer is concentrate on your dick – and you can do all sorts of amazing things in a tank of gelatine at 98.4 degrees! It’s actually a very amenable environment.’ That caused us great amusement. And we kept it to ourselves.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 10:38 PM on October 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


BANG-PWOVish! I missed you.
posted by Mblue at 10:38 PM on October 21, 2012


I really hope that in the end, Andy Weir's short story "The Egg" turns out to be fiction.
posted by Talez at 10:42 PM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


one interrogation technique was to wake someone up at 2 in the morning and give them a sandwich

I just realized the extent to which this would work on me and I was frankly surprised.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:53 PM on October 21, 2012 [19 favorites]


Yeah this has been around for a while. Tom Clancy detailed it in one of his first books...I can't remember which...Red Storm Rising maybe? or Cardinal of the Kremlin?

Cardinal of the Kremlin. In the book it was a technique used by the KGB to break a Russian national who was an agent for the US and later to roll up the entire network she belonged to.
posted by Ryvar at 10:58 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


one interrogation technique was to wake someone up at 2 in the morning and give them a sandwich

Pretty sure this would be 100% successful on me too. I mean, I'd be annoyed and disoriented at being woken up, but then, hey! Sandwich! No one who gives you a middle of the night sandwich can be all bad! I think this avenue of interrogation needs to be further explored.
posted by yasaman at 11:06 PM on October 21, 2012


I read the Conventions a little differently.

Yoo too.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:28 PM on October 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Gotta hook these guys up with these people.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:44 PM on October 21, 2012


I remember hearing that one interrogation technique was to wake someone up at 2 in the morning and give them a sandwich

It was Blazecock Pileon. I saw the whole thing.

Can I get mayo?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:50 PM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I remember hearing that one interrogation technique was to wake someone up at 2 in the morning and give them a sandwich

I think the type of sandwich matters. A monte cristo would work much better than, say, a tuna salad sandwich.
posted by Garm at 12:03 AM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


one interrogation technique was to wake someone up at 2 in the morning and give them a sandwich

I just realized the extent to which this would work on me and I was frankly surprised.


And I just realized that this kebab guy near King's Cross knows waay too much about me. He even spoke to me in excellent Urdu, come to think of it.
posted by the cydonian at 12:50 AM on October 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


I think that I'd better start hardening my own defenses against this sammich interrogation model. Henceforth, the other is tasked with making me a 2am sammich consisting of several assorted cheeses, sprouts and mayo. She will then attempt to get old girlfriends' pet names from me. I should only gain fifty pounds or so during this next month of interrogations.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 12:50 AM on October 22, 2012


I don't know. I doubt any of these interrogation techniques is as close to as being effective as simply beating someone up. As bad as sensory deprivation is said to be, it cannot compare to sensory stimulation of having your teeth knocked out one by one by the platoon's boxing champ.

It seems to me that "legality" is a lame excuse and all of these "gentler" techniques of getting people to talk are designed just make torture easier on the perpetrators who might have their tender little psyche upset by actually having to participate in some honest brutality.

In other words, it is a way to avoid soldiers having to confront and accept what they are actually doing. Like killing with drones. And economic sanctions.
posted by three blind mice at 12:52 AM on October 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


Rewarding Impunity: Why is President Obama's attorney general handing out prizes for sweeping torture under the rug?
posted by homunculus at 12:59 AM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Why do you think that, 3BM? When people actually study the subject they seem to come to the opposite conclusion. Interrogation by torture just gets the victim to tell you what they think you want to hear, whether or not that has anything to do with the truth.
posted by hattifattener at 1:19 AM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]



It seems to me that "legality" is a lame excuse and all of these "gentler" techniques of getting people to talk are designed just make torture easier on the perpetrators who might have their tender little psyche upset by actually having to participate in some honest brutality.


Oh, there's "honest brutality" as well - consider the case of David Passaro, who was charged with beating a suspect to death in Afghanistan.


Passaro slammed Wali’s face against the wall, kicked Wali, slammed him onto the ground, then subjected him to an hour of “iron chair.” When Wali could no longer hold that position, Passaro hit Wali with his Maglite flashlight. Passaro kicked Wali in the groin.

The next day, June 20, Wali started showing signs of delirium and complained of stomach pain. The government says even after Wali was in this condition, Passaro continued to beat him, this time using the Maglite to blind him before hitting him.

On June 21, Wali started asking the guards to shoot him. He was sluggish and appeared to be hallucinating. He collapsed (the government says Passaro kicked him after he collapsed), and within two hours, he died.


Keep in mind the suspect, who was 28 years old, voluntarily came forward because he was told the Americans thought he was involved in some kind of attack. Abdul Wali was held for three days, beaten until he asked the guards to kill him, yet he still denied he was involved in the attacks. So either he A: was innocent, or B: beating someone literally to death is not an effective way of gathering information.
posted by dubold at 1:32 AM on October 22, 2012 [34 favorites]


dubold: I've only gone through half of the interviews so far, but I'm willing to bet that none of those interviewed would defend what happened at Abu Ghraib.

Some interviewees will probably be advocates for beating and extreme discomfort, in specific circumstances, but they'd like it to be done "professionally." This presumably means that the interrogations are actually handled by trained interrogators who have well prepared briefs, not some 19 year old army recruit turned prison guard.

Whether these harsh interrogation techniques are effective or justified is something else—but to rant about what happened at Abu Ghraib is essentially to tear down a strawman. I think the documentary Standard Operating Procedure covers this matter fairly comprehensively.

There's some interesting stuff in the interviews about the confusion between resistance-to-interrogation training for potential prisoners and proper interrogation training for interrogators. I'd also highlight an important quote from the interview with the SAS interrogator:
"That would be the view in the army: you wear the uniform, you take that shit. That’s it."
posted by quosimosaur at 2:12 AM on October 22, 2012


I remember hearing that one interrogation technique was to wake someone up at 2 in the morning and give them a sandwich

I think the type of sandwich matters. A monte cristo would work much better than, say, a tuna salad sandwich.


Grilled cheese, surely.
posted by chavenet at 2:22 AM on October 22, 2012


Passaro was a police academy graduate, so draw your own conclusions about that. And he wasn't charged with murder or torture, which is a travesty. He tortured Wali to death, and his sentence was 8 years and 4 months. But worse, the notion that his superiors didn't know what was going on is a joke. You have someone tortured to death and the only person who's charged is a mercenary?

A big part of the problem here is the torture definition America invented to suit its own purposes. The relevant convention doesn't say "permanent damage," it says "severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental." Even if the pain and suffering is passing, even if the person will eventually make a complete recovery (though how the torturer could know that is a mystery to me), under the real definition of torture a crime has still been committed.
posted by 1adam12 at 2:28 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


As bad as sensory deprivation is said to be, it cannot compare to sensory stimulation of having your teeth knocked out one by one by the platoon's boxing champ.

I've never personally experienced either, so I'll have to take your word on that.
posted by Kiwi at 3:06 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why do you think that, 3BM? When people actually study the subject they seem to come to the opposite conclusion. Interrogation by torture just gets the victim to tell you what they think you want to hear, whether or not that has anything to do with the truth.

The fact that people are still routinely tortured? People might have actually studied the subject and concluded in the abstract that torture does not work, but in the real world torturing people to get them to talk still happens all of the time. Whether or not it is effective.
posted by three blind mice at 3:36 AM on October 22, 2012


three blind mice : It seems to me that "legality" is a lame excuse and all of these "gentler" techniques of getting people to talk are designed just make torture easier on the perpetrators who might have their tender little psyche upset by actually having to participate in some honest brutality.

We don't torture people (or rather, shouldn't) not because of legality; not because of the effects on the torturer; not even because it doesn't produce good intelligence.

We don't torture people because we have the vanity to consider ourselves ever so slightly better than the rest of the animal kingdom. Of course, as with so much else, we have that completely backward - Even cats will eventually take a few obligatory nibbles off their victims.
posted by pla at 3:38 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


In my version of a perfect hell al the torturers will spend eternity feeling a needle stuck repeatedly into their own eyes. Eternity.
posted by spitbull at 4:07 AM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


three blind mice, part of my understanding is that the preference for "mild" techniques is based around the desire to obtain information that is most likely to be honest and accurate.

To wit, if you tear into someone with some tin snips they'll tell you whatever they think might get you to stop, real and/or fictional. If you dominate them psychologically you get a chance to influence their contributions more subtly.
posted by mr. digits at 5:18 AM on October 22, 2012


You people, with your barbaric "sandwich torture"... it will never work, it will make people only hate us more... clearly;
The most successful interrogation of an Al-Qaeda operative by U.S. officials required no sleep deprivation, no slapping or "walling" and no waterboarding. All it took to soften up Abu Jandal, who had been closer to Osama bin Laden than any other terrorist ever captured, was a handful of sugar-free cookies.

posted by infinite intimation at 5:28 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, I've done an British Army E&E course, and

a) heh, for all the nice talk about psych stuff being the only option they still kick the crap out of you
b) nobody talked, because they knew the exercise was only 48 hours long.

As they said, when you know it's time limited, it is a lot easier. The thing that isn't really discussed there is the fact that even the pre-71 army interrogations were time limited when compared to current US techniques; taking the exercise was a lot easier than taking a week would have been, a week is a lot easier than a year, and a year is very different from being in Guantanao Bay or an SHU for ten, twenty, etc etc.

I have absolutely no doubt I'd break eventually; as we were told, if you can make it for a week you're well past the point where you should consider if the information you have is actually still valuable enough that you shouldn't start talking given that everything you know has been adjusted wtih the assumption that you'll talk.
posted by jaduncan at 5:40 AM on October 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


jaduncan: I cannot parse that last sentence. You're saying, "yes, talk after a week?"
posted by leotrotsky at 5:45 AM on October 22, 2012


It always amuses me how we Brits still have a reputation for being nice and civilised. Except amongst ourselves and people who know us really well, of course.
posted by Decani at 5:55 AM on October 22, 2012


The assumption is, you will break. Your own superiors know that. So once you have been captured, the codes will already have been changed; the plans and locations are now believed compromised anyway; &c. &c.; the fact that the enemy now knows what you know goes into the mix along with everything else. So, since what you know is the only coin you have, and since its ability to hurt your side is now diminished, consider that you may be able to spend that coin judiciously, and to extract from the enemy whatever value you can get for it. Don't spill your guts unnecessarily, but survive.

At least, that's my understanding from having spoken to a few former U.S. Army officers about it.
posted by gauche at 6:00 AM on October 22, 2012


I don't want to go too much into this, but the very sketchy basics:

For tactical as opposed to strategic stuff? Yes, especially in theatres where you/your men will otherwise die.

For absolutely obvious reasons everything you know about that's tactical level gets changed due to an assumption that you talked. For that reason it's not a kindness to tell people things about stuff they don't need to know about. If it's easily changable you can use it as a token to trade; the value of the info being revealed falls exponentially.
posted by jaduncan at 6:02 AM on October 22, 2012


I'm also split about how I feel about the fact that we are probably the best interrogators on earth. One of the things for the legacy of Empire box, I guess.
posted by jaduncan at 6:12 AM on October 22, 2012


Oh come on 24 was an awesome show admit that you enjoyed it as a revenge fantasy
posted by KokuRyu at 6:13 AM on October 22, 2012


I recall reading interviews with the interrogators of the Nazis captured at the end of WWII. One said his most effective weapon to get the Nazis to talk was two table tennis bats. He would carefully insert the handle of one table tennis bat into the open palm of the nazi, then pick up the other table tennis bat, and then play table tennis with him. After some time, a relationship would begin, and then the nazi would start talking.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 6:18 AM on October 22, 2012 [9 favorites]


We were told ‘Be a British gentleman’. This is what – if somebody ends up in our hands, they’ve read about British gentlemen.

But probably also about the "English vice"...
posted by Skeptic at 6:22 AM on October 22, 2012


Abdul Wali was held for three days, beaten until he asked the guards to kill him, yet he still denied he was involved in the attacks. So either he A: was innocent, or B: beating someone literally to death is not an effective way of gathering information.

I hate this topic and I hate the necessity of anyone having to discuss this topic. It's also one of the few areas I feel compelled to argue in favour of what I think is the "right" perspective (no torture), evidence be damned.

I would observe, however, that the traditional objection to torture (it doesn't work; people will say whatever they think you want to hear) is exactly what did not happen in this case.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:14 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm assuming Wali didn't have the faintest idea what they wanted to hear.
posted by fullerine at 7:31 AM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


That would make sense.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:51 AM on October 22, 2012


Whether these harsh interrogation techniques are effective or justified is something else—but to rant about what happened at Abu Ghraib is essentially to tear down a strawman.

quosimosaur : Abdul Wali was beaten to death in Afghanistan. Abu Ghraib is located in Iraq.

I would observe, however, that the traditional objection to torture (it doesn't work; people will say whatever they think you want to hear) is exactly what did not happen in this case.

My objection to torture is that it is torture.

My second objection is that it's difficult to assess the reliability of the information gathered, because there is always the possibility that the tortured is saying whatever they think you want to hear, or whatever they think will make you stop. The likelihood of this increases with the intensity of the torture.
posted by dubold at 7:53 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh come on 24 was an awesome show admit that you enjoyed it as a revenge fantasy

I couldn't watch it because the 'revenge fantasy' aspect made my skin crawl. "Hey guys let's literalize the 'ticking time bomb' fallacy and put it on the teevee" "Great idea here's your Emmy"
posted by ook at 8:42 AM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Surely this will end the Bush presidency. And then we can watch the change with hope for a better future.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:17 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


"The most successful interrogation of an Al-Qaeda operative by U.S. officials required no sleep deprivation, no slapping or "walling" and no waterboarding. All it took to soften up Abu Jandal, who had been closer to Osama bin Laden than any other terrorist ever captured, was a handful of sugar-free cookies."

Sugar-free?! Those bastards!
posted by Garm at 9:54 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


So the answer is concentrate on your dick – and you can do all sorts of amazing things in a tank of gelatine at 98.4 degrees! It’s actually a very amenable environment.’

I call this Friday night.
posted by Splunge at 10:50 AM on October 22, 2012


What a fucking idiotic belief in movie plots. Anyone worth torturing is going to tell you everything they know in a few minutes, because they often don't know very much at all.

Furthermore, they will tell you deliberate and accident untruths, thereby poisoning what good information you do have. There are, like, 6574 better ways to get intelligence than this.
posted by clvrmnky at 10:57 AM on October 22, 2012


Sugar-free?! Those bastards!

Apparently he really appreciated the way it has full flavor but wasn't going to show up on his hips later. That's not even discussing the tampon/rollerskates incident.
posted by jaduncan at 2:04 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


We don't torture people because we have the vanity to consider ourselves ever so slightly better than the rest of the animal kingdom.

Humans are the only species that tortures its own kind. Some other social mammals will administer beatings as punishment but that's really not the same. The idea of keeping a conspecific helpless, immobile and in pain for weeks at a time is strictly human. We have a long way to climb to become the moral equals of chimpanzees, even though chimps are kind of horrible themselves.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:13 PM on October 22, 2012


Well, that's an interesting thing to say, but it's not like animals have language and can give each other detailed information about something whether under duress or not.

I'm certainly against torture, but I'm pretty sure that the entire basis of how humans are the only species which torture their own kind rises directly from language and secrets and the ability to communicate details to one another.

I'll accept chimpanzees as being morally superior to us in this respect once they have language and are keeping secrets from one another.
posted by hippybear at 4:24 PM on October 22, 2012


What a fucking idiotic belief in movie plots. Anyone worth torturing is going to tell you everything they know in a few minutes, because they often don't know very much at all.

Furthermore, they will tell you deliberate and accident untruths, thereby poisoning what good information you do have. There are, like, 6574 better ways to get intelligence than this.

It seems to me that there are simultaneously very few and very many experts on this topic.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:47 PM on October 22, 2012


"…There’s no doubt that the interrogation techniques in Castlereagh were effective for a while. Not as much for what actually happened in Castlereagh, – but because of what the fear of what they thought might happen. But once they got used to being in Castlereagh, and once the allegations of ill-treatment came out, people jumped up and down and lawyers got involved and doctors got involved and society got involved."

The conspiracy nut in me makes me wonder if there's not some attempt on the part of the intelligence/military community to drive cycles of fear, outrage, media leaks, and official contrition about illicit torture in the democratic countries. How much of the Bush-era leaks about torture was just them trying to make think they might torture, that they're just crazy enough to do it? Some sort of eternal good-cop-bad-cop routine with the public at large? Worth thinking about.
posted by saysthis at 9:08 PM on October 22, 2012


In my version of a perfect hell al the torturers will spend eternity feeling a needle stuck repeatedly into their own eyes. Eternity.
posted by spitbull at 7:07 AM on October 22 [3 favorites +] [!]

and the wheel keeps turning. Almost anyone can think to torture, no matter who we think we are...

When I was a young and voracious reader, I stumbled across the Mack Bolan books. Filled with gore and all manner of horror that would probably disgust the sensibilities of modern Mefites. However, I recall in one book, the captured hero was imprisoned and given drugs causing sleep and waking times to make him think he'd been imprisoned for weeks. However, there was a spider making a web to show the true passage of time, so when his captors were telling him his secrets were out of date anyway, why not have a friendly chat?, the intrepid hero knew better.
unfortunately, this was an impressionable age for me, and many of the other methods in the other books are not so enlightened, and still hide in corners of my mind that I can't get at with the broom. I sure hope no one tries to hurt my daughter
posted by Redhush at 8:28 AM on October 23, 2012


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