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It Still Doesn’t Work — Why Now?
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It Still Doesn’t Work

I wrote about the case of the Templars which resulted in the burning of de Molay in 1314, despite the fact that his confession was the result of torture. The King of France owed the Templars a lot of money and had no intention of paying it, so a few confessions and he seized all of their assets.

Digby’s post, Torture Works, highlights a witchcraft trial in Germany in 1628, where the principle defendant confesses under torture and implicates other innocent people.

Proving that facts have no influence on fear, Kevin Drum posts a justification for torture from a correspondent who says it saves innocent lives, and cites the claims of John Kiriakou regarding the torture of Abu Zubaydah.

There has never been any credible proof ever presented that the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah in a hospital in Pakistan provided any useful information. Most of the information has come out of the White House, which has lied about everything else, and cannot be believed.

If you want to understand the logic of torture, only Monty Python can explain it.

I was a linguist and interrogator in the military, and I conducted interviews in criminal cases in law enforcement. I didn’t have to threaten anyone, hit anyone, abuse anyone, and I got people to tell me what I wanted to know relatively quickly.

If you don’t speak the interviewee’s language, you are wasting your time. You have to start a conversation. You have to create the environment in which the interviewee wants to talk, and you let them.

If you want to know how to conduct an interrogation, watch Bill Moyers, because he is one of the best interrogators in the world. That is what a trained professional interrogator is trying to do. That’s what works.

Oh, you always tape interrogations because taking notes can be distracting and the notepad is mainly a to do list and a prop. In a foreign language interrogation you also want another linguist to double check your understanding of what was said.


1 hipparchia { 12.17.07 at 1:40 am }

Uh, very small rocks!

one of my very favorite monty python scenes. and too true.

You have to create the environment in which the interviewee wants to talk, and you let them.

always works for hercule poirot. works pretty good in ordinary everyday life too.

2 Michael { 12.17.07 at 3:35 am }

I’ve never been an investigator of any kind, but people always seem to confess themselves if you only give them a chance, because they want to tell someone. They might not want to tell you, but that’s just because they might not trust you. Build that trust and you can learn a lot. If you actually earn that trust and deserve it you can learn everything.

3 ellroon { 12.17.07 at 11:11 am }

Well said, Bryan. (Hijacked part of your post.) Thank you for stating the obvious.

Anyone who argues for torture exposes his own weaknesses. The cowardly bully likes torture because it makes him feel powerful but it actually shows he has no abilities other than brute force. Once he has lost that, he has nothing.

The fearful, the weak think it gives them strength, and don’t notice we lose the moral high ground. I understand the urge to hurt when hurting, but to torture?

We’re better than that.

4 Steve Bates { 12.17.07 at 11:28 am }

“We’re better than that.” – ellroon

Bush is not.

Again, I’ll assert my claim based on six years observing Bush as Texas governor. His particular psychopathology is well summed up in two words: “mean bastard.” It’s true that he is a coward and (as with many cowards who have an opportunity) a bully, but the real danger from Bush is that, whether from nature or nurture, Bush actively likes making people suffer and die. No rational argument against torture can possibly affect him; he’s made his decision, and of course he never changes his mind.

I’ve seen no evidence that Cheney is any different in that regard. He may be brighter, but he’s just as sick.

They say a fish rots from the head. Being the son of an amateur fisherman, I’ve seen a lot of dead fish, but never saw fit to investigate closely enough to determine the truth of that truism. But it certainly works as metaphor here. With Bush and Cheney on the side of torture, not for information-gathering purposes but for the sheer terror it allows them to project, no one below them in their administration is going to pursue a rational, legal course.

I look forward to the day when we have leaders who believe America and Americans are, indeed, “better than that.”

5 jams o donnell { 12.17.07 at 12:10 pm }

Kevin Drum – What an drivel spouting arsehole! Once again someone just doesn’t get it. Torture only gives the interrogators the information they want to hear. You’re correct about questioning. You have to speak to people in their language (with reliable interpreters). You do not intimidate the subject but you don’t let them get the upper hand either. I interviewed plenty of people as an Immigration Officer, some interviews could last for hours (with breaks)

6 Bryan { 12.17.07 at 12:54 pm }

At some point I’ll lay out how I performed a law enforcement interview. I operated under the laws of New York State which are more restrictive than the Federal evidence laws, but that is irrelevant, because most people really enjoy hearing their own voice.

Society has made the job of the interviewer much easier because most people don’t listen. The key to being an interviewer/interrogator is to learn how to listen. There are “tricks” of the trade, but on close examination they are common sense.

An experienced interviewer can spot deception with more accuracy than a polygraph, because they are not limited sweating, heart rate, and blood pressure, all of which can be controlled with practice. The interviewer can see the control taking place while a polygraph operator is watching the machine.

Questions are vastly overrated in interrogation. Ask a question and all you will get is an answer to that question. Start a conversation and you find answers to a lot of questions. People would be amazed at how often you can clear multiple crimes during an interview. “I couldn’t have done that robbery, because I was breaking into a store on the other side of the city” is not as uncommon as people would think.