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Beyond 'Zero Dark Thirty' Oscars fail: Torture is an ineffective interrogation approach

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For the military interrogators I interviewed who have questioned hundreds of detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq, nothing could be further from the truth.

As part of a recent study about military interrogations techniques, I spoke to many human intelligence (HUMINT) collectors. Through an online survey, 143 active-duty reserve, and retired military interrogators were asked them how they performed their jobs. These men and women, who served in Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan, were also asked to rate the effectiveness of a variety of interrogation techniques.

With the exception of one member of the sample, these interrogators uniformly agreed that torture and other harsh methods were worth little when trying to gather accurate human intelligence. The majority of study participants stated a strong dislike of violence in interrogations and asserted time and again that if the direct questioning of a detainee failed, building rapport was the most effective way to collect information from a human subject. As one study participant wrote, “Torture is for amateurs.”

Official Army policy supports this view as well. The US military’s interrogation bible, the Army Human Intelligence Collector Operations Field Manual, advises human intelligence collectors that the direct approach – asking a subject a direct question – has been historically shown to work with 90 percent or more of interrogation subjects.

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