Interrogation vs. Torture↓

Today’s article from Public Discourse is an excellent commentary on the issue of interrogation and torture. The author writes from her own experience working as an interrogator at Guantanamo Bay. She articulates that these two courses of intelligence gathering are antithetical. By no means does she minimize the value of interrogation. What she does hope to discredit is the false dichotomy of “security” and “humane treatment of detainees.” Instead she argues,

the real contrast is between torture, on the one hand, and security through interrogation consistent with respect for the humanity of the detainee, on the other.

The United States of America has consistently articulated that it stands as a defender of human freedoms and dignity. In the past ten years this has been called into question on multiple fronts, but none more significant than this issue. How can a country that claims to be a beacon of freedoms willfully degrade human dignity?

Torture does this on at least three different levels.

(1) Torture violates the dignity of the detainee.

(2) Torture degrades the integrity of the interrogator.

(3) Torture betrays the dignity of those who suffer from intelligence failures; this includes those who may be victims of otherwise preventable attacks.

When we think of this issue we often consider the first level – the dignity of the detainee. This is not very difficult to understand when we consider some of the methods of torture that have been employed.

One that is not – as often – considered is the damage that is done to the interrogator. We are employing and commissioning American men and women to act in ways that are truly inhumane. Not only in reference to the aggression and physical treatment but also on a psychological level. To commit these kinds of acts requires considering another human being as less than human. Once this is done nothing is off limits. This is the very mindset that we decry as despicable. As history illustrates when leaders – like Muammar Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein or Adolf Hitler – consider a people as non-human then unbelievable atrocities can be committed. This is not a path that the American public should be willing to walk. It is not a path that the American public should be will to force others to walk for us.

From the author’s experience interrogation was far more effective in gathering useful intelligence. In this approach the interrogator seeks to gather both a breadth and depth of information from the detainee rather than just reactionary surface information that is often extracted under torture. To do this the interrogator wants to understand who the person is and what they know.

As is true of any human being, a detainee is a unique, complex web of beliefs, values, behaviors, past experiences, relationships, loyalties, and culture which are carried around in the heart and mind. The information an interrogator wants is embedded in that web. To get at it, an interrogator must be able to find the most efficient and effective way to discern a route through the labyrinth of that web. From this the interrogator can find openings for rapport-oriented emotional connection and build on these.

In order to truly find out who the person is requires maintaining the humanness of that person. With these intact the interrogator is able to withdraw what the detainee values, is motivated by, and knows.

The author finally brings the discussion back to the upcoming presidential election. She feels that it is essential that the foreign policy articulated by the United States government is one that firmly supports interrogation but rejects torture. In this way the values of the American people are not forsaken in the efforts to ensure the safety of the nation. To violate your principles while fighting to secure them is an ignoble place to be.

Inspired by: Jennifer Bryson: My Guantanamo Experience: Support Interrogation, Reject Torture « Public Discourse


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