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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Harsh interrogation - A case study

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On the use of force during an interrogation, the Army field manual states the following:

“PROHIBITION AGAINST USE OF FORCE - The use of force, mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to unpleasant and inhumane treatment of any kind is prohibited by law and is neither authorized nor condoned by the US Government. Experience indicates that the use of force is not necessary to gain the cooperation of sources for interrogation. Therefore, the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.…”[1]

Is it the case that the use of force is not necessary to gain the cooperation of sources for interrogation? The argument goes as follows; harsh interrogation does not work because a prisoner will tell you anything to avoid pain and because generally speaking, people are more amicable to your request if you treat them kindly. I am going to argue that actually, harsh methods for gaining information and changing behavior is not only effective but is also foundational to our way of life here in the United States and I’m going to prove this by way of the illustration of three case studies.

Case No. 1 – The Police:

I was watching television yesterday; watching one of those programs that follow actual policemen as they fight crime. In this episode, police responding to a 911 call approached a house where the husband was out of control. The wife and neighbors were not able to calm this very large man down. The woman was hysterical and told the officers, “He’s going to kill me.” The two policemen drew their guns and entered the house and as if by magic, staring down the barrel of two loaded guns, this man became a model citizen.

Case No. 2 – My Parents:

I hate to admit this but I was not always the perfect son growing up in my parent’s house. There were times when I was just downright disrespectful to my mother, especially when I was in my teens and bigger in physical stature than her. I remember one incident when my Mom would not let me play soccer with my friends. I would not listen to her wishes, that is, until my Dad came home, then I became the model son.

Case No. 3 – The Courts and the Mafia:

Can you imagine what our justice system would be like if there was no penalty for lying under oath? People would say anything to avoid serving time in jail. Incidentally, the most popular argument forwarded for a case against torture happens to be the one I’m trying to refute right now; the fact that a prisoner will tell you anything to avoid further pain. It would seem that this problem (people just telling you anything) exists even if there is no threat of punishment; why have a penalty (which can be very severe) for lying under oath if people will always tell you the truth? Case in point: Joel Glickman was a convicted bookie for the Chicago Mob. Glickman was offered complete immunity if he would testify against five mob bosses. Over and over again during his trial Glickman would respond with, “I respectfully refuse to testify.” Finally the presiding judge, Mr. Zagel threw Glickman in jail and said he would be released when he was ready to talk. In the end Glickman had a choice to make. He could give up the mob bosses and be a free man or spend the rest of his life in jail but not have to deal with mob justice (i.e. one bullet to the chest and one bullet to the head). It was the mob with their harsh tactics that persuaded Glickman.[2]

Now I have shown in three different real-world scenarios that harsh treatment is shown to be very effective in persuading someone to act against their own desires or self-interest. And I was very careful in how I selected these three cases, as they cut across the very foundation of life here in the United States. I looked at law-enforcement, I looked at parenting and I looked at the judicial system. I have shown that in each of these cases, their effectiveness reduces to nil if harsh persuasive consequences were not at their core.

Barack Obama also said the following:

“Torture is how you create enemies, not how you defeat them. Torture is how you get bad information, not good intelligence. Torture is how you set back America's standing in the world, not how you strengthen it.”[3]

I will say this for president Obama, he sure knows how to construct a future cliché. Is it the case that torture is how you get bad information, not good intelligence? The answer is yes and no. The answer is yes if after an interrogation we simply released the source to go about their merry way. The answer is no if we retain the source until the intelligence we received is verified. The latter is almost always the case. Consider this, would you tell a gunman the true combination to your safety deposit box if you knew he would run away after you told him? The answer is probably no. But would you tell him the truth if the gunman had a partner testing the combination you gave him while he still held you at gun point? Well the answer is, of course you would tell him the truth.

To say that harsh treatment does not bear fruit is not only terribly misleading, it is simply mistaken. Why do we arm our police and national defense if being nice is a sufficient deterrent? Why is it that the mafia and gangs everywhere continue to use the most brutal tactics to keep their members in line if it does not work?

Harsh interrogation does work. Therefore, the real and only meaningful question is: Where is the line of demarcation between civilized moral conduct and immoral behavior? Stated another way; where does harsh interrogation stop and torture begin? I will answer that question at a later time. Just to give you a peek, I am going to say that there is such a thing as harsh interrogation that is not torture. We do real torture victims a disservice when we label any and all harsh coercion, torture. Nazis engaged in torture, my parents did not and neither did our boys in the United States Armed Forces.

Danian Michael
Political Agenda


[1] ( The Army field manual on intelligence gathering.

[2] ( In an article titled, “Witness keeps quiet in Chicago mafia trial.” Skynews details the trial of mobster Joel Glickman.

[3] ( Then senator Barack Obama made these comments in 2007 in response to a New York Times article titled, “Secret U.S. Endorsement of Severe Interrogations.” The Times article headline speaks for itself.


Blogger Agent of change said...


You have peaked my interest, where does harsh interrogation end and torture begin.

By the way, I like your analogy of being held at gun point and being forced to give up valuable information. This simple point you made completely nullifies any argument saying harsh interrogation does not work because the subject will tell you anything.

Looking for your answer

May 21, 2009 at 6:06 PM  

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