War on Terror

The A-B-Cs of Interrogation, As Presented by the FBI



I'm a visual learner, myself. I taught myself to lay tile and install a woodstove by reading how-to books and articles. So, break out the cattle prod! You can imagine my delight at coming across a real-live FBI manual to conducting Cross-Cultural, Rapport-Based Interrogation (PDF). Actually, nix the cattle prod. Unsurprisingly for a document marked "unlassified," this primer to interrogations conducted overseas offers no insights into waterboarding, bamboo splinters or other torture tactics. Those documents undoubtedly exist elsewhere, but this publication offers an interesting peek into how FBI agents are, we are told, supposed to arrange interviews, treat prisoners and use psychological methods to get detainees unmoored and induce them to bond with interrogators.

The ACLU is raising a bit of a fuss over the document's instructions for isolating prisoners, but even for somebody as authority-averse as yours truly, that raises a bit of a shrug. Perhaps I'm jaded, but after years of revelations about beatings and simulated drowning, private cells and solitary meals don't come off as especially red-flag-worthy.

Isolation of the detainee not only ensures the safety of other detainees but also prevents the individual detainee from drawing strength from the support and companionship of other detainees. It also prevents collusion on cover stories between detainees. A large part of the Interrogators advantage is the natural fear of the unknown that the detainee will be experiencing. Exposure to other detainees will mitigate that fear You may not be in position to influence how your subject is held but at minimum you should know if he has been held in communal cell prior to interrogation.

In order to create the optimum conditions for productive interview if the policy of the facility permits consider having your detainee placed in an individual cell several days before you begin interrogation …

And, the document advises interrogators to modulate privileges as rewards for cooperation. That's not nice, but it's been business as usual for incarceration of any sort ever since Sumerian guards got to decide who got the extra juicy maggots in their gruel.

[A]ccess to anything above the baseline level of treatment provided to all detainees should be strictly controlled by the assigned Interrogator Granting this authority and control to the Interrogator places the Interrogator in position of power that can provide an advantage when crafting an approach strategy.

What's perhaps most interesting about  the documet is the nuts and bolts banality of it. It includes information on the differences in social space between cultures and how that can influence interrogations. It also advises on the placement of interpreters in the interrogation room and, of course, extensive documentation of the questions to be asked and information to be sought.

There is also a standard "advice of rights," however reassuring that may be in some holding cell in ThirdWorldDumpistan.

I don't take Cross-Cultural, Rapport-Based Interrogation (PDF) as proof that the U.S. government and its allies are playing nice in their murky quests for information far from public view. But the document provides a valuable insight into how the government wants us to believe its interrogators are behaving.