Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Interrogation Toolbox


The problem with the words “always” and “never” is that neither word leaves any room for the word “appropriate”. Both words demark extreme and inflexible positions.

My wife and I made the decision to only spank our children as a last resort if a child of ours was being intentionally defiant. I can count on my fingers the number of times I have spanked both of my daughters. As a parent, placing one of my daughters over my knees and swatting them on the butt was the hardest thing I ever had to do because I knew it would bring tears to their eyes and screaming to their lips and I couldn’t be certain they would understand why their punishment needed to reach that level of severity. In order to deliver the spank, I had to resist what I felt like doing and do what I knew was appropriate to do.

I will never know for certain whether we spanked too often or too little, but I do know for certain spanking is a necessary part of parenting when done at the appropriate time and with the appropriate amount of force. It is quite easy to compare the behavior of two 3-year-olds, one who has been spanked and one who has not been spanked, and know which one of the two understands the consequences of defiant behavior. If I had to guess, I would say we probably should have spanked a little more than we did, but I prefer knowing we may have under-spanked than worrying if we may have over-spanked.

Enemy prisoners need to know that the decisions they make regarding cooperation with interrogators have consequences. Some prisoners will willingly cooperate in order to receive benefits not given to other prisoners, while some prisoners will not cooperate regardless of the amount of hardship inflicted upon them. However, the majority of prisoners will cooperate based on consequences, both good and bad. Various levels of rewards and hardships must be included in the toolbox used by interrogators in order to extract the maximum amount of useful information from enemy combatants. Not every prisoner needs to suffer extreme hardship, but every prisoner needs to know extreme hardship is a possibility for lack of cooperation.



Kevin said...


I have read several times that a subject's perception of power and intimidation are fundamental to interrogation, which seems to place a significant emphasis on instilling fear. In the extreme, whether the fears are personal or common among humans, this amounts to panic, which some argue is itself torture, with remnants of mental anguish remaining even after the event.

But if the major consequences are purely illusory, it seems the interrogation dance is on thin, translucent ice. Indeed, the illusion would be completely shattered if the subject knows the actual permitted limits of their treatment.

Further, it would only be effective to the extent that the subject fears the actual limits of treatment. This assuming that the subject cannot be flipped through extended appeal or kindness. I'm curious about the statistics on that.

Having written this, I'm not sure I've added much to your point. :)


David M. Smith said...

Hi Kevin,

Thanks, you made a good point. Illusion is fine as long as the subject doesn’t know it is an illusion, but if the subject knows it is an illusion, then the consequences do not have the same effect.

The subject must believe that cooperation results in rewards and defiance results in punishment.

Children who are constantly threatened by a parent but never punished don’t believe the punishment is real and neither will and enemy combatant who is being interrogated unless the hardships are real.