Successful Prisoner Interrogations: Torture Is Immoral and Doesn’t Work, but What Does?

In the aftermath of release of the Senate Torture Report we have heard the arguments flying back and forth across the airwaves from two perspectives. First, there is the “Not only is torture immoral, it is not an effective interrogation technique” statement. Then there is the counter argument, “Enhanced interrogation techniques are the only way to crack hard core terrorists, especially when it has to be done before another attack”. Lost in all of these arguments is a discussion of what if anything, other than torture, actually works in situations when time is of essence and another attack may be imminent. Surely no one would even consider using “enhanced interrogation techniques” if other interrogation practices were known to work just as well or even better.

I did some research and discovered the stories of two of the most successful interrogators of World War Two. The first was a US Marine Major, Sherwood Ford Moran, who interrogated Japanese prisoners of war in the Pacific Theater. The other was a German solder, Hans Joachim Schaff, who interrogated American prisoners, especially American pilots shot down by the Germans in Europe. Both gained stellar reputations for getting the prisoners they interrogated to voluntarily give up the vital pieces of information required by their military commanders. Their techniques were so successful that they became the foundations of interrogation practices still in use by military interrogators throughout the world.

While Moran’s and Schaff’s techniques differed to some extent, there were some basic similarities. Rather than torture the prisoners they were questioning, both men did quite the opposite – they treated their prisoners well, made them as comfortable as possible, treated them with respect as human beings, and built up such rapport such that their prisoners actually wanted to talk to them.

One of the arguments used by those who try to defend the use of torture after 9/11 is the “ticking time bomb” excuse. It goes something like this: CIA interrogators were tasked with obtaining intelligence on ongoing terrorist operations before additional attacks could be made against the United States, so they didn’t have time for niceties. It should be noted that both Moran and Schaff did their interrogations in the middle of a war when enemy attacks were not only possible, or even probable, they occurred with frightening regularity. They were charged with obtaining information from their prisoners which might save the lives of many of their fellow solders’ over the next few days. Yet they never resorted to torture because they knew that their methodologies were far superior for obtaining actionable intelligence and because they knew that torture was counter productive and produced at best questionable information.

As I read through several articles about these two men and the techniques that made them so successful, I came to the conclusion that when the CIA was tasked by the Bush White House with extracting information from captured terrorists, they were fairly new to the interrogation game and really didn’t have a clue how to go about it effectively. On the other hand, The US military had been performing interrogations of prisoners of war for many decades and had developed techniques which are very effective, and also humane. However, instead in calling military interrogation experts to assist them, the CIA fell into trap of using harsh techniques of questionable value. They relied on two men who were familiar with the brutal interrogation techniques which terrorists might use if they captured some of our people to design their interrogation program. In their ignorance, the CIA passed on the opportunity to use time proven practices which would have been not only far more effective in securing the information they sought, but would have also avoided embarrassing our country.

Getting back to Moran and Schaff, you may be interested in reading more about these two men and their interrogation techniques so that you can understand why their methodologies are so superior to torture for extracting actionable intelligence. An internet search will turn up good articles about one each man, some of them going into great detail about how they worked. If you would like to read something more concise, I found the following article especially useful because it profiles both men and summarizes their methodologies. Here is the link:  Learning From History:  What is Successful Interrogation?

Cajun    12/13/14

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