Entries Tagged "torture"

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The Science of Interrogation

Fascinating article about two psychologists who are studying interrogation techniques.

Now, two British researchers are quietly revolutionising the study and practice of interrogation. Earlier this year, in a meeting room at the University of Liverpool, I watched a video of the Diola interview alongside Laurence Alison, the university’s chair of forensic psychology, and Emily Alison, a professional counsellor. My permission to view the tape was negotiated with the counter-terrorist police, who are understandably wary of allowing outsiders access to such material. Details of the interview have been changed to protect the identity of the officers involved, though the quotes are verbatim.

The Alisons, husband and wife, have done something no scholars of interrogation have been able to do before. Working in close cooperation with the police, who allowed them access to more than 1,000 hours of tapes, they have observed and analysed hundreds of real-world interviews with terrorists suspected of serious crimes. No researcher in the world has ever laid hands on such a haul of data before. Based on this research, they have constructed the world’s first empirically grounded and comprehensive model of interrogation tactics.

The Alisons’ findings are changing the way law enforcement and security agencies approach the delicate and vital task of gathering human intelligence. “I get very little, if any, pushback from practitioners when I present the Alisons’ work,” said Kleinman, who now teaches interrogation tactics to military and police officers. “Even those who don’t have a clue about the scientific method, it just resonates with them.” The Alisons have done more than strengthen the hand of advocates of non-coercive interviewing: they have provided an unprecedentedly authoritative account of what works and what does not, rooted in a profound understanding of human relations. That they have been able to do so is testament to a joint preoccupation with police interviews that stretches back more than 20 years.

Posted on October 26, 2017 at 5:09 AMView Comments

Eighth Movie-Plot Threat Contest Semifinalists

On April 1, I announced the Eighth Movie Plot Threat Contest: demonstrate the evils of encryption.

Not a whole lot of good submissions this year. Possibly this contest has run its course, and there’s not a whole lot of interest left. On the other hand, it’s heartening to know that there aren’t a lot of encryption movie-plot threats out there.

Anyway, here are the semifinalists.

  1. Child pornographers.
  2. Bombing the NSA.
  3. Torture.
  4. Terrorists and a vaccine.
  5. Election systems.

Cast your vote by number here; voting closes at the end of the month.

Contest.

Previous contests.

Posted on May 14, 2015 at 11:26 PMView Comments

Matthew Alexander on Torture

Alexander is a former Special Operations interrogator who worked in Iraq in 2006. His op-ed is worth reading:

I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.

Also, this interview from Harper’s:

In Iraq, we lived the “ticking time bomb” scenario every day. Numerous Al Qaeda members that we captured and interrogated were directly involved in coordinating suicide bombing attacks. I remember one distinct case of a Sunni imam who was caught just after having blessed suicide bombers to go on a mission. Had we gotten there just an hour earlier, we could have saved lives. Still, we knew that if we resorted to torture the short term gains would be outweighed by the long term losses. I listened time and time again to foreign fighters, and Sunni Iraqis, state that the number one reason they had decided to pick up arms and join Al Qaeda was the abuses at Abu Ghraib and the authorized torture and abuse at Guantanamo Bay. My team of interrogators knew that we would become Al Qaeda’s best recruiters if we resorted to torture. Torture is counterproductive to keeping America safe and it doesn’t matter if we do it or if we pass it off to another government. The result is the same. And morally, I believe, there is an even stronger argument. Torture is simply incompatible with American principles. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln both forbade their troops from torturing prisoners of war. They realized, as the recent bipartisan Senate report echoes, that this is about who we are. We cannot become our enemy in trying to defeat him.

EDITED TO ADD (1/13): Yet another interview.

Posted on December 30, 2008 at 6:37 AMView Comments

Torture and the Ticking Time Bomb

Nice essay on the idiocy of the “ticking time bomb” theory of torture:

So let us imagine ourselves in the interrogation room with the suspect. Evidence collected from his apartment certainly seems to indicate that he has knowledge of a looming terrorist attack, but he is begging for mercy. Too bad, isn’t it? All we have done is deprive him of sleep and clothing. And it is a bit cold. Unfortunately, he may be scared and cold, but he hasn’t given us one scrap of useful information. And we’re under some time pressure. Your superior has an idea. For better cover, the suspect was living with his family, a wife and young daughter. We’re detaining them in another room. The evidence seems to show the suspect cares for them. Perhaps if we brought them into the room? Your superior warns you to steel yourself for what comes next. Perhaps the suspect will respond to mere threats that they might be put to death in front of him. If threats are not enough, however, we must be prepared to do the worst. Of course, in some cultures there are acts regarded as worse than death. Your superior looks at you. Do you understand what he is talking about? Of course you do. You are experienced in the ways of the TTB, of doing what is necessary to elicit information under the terrible pressure of a deadline.

I really hope I don’t have to elaborate further this fantastic scenario of moral corruption. Our popular culture is full of faux scenarios of torture and cruelty. Just check out your local video rental store. What’s amazing about the TTB is that it is taken to be “real,” a serious matter for public debate. But it’s no more real than my scenario, a Tom Clancy novel of military adventure or a superhero comic.

The TTB counts on eliciting a certain sort of response. Of course, “the president would have to authorize torture” to prevent millions from dying. But surely it puts a slightly different spin on the situation to imagine that you are the one responsible for making sure the interrogation is effective. And you will have to live with the consequences if you turn out to be wrong. What wouldn’t you do to prevent millions from dying? Well, I wouldn’t engage in torture, child abuse, murder, rape and a whole long list of morally corrupt acts. And I’m willing to bet you wouldn’t either. Scenarios like the TTB are well designed to cloud our reason and judgment. For that reason, we should avoid them and concentrate on the ways in which we can realistically prevent terrorist attacks.

I almost forgot. After you finish following orders and torturing the suspect, it turns out he really didn’t know anything. That’s the way almost all of these scenarios end, isn’t it?

Posted on October 12, 2006 at 2:09 PMView Comments

Faulty Data and the Arar Case

Maher Arar is a Syrian-born Canadian citizen. On September 26, 2002, he tried to fly from Switzerland to Toronto. Changing planes in New York, he was detained by the U.S. authorities, and eventually shipped to Syria where he was tortured. He’s 100% innocent. (Background here.)

The Canadian government has completed its “Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar,” the results of which are public. From their press release:

On Maher Arar, the Commissioner comes to one important conclusion: “I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offence or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada.”

Certainly something that everyone who supports the U.S.’s right to detain and torture people without having to demonstrate their guilt should think about. But what’s more interesting to readers of this blog is the role that inaccurate data played in the deportation and ultimately torture of an innocent man.

Privacy International summarizes the report. These are among their bullet points:

  • The RCMP provided the U.S. with an entire database of information relating to a terrorism investigation (three CDs of information), in a way that did not comply with RCMP policies that require screening for relevance, reliability, and personal information. In fact, this action was without precedent.
  • The RCMP provided the U.S. with inaccurate information about Arar that portrayed him in an infairly negative fashion and overstated his importance to a RCMP investigation. They included some “erroneous notes.”
  • While he was detained in the U.S., the RCMP provided information regarding him to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), “some of which portrayed him in an inaccurate and unfair way.” The RCMP provided inaccurate information to the U.S. authorities that tended to link Arar to other terrorist suspects; and told the U.S. authorities that Arar had previously refused to be interviewed, which was also incorrect; and the RCMP also said that soon after refusing the interview he suddenly left Canada for Tunisia. “The statement about the refusal to be interviewed had the potential to arouse suspicion, especially among law enforcement officers, that Mr. Arar had something to hide.” The RCMP’s information to the U.S. authorities also placed Arar in the vicinity of Washington DC on September 11, 2001 when he was instead in California.

Judicial oversight is a security mechanism. It prevents the police from incarcerating the wrong person. The point of habeas corpus is that the police need to present their evidence in front of a neutral third party, and not indefinitely detain or torture people just because they believe they’re guilty. We are all less secure if we water down these security measures.

Posted on September 29, 2006 at 7:06 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.