The Importance of Culturally Appropriate Interrogation Techniques

Although the current interrogation manual used by the Army does, I am happy to say, specifically prohibit the use of sexual or religious interrogation techniques, I was rather disturbed to read about the previous approach to interrogation, based almost entirely on the degree of physical force used to determine whether inappropriate techniques were being used.  This approach is flawed from the general standpoint of how the armed forces should look at lawful interrogation versus torture in the first place, but I was specifically bothered by the use of sexual and religious methods designed to humiliate a detainee because they represent a complete failure to understand why these methods are inappropriate.  In conducting interrogation, the question should not simply be, “are we torturing the detainee in violation of international law?”  Certainly, that should be a threshhold question, but beyond that there is another question I want the interrogators to be asking.  “Are we using techniques that (1) are actually designed with the sole purpose of obtaining information and (2) conform with our social expectations of dignity and respect for human beings?”  The whole point of having laws of war is that there are certain expectations that apply, even when dealing with the enemy (putting aside for the moment the question of whether some of these detainees even are legitimately “the enemy.”)  

I’m bothered by any interrogation technique that is designed to humiliate the prisoner because it’s disrespectful and it doesn’t work.  First of all, from everything I’ve seen and read, the most effective interrogators are those who are patient and develop a rapport for the detainee.  Respect is a very powerful tool, as is cultural understanding.  Ideally, interrogators should be those who speak the subject’s language and whenever possible either come from or are very familiar with the subject’s culture and religion to whatever extent possible.  Even inadvertant cultural faux pas can diminish respect for the interrogator and make a subject defiant.  Intentional humiliation techniques in many cases are only going to harden the subject against revealing anything, and at the same time they compromise the interrogator.  If the army uses these techniques, it’s going to develop self-hatred and psychological damage among its interrogators as well as the detainees.  It will also further damage our already pretty shitty international reputation.  And finally, using these techniques is evidence of a purpose that has little to do with information – desire to humiliate, to dehumanize, to make one’s self greater than the subject.  Use the Golden Rule, folks.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Unrelated note: Please note that discussion is open on Patience & Sarah, as is the Round Four suggestions thread.  To encourage more discussion in the future, I’ll be posting specific discussion questions within each round’s discussion forum on the boards to get the juices flowing.  Of course, anyone is welcome to simply post their thoughts or start a thread with a question of their own, but I’m hoping that more directed discussion will encourage more participation.  Of course, as always, this is an entirely guilt-free group, and if I’m the only one reading in a round I’m just happy to have read the book!  Feel free to comment on a discussion post well after the round has started if you read the book late.  I myself haven’t read P&S yet, which is why discussion questions aren’t up yet😉

About Avory

Avory Faucette is a queer feminist activist, writer, and public speaker. Zie graduated from the University of Iowa with a JD in 2009, focusing on international human rights and gender/sexuality issues in the law. Hir current work focuses on queer identity, policy, and marginalized identities under the queer umbrella. As a genderqueer person, zie comments frequently on non-binary identity, transgender and genderqueer issues, and media coverage of these populations. Zie also speaks at colleges, universities, and events on transgender and queer issues and conducts trainings on related topics.

Posted on January 8, 2009, in law & politics, pop culture, privilege, religion, war and peace and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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