Revenge Versus Rapport: Interrogation, Terrorism and Torture

The media has frequently reported that the so called enhanced interrogation techniques were developed in the wake of 9/11. More specifically that they were reverse- engineered by psychological consultants Mitchell and Jes- sen1 (contracted by the CIA) from the SERE program—a training program to enable captured military personnel to survive, evade, resist (interrogations), and escape if cap- tured (see United States Army & Marine Corps, n.d.). Mitchell’s logic (McCoy, 2014) for the use of such strate- gies appears to have been the theory of learned helplessness (Seligman, 1975). However, the origin of specific strategies is complex and varied and such methods can be found further back in history (see Rejali’s, 2007, comprehensive review, Torture and Democracy). Rejali gives a historically exhaustive account of the various methods used to degrade and dehumanize detainees, highlighting the evolution of so-called white torture—torture that leaves no marks. In his nonpareil account of torture, he demonstrates how ineffec- tive it has been throughout history as a means of securing information, and that “strategic talk about torture in the face of terrorism turns out to have a deep undercurrent of blood- lust” (p. 535) as well as longer term negative social, polit- ical, and cultural influences.

There were a number of individuals who attempted to hold the high ground in response to the push toward torture. Mark Fallon (2015)—former Naval Criminal Investigative Service deputy assistant director and DOD al Qaeda task force commander—has been particularly vocal: “Torture is illegal, immoral, ineffective, and inconsistent with Ameri- can values” (p. 1, paragraph 2). However, knowing that torture does not work is not enough to stop the notion that it is better than doing nothing. To do that, you must present an alternative option that does work. David Petraeus, former commander of forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, hinted at a solution when he stated after his experience of overseeing some of the world’s largest detention centers that the best way for an interrogator to extract information from a de- tainee is “to become his best friend” (Clark, 2014).

Event Date
American Psychologist
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