The San Francisco Chronicle April 03, 2003
U.S., Iraq use different techniques to interrogate
Army says calm questioning after capture works
By Matthew B. Stannard
The seven U.S. soldiers and pilots taken captive by Iraqi forces and the thousands of Iraqis held prisoner by U.S. and British troops have one thing in common: They each represent a gold mine of information to their respective captors.
Iraqi forces would believe their captives have crucial information about coalition troop strength, while U.S. military officials are questioning Iraqi prisoners on everything from local militia strengths and locations to the subject of chemical weapons.
On the U.S. side, interrogators are trained at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. Although the school does not discuss techniques used by its graduates, a 1987 Army field manual, which is available at Globalsecurity.org, suggests using flattery, helping the prisoner rationalize his guilt, feigning experiences sympathetic to the prisoner's and offering incentives ranging from cigarettes to political asylum.
But the most effective method interrogators use is often the simplest, said David A. Robinson, a former instructor at Fort Huachuca: direct questioning.
The technique works especially well on prisoners taken captive at gunpoint and given shouted orders, often in a language they cannot understand, to submit to searching and confinement by an enemy they have been taught to fear, he said.
In that confusing reality, Robinson said, many captives are relieved to sit down away from the gunfire with a polite person who speaks their language -- even if that person is there to interrogate them.
"You'd be amazed at how well that works," Robinson said. "Any human anywhere, after going through a stressful situation . . . they want to talk about it, and then they're sat down in front of somebody who wants to talk about it."
It works so well, Robinson said, that U.S. interrogators feel little need to break the rules of the Geneva Convention, much less stoop to the painful torture that years of Hollywood cliches have forever linked to the word "interrogation."
"Torture does not give you information. Torture gives you whatever people need to make the pain stop," Robinson said. "Techniques are used (by U.S. interrogators), no doubt about it. But not torture."
Nevertheless, torture is still practiced by many interrogators -- including those in Iraq, according to the State Department and human rights groups.
Seventeen Americans held captive by Iraq during the Gulf War say in a federal court lawsuit filed against Iraq that they were subjected to beatings, starvation, freezing, electric shock, cigarette burns, mock executions and threatened with castration while being interrogated.
And now, in a war that is on wall-to-wall TV 24 hours a day, U.S. military officials worry that Iraqi interrogators will turn images and information culled from media coverage of identified POWs against the prisoners during questioning.
Those things, Pentagon officials said, include innocuous information such as POWs' family names, home towns or hobbies, or images of sobbing relatives that could be edited by Iraqi captors -- techniques reportedly used against U.S. prisoners in the 1991 Gulf War.
It is not yet known whether the POWs taken in this war have been tortured.
However, several of the POWs shown on Iraqi television appeared to have been injured, and NBC News reported Wednesday that locals near Nasiriyah said that Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who was rescued Tuesday, was tortured.
The network also reported that Lynch had been held for a time at a hospital where a female uniform and a car battery were found beside a bed. Car batteries are often used in some kinds of torture.
U.S. military officials said Tuesday they have sent a "mobile exploitation team" to Iraq to investigate allegations of Iraqi atrocities, including torture of U.S. troops.
The International Red Cross, which has already begun visiting prisoners held by coalition forces, is also trying to arrange to see Iraq's prisoners, as are human rights groups such as Amnesty International.
But many human rights groups also are carefully watching the United State's treatment of its prisoners, said Cosette Thompson, western regional director for Amnesty International.
She said concerns have been prompted in part by mixed reports of treatment of Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners held in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
The official U.S. position has been to treat the Guantanamo Bay prisoners as detainees, not prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention. U.S. Central Command said Monday that all Iraqis taken prisoner by troops were being treated as prisoners of war unless the White House later changes their status.
"Although we have not been able to gain access to Guantanamo . . . we know that there have been allegations of what could be described as torture," such as sleep deprivation or sending prisoners to countries where torture is more acceptable than in the United States, Thompson said. "We are definitely monitoring that."
Amnesty International's concern, Thompson said, is that the United States will begin using techniques that it once considered torture but now considers acceptable physical duress.
"So far it has been sort of hypothetical language, but nonetheless . . . we are concerned," she said.
Copyright © 2003, The Chronicle Publishing Co.