The prisoner seemed to be a Viet Cong officer of some sort, and
he was basically just laughing at his American captors. He didn't
even bother to make his lies consistent. His story changed once.
Then twice. Three times.
That's the way the Army interrogator remembers it, anyway. His
job as a US officer was to try to elicit useful information from
POWs. But guidelines for his actions were rigid - the most he was
allowed to do was shout.
So the interrogator tried patience. He waited. And waited. Then
he threw the man a pack of cigarettes and said that if he didn't
give up something the Americans would be forced to turn him over to
the South Vietnamese police.
The man talked. It turned out he was a province chief.
"The point is, you get better results from being relatively
humane to [prisoners], rather than beating on them," says the
interrogator today, who asked to remain anonymous due to continuing
work with US intelligence.
That may be so - but it is also likely to be only part of the
story. Interrogation is a complicated process in which two people
knock against each other under tense conditions. According to past
and present US training manuals, loosening a prisoner's tongue
requires careful planning, methodical implementation - and, at
times, the inspiration of an artist.
How much of the abuse of Iraqi detainees was related to
interrogations remains unclear, but the controversy has brought this
process under a spotlight - and shown, graphically, what can happen
when it goes wrong. An Army field manual on intelligence
interrogation quotes Gen. Douglas MacArthur: "In no other profession
are the penalties for employing untrained personnel so appalling or
so irrevocable as in the military."
US military scientists have studied interrogation methods for
decades, according to documents from the library of a retired high-
ranking officer made available to the Monitor.
Three generations of CIA and military interrogation manuals show
how methods have evolved and been refined. After World War II,
personnel pored over the testimony of Hanns Joachim Scharff, a
genial German interrogator who questioned every downed US fighter
pilot and was famous for his use of props meant to put prisoners at
ease. During the Korea and Vietnam conflicts, they weighed the
effectiveness of less-savory psychological methods characterized in
the press as "brainwashing."
Through much of the cold war, US interrogators trained allies in
Latin America and elsewhere in the use of humiliation, nakedness,
physical discomfort, and other harsh coercive techniques.
Sensory deprivation in dark, sound-proofed cells can deeply
affect an interrogee, said the CIA's notorious Vietnam-era KUBARK
interrogation manual. "An environment still more subject to control,
such as water-tank or iron lung, is even more effective," it stated.
Officially this approach was abandoned following congressional
hearings in the mid-1980s. However, even training manuals that
predate this change emphasized that the most important quality for
an interrogator was not necessarily intimidation. The chief
qualification for a questioner is "a genuine insight into the
subject's character and motives," concludes the CIA's 1983 Human
Resources Exploitation Training Manual.
The first rule of successful interrogation is to set the mood,
according to military and CIA manuals. …