The police have badly questioned. science reveals a better way | New


On September 11, 2001, nineteen Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four planes and crashed them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in the Pennsylvania countryside, irrevocably altering the course of human events.

September 11 ushered in the United States’ “war on terror”. To combat this global conflict, the George W. Bush administration authorized the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” – torture – by the Central Intelligence Agency and various components of the armed forces. Methods such as beating, tying up in contorted positions, submitting to loud noises, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, sexual humiliation, exposure to extreme heat or cold, and confinement in small coffin-like boxes became an integral part of US government interrogations to extract information that would prevent future terrorist attacks and keep Americans safe.

At the time, Mark Fallon, deputy commander and special agent in charge of a Department of Defense task force that developed strategy, policies and training programs and oversaw thousands of interrogations of terrorist suspects, opposed the use of torture. As he wrote in a 2014 opinion piece in the Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology:

My experience has led me to conclude that the use of abusive techniques was, in addition to legal and ethical issues, likely to greatly increase the chances of extracting inaccurate and unreliable information … reasons are common sense. Especially in a context of the fight against terrorism, by resorting to cruelty, the interrogator responds to the suspect’s expectations, confirms the story that may have been used to recruit him and hardens his determination. However, the report-based query challenges these expectations and opens up a potential channel of communication.

Over twenty years later, we now know Fallon was right. The CIA Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture, completed in 2014, concluded that “the CIA’s use of its improved interrogation techniques was not an effective means of obtaining intelligence or information. ‘obtain the cooperation of the detainees’.

Significant scientific research has also been done to find interrogation techniques that actually work. Much of this effort was spurred by the very public failure of “improved interrogation techniques”, but also by a growing realization that interrogations by US police had been under-studied for decades. In addition, the methods commonly used have produced many notable false confessions, leading to wrongful convictions. These deceptive and abusive techniques include interrogations lasting longer than 12 hours, the misuse of polygraph machines, outright lying to subjects, and false promising leniency.

In 2009, the Obama administration created the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), a partnership between the CIA, FBI, and DoD, to interview terrorist suspects. A key component of the program was to research the effectiveness of interrogation techniques, the results of which could be used to assist all law enforcement professionals. Psychologists Christian A. Meissner, Françoise Surmon-Bohr, Simon Oleszkiewicz, and Laurence Alison reviewed the results of the program in 2017, summarizing the more than 120 peer-reviewed studies that had been completed and recommending evidence-based questioning strategies for the future.

First, they criticized the commonly used Reid interrogation technique, an accusatory method frequently used by police. As described by journalist Douglas Starr in Scientific journal, The Reid Technique “begins with a behavioral assessment, in which the officer asks questions – some irrelevant and others provocative – while watching for signs of deception, such as looking away, slouching, or crossing their arms. If the suspect is found to be lying, the investigator moves on to phase two, the formal questioning. Now they escalate the questioning – repeatedly accusing the suspect, insisting on hearing details and ignoring all denials. time, the investigator offers sympathy and understanding, minimizing the moral (but not legal) of the crime and easing the path to confession. “

Saul Kassin, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, has conducted numerous studies over the years showing that the Reid Technique can easily lead to false confessions and frequently derives misinformation from suspects, which ends up being simply by telling the officers what they want to hear or just making things up to end the questioning. Additionally, Kassin found that police investigators are no better than novices at flushing out deception and lies, even though they have expressed more confidence in their lie detection abilities.

So if the prosecution and the torture do not get useful information for the detainees, what works? Meissner, Surmon-Bohr, Oleszkiewicz and Alison discovered many effective methods from HIG research. Building a relationship with the suspect seemed to be the most successful. It involves being patient, showing kindness and respect, and developing common ground. Humans are cooperative social creatures. User-friendliness brings out this evolved trend.

Priming suspects’ self-esteem with compliments and invoking feelings of attachment also seemed to facilitate disclosure of sensitive or embarrassing information. “Having a positive impact on the behavior of the suspect ultimately led to increased disclosure of relevant information,” they wrote.

The authors also recommend putting suspects at ease and getting them to talk about the potential crime in question, and then strategically introduce evidence and information to see if it matches what has been presented. Evidence can then be presented to challenge suspects about potential inconsistencies in their statements.

The research also revealed a key strategy for detecting lies: to introduce a “cognitive load”.

“This technique allows truth tellers to tap into their memory when providing a story, while leaving liars less cognitive resources to cover up their deception,” the authors wrote. Tactics for imposing cognitive load include asking the subject to repeat their story in reverse order, asking them to maintain eye contact with the interviewer, and using the forced tour de force when multiple suspects are present. interviewed together. “

The High Value Inmate Interrogation Group research program has elucidated many other evidence-based interrogation methods that psychologists and trainers are now working to actively disseminate. Meissner and his associates are encouraged by the progress made.

“A science-based interrogation model is beginning to replace the obsolete, ineffective and problematic methods that have traditionally pervaded interrogation training schools.”

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