A lot of my fellow Catholic patheosi have been engaging the torture debate in light of the recent report from congress. I will leave the moral dimensions of the debate to more able hands–it is sufficient for me to know that our faith deems torture an offense against the dignity of the person (c.f., Evangelium Vitae and Splendor of the Truth). As the Patheos Catholic Channel’s resident shrink, I figured I’d limit myself to reporting on some recent research that examined the efficacy of torture.
According to an article in Applied Cognitive Psychology, building rapport with “high-level detainees” (i.e., terrorists) is a much more effective method of gaining valid, actionable intelligence than so-called enhanced methods of interrogation (i.e., torture). Here is the summary from the British Psychological Society Blog, BPS Research Digest.
The advantage of rapport-building interrogation strategies (including respect, friendliness and empathy towards suspects) over more coercive techniques is highlighted once again in a new study that involved interviews with law enforcement interrogators and detainees.
The research involved 34 interrogators (1 woman) from several international jurisdictions including Australia, Indonesia and Norway. And there were 30 international detainees (1 woman), most of whom had been held on suspicion of terrorism, including people suspected of involvement with the Tamil Tigers or the Islamist group Ansar al Ismal based in Norway. One in five of the detainees reported being subjected to practices that constitute torture. Note, these were separate groups – the interrogators had not dealt professionally with the participating detainees.
The research team led by Jane Goodman-Delahunty asked the interrogators and detainees to recall a specific interrogation session, to describe the interrogation practices used, and the outcomes in terms of information shared, cooperation and confessions. The results were striking – disclosure was 14 times more likely to occur early in an interrogation when a rapport-building approach was used. Confessions were four times more likely when interrogators struck a neutral and respectful stance. Rates of detainee disclosure were also higher when they were interrogated in comfortable physical settings. More surprising, cooperation reduced five-fold when detainees were presented with explicit evidence. It’s possible this is because interrogators were more likely to resort to presenting evidence to uncooperative detainees.
The researchers said their results “augment the accumulating cross-national consensus about effective noncoercive best practices in investigative interviewing.” Their hope is that this will “reduce practitioner skepticism about reliance on noncoercive interview strategies with high value detainees.” Go here for more information including links to the original study.