Torture in Interrogation

How would you define the term “torture” during an interrogation?

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The conventional definition of the word torture is any act that inflicts severe or prolonged physical or psychological pain on an individual, under conditions in which the person being tortured is isolated from others, controlled by the torturer, is physically restrained, or is unable to prevent what is occurring. Any of the conditions listed above may be used during an interrogation of an individual who proves otherwise unwilling to provide information needed by or desired by the individual conducting or ordering torture procedures. Deprivation is a special category of torture in which the captive individual is not overtly harmed or injured by the torturer, but is instead kept from meeting some basic physiological or psychological need, the incidence of which results in substantive mental distress in the tortured individual. Relief from or cessation of the aversive experiences is the motivation for the tortured person to disclose requested information or access to information that the captive person is believed to possess.

What physical methods of interrogation might be applied that would not be identified as torture?

The response of the C.I.A. To media investigations regarding the use of enhanced interrogation techniques on detainees has the release of several memos and a taxonomy of conditioning, corrective, and coercive techniques that meet with the agency’s approval. All of these techniques have been referred to by the Bush administration as enhanced interrogation techniques.

The relevant standard to determine if treatment of captives is whether it “shocks the conscience,” and a number of techniques are used that do not easily fall into this category (Mazzetti & Shane, 2009). Conditioning techniques that are used to keep the captive in a dependent state include: diet manipulation, prolonged nudity, sleep deprivation (Mazzetti & Shane, 2009). Corrective techniques that are intended to startle, correct, or produce an enabling condition include slaps and sudden symmetrical grasping to gain attention or emphasize the seriousness of the interrogator’s intent (Mazzetti & Shane, 2009). Coercive techniques are used to push the captive toward higher levels of induced physical or psychological stress (Mazzetti & Shane, 2009). This last category includes the infamous waterboarding technique, which has — in subsequent evaluations — been labeled illegal torture. An important consideration in the evaluation of these techniques has been the additive impact of combining techniques to achieve an enabling condition or objective. In other words, in its 2002 memo to John Rizzo, the Acting General Counsel of the C.I.A., the U.S. Justice Department specifically prohibited some combinations of techniques and specifically permitted other combinations. In the period following 9/11 through 2005, revolving officials in the Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Justice Department issued radical memos supporting or opposing the standard imposed by Congress for identifying torture. The harsh interpretation in 2005 asserted that the techniques used by the C.I.A. were not “cruel, inhuman or degrading,” and so could not be considered to be torture.

How would you validate the information received from a suspect that was deprived of sleep for a prolonged period of time?

It would be important to seek corroborating evidence on any information disclosed by someone who had been deprived of sleep. The presenting problems are that a person deprived of sleep for a prolonged period of time can suffer hallucinations and severe disruption of the senses. Where other forms of approved harsh and brutal treatment might elicit information from a detainee, these techniques are less likely to produce distorted thinking of the sort produced through sleep deprivation. The detainee himself might corroborate the information once he is rested. Other detainees or sources of information can be utilized to triangulate data in order to gauge its reliability.


Greene, C.H. And Banks, L.M. (2009). Ethical guideline evolution in psychological support to interrogations operations. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 61(1), 25-32.

Mazzetti, M. And Shane, S. (2009, April 17). Interrogation memos detail harsh tactics by the C.I.A. The New York Times. Retrieved [Type text]