Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The Plurality of Interrogation Techniques

In recent years, interrogation techniques employed by certain United States government interrogators at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq have come under significant scrutiny. The bipartisan United States Senate Armed Services Committee has released a report criticizing many of the harsh interrogation techniques employed and endorsed by the Bush administration. According to the report:
The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of "a few bad apples" acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.
In effect, such aggressive and questionable interrogation techniques have essentially been the rule rather than the exception. Yet, an Air Force interrogator who headed an interrogation team, who currently publishes under the pseudonym Matthew Alexander, has written about a different set of normative interrogation standards that he and his interrogation team employed that were not only more effective but were more in compliance with human rights norms.

Alexander and his team applied a "softer" and perhaps more sophisticated approach to retrieving information from those they interrogated - approaching it more as an interview rather than an exercise in showing the detainee who was in charge. Alexander posits: "Good interrogation is not an exercise in domination or control. It's an opportunity for negotiation and compromise."

Seen through the prism of legal pluralism, Alexander attests to the pressure to follow a normative structure where aggressive and harsh interrogation techniques were considered the proper course of action. Alexander explains that their approach was derided by others who advocated a more aggressive methodology: "They mocked those of us who didn't imitate their methods of interrogation, which were based on fear and control. There was tremendous peer pressure to follow in their footsteps and not appear soft on our enemies."

However, far from giving into such pressure (a mechanism employed to enforce compliance with a dominant normative structure), Alexander and his team resisted the intense pressure to follow these questionable norms and implemented their own set of techniques that were not only humane, but were able to secure valuable information that helped to weaken a suicide-bombing network, amongst other accomplishments.

Ultimately, Alexander's approach speaks to how individuals can help to reshape or at least present a different normative model of behavior and the merits of pursuing his method of interrogation. As Rod MacDonald and Martha-Marie Kleinhans once asserted, “[s]ubjects seek to explore the variety of possible worlds and selves that they can reflect and project. In their relations with other subjects and in their biographies of themselves, subjects evaluate how they want to live in the worlds open to them" (See Martha-Marie Kleinhans & Roderick A. MacDonald, “What is a Critical Legal Pluralism?” (1997) 12 C.J.L.S. 25 at 29). In this case, Alexander evaluated a way to live/work in the stress-filled world of the interrogator - who is expected to procure information - in a manner consistent with his own normative framework.

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