Past research (pdf) suggests that using torture as a way to extract information or confessions from terror suspects isn’t just unethical, it’s also ineffective. 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.” Of course the study is limited in some ways, especially regarding its reliance on people’s memories of prior interrogations, and the fact that the detainees’ doubtless have a vested interest in highlighting the effectiveness of rapport-based strategies.
Goodman-Delahunty, J., Martschuk, N., & Dhami, M. (2014). Interviewing High Value Detainees: Securing Cooperation and Disclosures Applied Cognitive Psychology, 28 (6), 883-897 DOI: 10.1002/acp.3087