An Iowa State University psychology professor working to determine which interrogation techniques work best hopes a senate committee’s report about CIA questioning of suspected terrorists after 9/11 speeds a move toward “science-based…ethical” interrogations. For the past five years, ISU professor Christian Meissner has led an international team doing research on interrogation techniques, research financed by the federal government.
“Time and again, the science-based methods yield more information,” he says. “They yield better cooperation and they’re more effective at assessing the credibility of the person that’s being interviewed compared with the methods being taught and used by the U.S. government.”
The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s report faulted the C-I-A for brutality and deceit about its questioning of terrorism suspects following the September 11 attacks. Meissner says shows like “24” and movies like “Zero Dark 30” do not depict the “reality” of modern interrogation techniques.
“Individuals in the U.S. and abroad learn about — or believe that they learn about how interrogations are conducted by U.S. officials through shows like that,” he says. “And they begin to establish norms and they begin to also establish expectations of the effectiveness of certain techniques or approaches.”
It’s not a locked, windowless room and a combative questioner that works best, Meissner says. The research shows some level of trust must be established and subjects are most apt to share information in a room with windows and a door that’s cracked open.
“Most interrogations would be very boring to watch,” Meissner says. “They would be conversations between two individuals and, at times, that conversation involving someone who is reticent to provide information.”
Meissner is the leader of a research program funded by the U.S. government’s “High Value Detainee Interrogation Group” and he says more than 100 government interrogators now are being trained using “social science methods” of relationship building, memory and deception. Raising anxiety levels with the use of techniques like water-boarding or sleep deprivation “shuts down the disclosure of information” according to Meissner’s research. Meissner says there’s a “strong desire” among the nation’s intelligence community to move towards “ethical, legal and scientifically-validated” interrogation methods.