Hugh McManners: The truth about torture and interrogation

Military police may suffer from a desire to make up for their lack of combat experience

Share
Related Topics

British soldiers have come in for stinging criticism following publication of the
Daily Mirror's dodgy photographs, and for allegedly hooding and blindfolding prisoners.

British soldiers have come in for stinging criticism following publication of the Daily Mirror's dodgy photographs, and for allegedly hooding and blindfolding prisoners.

Yet the interrogation of prisoners is a legitimate and vital part of any military, police or counter-terrorist operation. So rather than telling Parliament that British soldiers in Iraq were acting illegally by breaking a ban on hooding, the Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon, ought to have explained, in defence of our forces, that sensory deprivation and creating a sense of isolation can be an important part of the process of military interrogation. That process has long included blindfolding - or hooding. We blindfolded prisoners in the Falklands War, and it used - until civil rights protests stopped it - to be part of the interrogation of terrorist suspects in Northern Ireland.

In his statement, Mr Hoon did little to help MPs or civilians understand the essential difference between what legitimately happens to a small group of selected captives in a military interrogation centre, and torture. Apart from the moral objection, military experts know that torture is completely useless when it comes to retrieving reliable intelligence. But where high-value suspects are clearly hiding information, there is nothing wrong with deliberately using disorientation and tiredness coupled with professional interrogation if it can secure vital information that may save lives.

Creating a sense of disorientation and isolation is vital for the limited period of an interrogation (not more than a few days), but must only be imposed on prisoners already identified and filtered off, as important.

Time is of the essence as battlefield intelligence has a very short shelf life, and such detainees soon recover their equilibrium as the shock of capture wears off. In an interrogation unit, isolation is vital, so prisoners cannot compare notes and start building up cover stories. Disorientation can only be achieved for a few days at most, after which the specific details of information held by suspects become much less useful.

In between interrogation sessions, candidates might be held in isolation, which could include being hooded, blanked off from the rest of the world by white noise, and then "stressed" by being made to spread-eagle against a wall, followed by sitting cross-legged on the floor with hands on head. Perhaps the Red Cross noted instances of this treatment and erroneously reported it as torture. In fact, British military regulations governing this sort of treatment are very tight, with constant surveillance, mandatory sleep periods, and each candidate timed and checked constantly; with close medical supervision to ensure blood circulation is healthy.

Simple tricks, such as short periods of fanning with cooler air and playing recordings of angry, shouting interrogators, can make candidates shiver - with cold, which could be interpreted as fear.

Highly trained prisoner handlers never wear watches so prisoners lose track of time. The essence of the process is that there is absolutely no contact with the prisoners, who are made to feel totally isolated from the rest of humanity - except their interrogator, who assumes a position of inordinate importance for the period of the interrogation process. Interrogation of this intensity can only be kept up for a limited period, and candidates are continually evaluated. As time progresses, they will either become less likely to produce reliable information, or their information will become too out of date to be worth the effort. They are then moved down to a lower priority facility and a normal regime.

It is a reality of war that prisoners are vulnerable to ill treatment. Frontline combat soldiers are usually more considerate of their fellow combatants once surrender has been accepted. Non-combatants like military police and logistics troopsmay not respect prisoners. They may also suffer from a strange, even perverted desire to make up for their lack of real combat experience by mistreating prisoners.

But effective interrogation requires respect and professionalism. Attempts to explain the shocking behaviour of US army military police at Abu Ghraib prison as part of a process of gathering human intelligence are derisory. The 320th Military Police battalion was apparently untrained, over-worked and very poorly led, which allowed a number to behave in a sick and spectacularly stupid fashion.

For those sad people to believe they were doing anything other than living out their perverted fantasies with real people reflects very badly on the professionalism of the United States' military. Furthermore, there is no connection between their actions and the operational tactics of British troops.

They have made fools of tens of thousands of very brave and well-intentioned people.

Hugh McManners is a former British Army special forces officer

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A teenage girl uses her smartphone in bed.  

Remove smartphones from the hands of under-18s and maybe they will grow up to be less dumb

Janet Street-Porter
Rohingya migrants in a boat adrift in the Andaman Sea last week  

Burma will regret shutting its eyes to the fate of the Rohingya boat people

Peter Popham
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor