Torture During Interrogations: A Police Manual's Foresight

Yale Kamisar

University of San Diego School of Law; University of Michigan Law School

National Law Journal, March 10, 2008
San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 08-021

The use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques to extract information from suspected terrorists has been widely debated in recent years. But American police officers used very similar methods to obtain confessions from suspected murders and bank robbers way back in the 1920s and 30s - the era of the third degree. In those days the police interrogators of Chicago, New York and other big American cities resorted to the water cure, mock executions of suspect's accomplices or grillings by relays of police under blinding lights.

After a long struggle, police reformers and high-ranking law enforcement officials convinced those who did the interrogations that the old violent ways had to be replaced by psychological methods. In this regard the police were aided by the authors of various interrogation manuals.

For example, the author of one police manual, Lt. W.R. Kidd, insisted that nothing good could be said for torture or other third degree methods. Why? Because when a suspect is subjected to sufficient torture one of three things will happen: (1) he will tell his interrogators anything he thinks they want to hear; (2) he will go insane; or (3) he will die.

The most remarkable thing about Kidd's manual is that it was written in 1940 and was the first interrogation manual ever published in America.

How much progress have we made since then?

Number of Pages in PDF File: 4

Keywords: torture, waterboarding, police interrogation, confession

JEL Classification: K00, K1, K10

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Date posted: April 2, 2008  

Suggested Citation

Kamisar, Yale, Torture During Interrogations: A Police Manual's Foresight. National Law Journal, March 10, 2008; San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 08-021. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1115906

Contact Information

Yale Kamisar (Contact Author)
University of San Diego School of Law ( email )
5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States
619-260-4600, x8827 (Phone)
University of Michigan Law School ( email )
625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States

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