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Police Interrogation and Coercion in Domestic American History: Lessons for the War on Terror


Richard A. Leo


University of San Francisco - School of Law

Alexa Koenig


University of California, Berkeley - School of Law; University of San Francisco


TORTURE, LAW AND WAR: WHAT ARE THE MORAL AND LEGAL BOUNDARIES OF THE USE OF COERCION IN INTERROGATION?, Martha Nussbaum & Scott Anderson, eds., University of Chicago Press, Forthcoming
Univ. of San Francisco Law Research Paper No. 2010-04

Abstract:     
The use of torture during interrogations conducted by U.S. special forces, military police, CIA agents, the FBI, and private contractors during the War on Terror has been widely documented. While many chroniclers of the use of torture have characterized its use as a dramatic break from the past, the use of torture by American interrogators and the tacit sanctioning by U.S. officials are not new. The routine use of torture by American domestic police during the early part of the twentieth century has been largely ignored by scholars who study contemporary uses of torture in the international context. This chapter discusses the history of the "third degree" to shed more light on the current torture debate. We note that there are numerous parallels between third degree techniques employed by American domestic interrogators in the early twentieth century and coercive techniques used by American military interrogators more recently. This domestic history of torture suggests important lessons for better understanding the dynamics and consequences of military torture and highlights possible pathways to reform. Abandoning abusive interrogation practices in favor of more professional approaches can strengthen institutional legitimacy, restore faith in our systems of justice, improve morale, and result in more reliable intelligence.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 178

Keywords: torture, war on terror, third degree, law enforcement, police, United States military, interrogations

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Date posted: January 8, 2010  

Suggested Citation

Leo, Richard A. and Koenig, Alexa, Police Interrogation and Coercion in Domestic American History: Lessons for the War on Terror. TORTURE, LAW AND WAR: WHAT ARE THE MORAL AND LEGAL BOUNDARIES OF THE USE OF COERCION IN INTERROGATION?, Martha Nussbaum & Scott Anderson, eds., University of Chicago Press, Forthcoming; Univ. of San Francisco Law Research Paper No. 2010-04. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1533402

Contact Information

Richard A. Leo (Contact Author)
University of San Francisco - School of Law ( email )
2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
United States
Alexa Koenig
University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )
215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States
University of San Francisco ( email )
2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
United States
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