Torture During Interrogations: A Police Manual's Foresight
National Law Journal, March 10, 2008
4 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2008
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?
Keywords: torture, waterboarding, police interrogation, confession
JEL Classification: K00, K1, K10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation