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What is Enhanced Interrogation?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Enhanced interrogation is a set of aggressive tactics used during the interrogation process in an attempt to get information out of a prisoner. The Bush Presidential Administration used the term to the American public in the early twenty-first century to describe interrogation techniques being used in American containment facilities overseas in locations like Iraq. Supporters of enhanced interrogation argue that it is an effective method for getting information, while detractors believe that it qualifies as torture, which would make it illegal for signatories of the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

Members of the German military used enhanced interrogation techniques during the Second World War, referring to them as verschärfte Vernehmung. These techniques included sensory deprivation, minimal rations, uncomfortable or hard beds, sensory overload through loud noises and bright lights, beatings, and emotional abuse. In war crimes trials conducted after the finish of the war, these techniques were deemed illegal in several criminal courts, and numerous nations signed resolutions against torture. Such resolutions are not purely altruistic, since most countries want to avoid torture of their own citizens and military personnel in military conflicts.

Enhanced interrogation manuals for American interrogators are difficult to obtain, although military whistleblowers have given out some information to the media. These tactics include the use of cultural or physical humiliation, emotional strain, exhaustion, and controlled drowning, asphysxia, and electrocution. Prisoners have also testified to beatings, prolonged “stress positions” which keep the body in a state of strain and stress, and the use of military weapons and dogs for intimidation. While the use of tactics like shouting at prisoners is generally not considered torture, practices such as controlled drowning definitely qualify in the eyes of many critics.

It is claimed that enhanced interrogation is an unpleasant, but necessary, tool for rooting out terrorists and other threats to American national security. However, psychological studies of torture techniques suggest that they are actually not reliable methods for getting information, since subjects often lie in an attempt to end the interrogation. Whistleblowers have also said that some prisoners subjected to these tactics were probably innocent, as was documented in the 2007 book Fear Up Harsh.

The debate over enhanced interrogation made major political news in 2007, with many American citizens and public officials expressing discomfort and distaste with such tactics. Many opinion editorials and columns also spoke out against enhanced interrogation, and demanded more accountability for the Bush administration. Torture and the precise definition of torture also became issues for candidates seeking election in the 2008 presidential election, as well as in Congress.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon981901 — On Dec 15, 2014

Ya gotta love the leftists. They redefine the word "torture" to essentially include anything that a terrorist might consider "mean", and then condemn people who were mean to terrorists long before they redefined the word.

The truth is that many of the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques were used by fraternities during initiations, on recruits by the Marine Corps in basic training, etc. They are uncomfortable and sometimes scary, but "torture"?

Liberals are wussies and they want to turn America into such a wimpy country that being mean to terrorists who murder innocent men, women, and children is prohibited. No wonder the terrorists -- and most other countries -- have no respect for us.

By anon981179 — On Dec 10, 2014

What needs to take place if you or your relatives are victims of enhanced torture. --Benny Jr.

By BabaB — On May 19, 2011

I'm really "on the fence" as far as having a clear opinion about interrogation techniques we have used on prisoners. Does it work? Does it bring in information to keep our country safe? Maybe the kinds of torture, like waterboarding, are too cruel. I just don't know.

What really makes me mad and confused is that some congressmen say bin Laden was found because information was given by tortured prisoners. So torturing works, they say. Then others say that bin Laden was found because of 10 years of putting little bits of security information together. And just a small amount of information was gotten through tortured prisoners.

So, is torture good or not? Does it work or doesn't it? I'll just have to think about it some more, I guess.

By Clairdelune — On May 18, 2011

I'm totally against extreme interrogation methods. I call it plain old torture and that's illegal and too cruel. Methods like controlled drowning, electrocution, half starving a prisoner etc. are over-the-top.

It doesn't seem to really help too much in getting information to fight terrorism. The prisoners can always lie to stop the torture. I'm so glad that some of this stuff has gotten out in the open.

There must be other ways to get a prisoner to talk.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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