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U.S. Army Intelligence and Interrogation Handbook; The Official Guide to Prisoner Interrogation, by the Department of the Army

Guilford, Ct.: The Lyons Press, 2005. 208pp. Illus, append., index. $18.95 paper. ISBN:1-59228-717-4.

What exactly are American interrogators allowed to do? What lines exist? Given recent events, these are questions that matter a lot. Some misinformation about what is allowed and what is not allowed has emerged through a combination of statements by certain individuals and organizations that can only be described as grossly irresponsible, the irresponsible dissemination of these statements by press outlets that have been unable or who have simply not bothered to check the facts, and the deplorable actions of those who have crossed the line and done the unacceptable. To put it in a simple sentence so that there can be no misunderstanding: Torture, threats, insults, and inhumane treatment are not authorized, and the United States military does not and will not condone them.

The U.S. Army has a manual for their interrogators, which discusses a lot of these questions in detail. It explains the purpose behind interrogations (usually to get information about future offensive or defensive military operations). It should be noted that these techniques also work when getting information for the purpose of preventing terrorist attacks (not a small consideration in light of 9/11). Among things covered are some of the approaches used. Some are designed to get people to give up information. It is something that is necessary to preserve not only the lives of soldiers, but those of innocent civilians as well. How this gets done is a fine line, and interrogators go through a lengthy course at Fort Huachuca in Arizona where they learn not only what to ask, but how to ask it without crossing the line. The problems that have occurred at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere have not occurred because guidelines do not exist, but because these guidelines were not followed. It is undeniable that in some cases, interrogators (and others) have done what is not allowed, but those aberrations do not warrant tarring all of those defending this country with a broad brush.

This handbook also goes into something just as important as questioning prisoners: Gaining intelligence from captured enemy documents. Enemy documents can be a source of vital intelligence – just ask Robert E. Lee, who ended up losing at Antietam because a copy of his operations order got lost and fell into Union hands (the reviewer wonders if the subordinate responsible ever owned up to losing the documents). Or, there’s the attempt by Benedict Arnold to sell out West Point – an operation blown when the courier was captured with the documents. It explains the need to keep track of the captured documents, and which documents are to be translated first.

A large part of this book (well over 100 pages) is in a series of appendices. Appendix A reprints portions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (military law). This shows what people can be charged with if they carry out physical or mental torture or do anything to coerce someone – or when the guidelines are not followed. Among the possible charges are assault (Article 128), maiming (Article 124), or communicating a threat (Article 134). Another entire appendix (Appendix D) covers the Geneva Conventions, including the specific articles relating to the task of interrogating prisoners. A third appendix (Appendix B) provides guides to questioning the various types of personnel in an opposing military and the kinds of questions to be asked.

This book is an excellent resource for those who wish to get the straight scoop from the United States Army in detail, unfiltered by the media and not distorted for political gain by politicians and organizations. The reviewer is somewhat uncomfortable that this book is available to the general public, but at this point, the benefit in dispelling scurrilous smears of a despicable nature outweighs the risks.rc=h

Reviewer: Harold C. Hutchison   

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