Interrogation is a formal and systematic method of examination or inquiry. Though we often think of interrogation solely as a tool of spies and law-enforcement agencies, there are many uses for this type of query. Oral exams, utilized in secondary and higher education, are a form of interrogation, as are many news interviews.
The focus here is the use of electricity in interrogation; some of the methods mentioned here also qualify as means of torture, while others spark controversy over just what constitutes torture.
The father, grilling his daughter’s would-be suitors under a buggy front-porch light, is making use of electricity to keep his subject off-balance, and this article shows several other ways electricity has been deployed as an interrogation device.
- The Electric Chair – Since 1890, when the electric chair was first used for capital punishment, the threat of its use has served as an interrogation ploy.
- White Noise – White noise, produced electronically, is basically a combination of all sound frequencies and is used to disorient a subject.
- Car Battery and Jumper Cables – A favorite of film makers, this is what the Police Inspector used on Jamal, in Slumdog Millionaire, and has also been called the “Jack Bauer (24) Technique”. This type of interrogation is assailed on many fronts, including that of effectiveness; a subject may give false answers just to please the interrogator and to stop the torture.
- Hypothermia – A prisoner is literally chilled to the bone in a refrigerated room, while being constantly doused with cold water. This is one of the methods approved for C.I.A. And military use in “enhanced interrogations”, and it was utilized at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
- Light Control – Lighting, often hot and harsh, is used to upset the body rhythms of a detainee, disrupting usual day/night cycles, and weakening resistance. Old-school movie detectives were especially fond of sticking desk lamps into the faces of their prisoners.
- Audio and Video Recording – As well as serving documentary purposes, recordings can be reviewed to check for consistency in witness accounts; sometimes to jog the memory of a subject, and sometimes to catch lies and misstatements. Polygraph tests have been used by the police since 1924.
- Computers – Computers allow interrogators to almost instantly check the veracity of a subject’s story, from GPS information to personal data that can be verified on the Internet.
It’s easy to see how electricity can be an effective investigative tool, and just as easy to see how this force can be mis-used and abused. Human rights advocates are appalled at many of the ways electricity has been used to secure information, while opposing voices maintain that more lives are saved as the result of information acquired during “enhanced interrogations”.