Interrogation Techniques in Guantanamo


No part of the criminal process elicits more public contention than interrogation techniques used in Guantanamo Bay. However, it is no surprise that it does since substantial evidence corroborates that laws designed to protect the rights of detainees mean little during questioning. Approximately two decades have passed since the first prisoners were sent to the Guantanamo penitentiary. Since then, 779 boys and men from a Muslim background have been detained at this facility without charge or trial (Shamsi 2022). The same report indicates that currently, 27 out of 39 male detainees who are indefinitely detained at the prison have not been charged with any crime. This is despite 14 of them being cleared for release for a while now. Most of the inmates at the Guantanamo prison are torture survivors. This is due to disregard for the rule of law, abuse, and religious injustice reported by the detainees. While most people would agree that no interrogation method should be exempted when dealing with terror suspects, much focus has been on whether these techniques constitute torture or are effective in procuring intelligence information.

The Ineffectiveness of Interrogations at Guantanamo

Interrogations at Guantanamo have been closely linked with enhanced interrogations techniques (EITs). EITs are procedures that involve brutal treatment, psychological torment, intimidation, and the use of excessive force. They include sleep deprivation, use of electric shocks, waterboarding, hooding, beatings, sexual humiliation, deprivation of food, drink, or medical care, subjection to loud noise, threats to families, and binding in stressful positions (Crosby and Benavidez 2018). Although the EITs’ pioneer Dr. James Mitchel has disputed claims that the program involves torture, evidence from terror suspects and a Senate report expose the methods as causing severe pain and suffering to the detainees. For instance, some images sketched by Abu Zubaydah, an inmate at Guantanamo, clearly indicate the torture he experienced at the facility. One of the images illustrates the prisoner’s naked body tied to a crude gurney while being waterboarded by an inconspicuous interrogator. Another image shows Zubaydah’s head being smashed against a wall (Rosenberg 2019). Additionally, a 2014 Senate report affirms the abuse claims by outlining a comprehensive review showing evidence of medical complicity in torture. Therefore, the interrogation practices used in Guantanamo involve immense torture.

Mistreatment and torture in interrogations compromise the accuracy of the information provided by the detainees. Reports by skilled intelligence experts and interrogators indicate that incorporating torture in interrogations is not productive in retrieving truthful and reliable information. A declaration issued by the intelligence community both in the military and federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), outlines the harmful impacts of abuse in interrogations. It indicates that physical, emotional, or mental pressure can coerce a torture victim to confess or divulge false information to stop the agonizing experience (Human Rights First 2014). The primary goal of an interrogation is to elicit the truth rather than getting the suspects to “talk.” However, the utilization of EITs, which is predominant in Guantanamo, exerts a lot of pressure on the prisoners, which may force them to falsify information or say what they perceive the interrogators want to hear just to be relieved from pain. Therefore, interrogation involving the maltreatment of detainees is ineffective because it may result in faulty intelligence.

Abusive interrogation techniques may adversely affect a suspect’s brain function. Neurological reports show that mental and physical torture may aggravate an individual’s cognitive function, mood, and memory which are critical in conveying accurate information. Research indicates that repeated exposure to stress results in elevated production of the cortisol hormone, which affects the synapses and the neuropsychological functioning of an individual. Additionally, high cortisol levels result in atrophy in the hippocampal formation and other related deficits in an individual’s memory (O’Mara 2018). In such a case, an individual may fail to remember previously learned information, despite their motivation to recall. Therefore, stress impairs the retrieval of declarative memories among people. Not to mention, some EITs such as waterboarding result in oxygen deprivation resulting in hypoxia. The same study shows that hypoxia poses acute cognitive deficits, including a negative impact on composite memory, processing speed, and cognitive flexibility. Hypoxia also affects mood and may make an individual experience loss of coordination, dizziness, fatigue, and blurred vision (O’Mara 2018). Therefore, the use of torture in interrogation is ineffective because it impairs a suspect’s memory and may lead to the provision of false information.

The Senate Intelligence Committees’ report affirms that abusive interrogation strategies are ineffective. The 2014 report indicates that despite the use of torture by the interrogators in Guantanamo and other sites, no valuable information was obtained that could have thwarted potential attacks or saved people. The committee reiterated that seven out of the 39 prisoners who were subjected to EITs failed to divulge any valid intelligence. A majority of the suspects only fabricated information leading to faulty intelligence. In contrast, the committee discovered that other detainees not subjected to EITs conveyed much accurate intelligence (Feinstein 2014). This proves that torture during interrogations is ineffective since it may result in unreliable information.

Alternatives to Enhanced Interrogation Methods That Can Be Used in Guantanamo

The above-mentioned interrogation practices are ethically indefensible and largely devoid of any scientific validity. For these reasons, law enforcement must consider different methods to procure valuable data from unlawful combatants. Analytical support is regarded as an integral part of the interrogation practice. Intelligence analysts can provide direct on-site support to interrogators by serving as third-party observers (Fein et al. 2006). Their insights on the effectiveness of the interrogation process can be an informative pointer to determine what strategies to use to elicit information. In addition, they may directly be involved in the questioning of insurgents or the vetting of information gathered during interrogation. This type of integrated-team approach to questioning is recommended. Kleinman claims that not all interrogators are subject-matter experts on every target or issue under consideration to a particular interrogation (Fein et al. 2006). In this case, securing the services of analysts can help provide expertise and quick feedback to improve the effectiveness of the process. Therefore, analytical support may be crucial since analysts can provide specialized knowledge and fact-checking expertise to gather intelligence information involving Guantanamo’s high-value cases.

Scientific approaches that can radically transform future interrogations also exist. They include brain electrical activation profiling (BEAP) and polygraph tests designed to scrutinize the target physiologically during interrogations. These techniques detect suspects’ involvement in a crime by stimulating electrophysiological impulses. These experiments examine psychosomatic deviations as they occur during interrogation and establish facts for persecuting offenders (Bahuguna and Parvez 2022). However, the right to privacy is predominantly an issue of interest to the human rights framework. All the guidelines outlined by Human Rights Commission in regards to using these tests must be followed. In a related case, the Supreme Court ruled that the application of BEAP and lie-detection exams may only be performed with the suspects’ consent (Selvi vs. State of Karnataka 2010). Therefore, any form of compulsion when administering these tests would amount to an intrusion of suspects’ personal liberty. This complicates the work of law enforcement agencies, which are continually under pressure to make more sentences which the pendency of cases keeps accumulating rapidly. Thus, a balance must be found between the penological interest of the State and the rights of the accused to secure the conviction.

Other non-invasive techniques of interrogations can be employed to enhance the efficacy of this process. These methods include non-verbal behavioral assessment and forensic assessment interviews (Bharne, Vaya and Srivastava 2017). In addition, there has been a growing number of pieces of evidence that prove the efficacy of biometric identification, such as DNA analysis, fingerprinting, retinal scan, face and voice identification (Machado and Granja 2020). These methods can be used to secure the conviction of unlawful combatants who pose a significant threat to a country and society at large. In many different ways, these emerging technologies and imaging processes would bring a vast improvement both practically and ethically over those traditional interrogation techniques like EITs. A report by the Senate Select Committee concluded that EITs are not reliable means of gaining cooperation from detainees or acquiring intelligence (Feinstein 2014). This is because these methods used to interrogate Guantanamo’s detainees usually rely on coercive combinations of fear, torture, and pain. However, these new approaches are inherently more humane and can lead to more convictions.


Evidence has shown that EITs are ineffective, and their use seems to violate international and domestic human rights. Therefore, calling for relevant agencies and stakeholders to critically assess the scientific, legal, and ethical grounds upon which this program was built. Besides the observable political and moral contentions against EITs, it is commonly acknowledged that torture survivors like those in Guantanamo often confess to whatever charges are leveled at them and even fabricate facts to end the torture. Therefore, adopting these emerging interrogation techniques would not only reflect better on law enforcement agencies but also lead to more criminal convictions.


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