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10 Brutal And Bizarre Interrogations

Mike Devlin

At first glance, an interrogation might seem like a mere question-and-answer session, but countless psychological angles delve far beyond “good cop, bad cop.” Below are 10 facts about interrogations, from the dark secrets of government agencies to heavy metal and the world’s most influential cult.

10 The CIA’s Interrogation Architect

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Dr. James Mitchell has had the kind of career they make movies about. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1974, where he became an expert in defusing bombs. Toward the end of his military stint, he served as a psychologist to a North Carolina special-ops unit. His retirement coincided almost perfectly with the 9/11 attacks. Subsequently, he joined up with fellow former military psychologist Dr. Bruce Jessen to sell their expertise to the CIA.

The two made millions despite their lack of experience. Neither had carried out real interrogations or could even speak Arabic. And yet Mitchell became known as the architect of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program, a euphemism which has since been revealed to describe unambiguous torture. Their methods included confinement, throwing subjects into walls, sleep deprivation, and—perhaps most notoriously—waterboarding. Mitchell himself waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who under duress admitted to various terrorist activities, which legal experts later deemed false confessions.

In 2009, Mitchell and Jessen were dismissed from the CIA payroll. The Senate issued a scathing report detailing their abuses.

Mitchell was unrepentant for his activities, saying, “The narrative that’s out there is, I walked up to the gate of the CIA, knocked on the door and said: ‘Let me in, I want to torture people, and I can show you how to do it.’ Or someone put out an ad on Craigslist that said, ‘Wanted: psychologist who is willing to design torture program.’ It’s a lot more complicated than that. I’m just a guy who got asked to do something for this country by people at the highest level of government, and I did the best I could.”

Discover for yourself how the CIA gets prisoners to talk. Read The CIA Document of Human Manipulation: Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual at Amazon.com!

9 The Reid Technique

An official interrogation is careful and systematic, using such methods as the “Reid Technique,” established by John Reid in the 1950s and taught by John E. Reid & Associates, Inc. It uses nine steps to disarm subjects. The interrogator monologues as if the accused is guilty. The trick’s loaded statements lull the accused into accepting responsibility for the crime.

Although the technique is still commonly taught, many see major flaws. One of its biggest drawbacks is its focus on body language. Step 6, for instance, tells the interrogator to look for “physical signs of surrender” because “tears at this stage positively indicate the suspect’s guilt.” The connection between anxiety and lying is tenuous at best; an honest man locked away in a police precinct will likely exhibit suspicious traits when pressed, while a cold-blooded sociopath can weave a murderous tapestry of lies without blinking.

The Reid Technique is infamous for drawing false confessions, particularly from children. In some European countries, it cannot legally be used to question juveniles.

8 The Fatal Debt Interrogation

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Photo credit: Andika Wahyu/Antara

On March 29, 2011, Indonesian businessman Irzen Octa was called to a Jakarta Citibank office to discuss the $5,700 he owed on his platinum card. Octa was sent to an interrogation room used to question debtors, where he was beset by three third-party collectors: Arif Lukman, Henry Waslington, and Donal Harris.

Indonesian banks are known to hound debtors, but what happened to Octa defies comprehension. Security footage shows him walking into the interrogation room, which had no cameras of its own. Over two hours later, he is shown being rolled out the room in a wheelchair, perhaps already dead.

The bank may have attempted to cover-up the death, as a single medical examiner released conflicting reports. Several doctors examined the body, listing the cause of death as asphyxiation and brain hemorrhage caused by blunt violence. The three debt collectors were sentenced to five years in prison for their role in Octa’s death.

7 The FBI’s Interrogation Guide

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Under the Freedom of Information Act signed by Lyndon B. Johnson, the government regularly releases formerly classified intelligence to the public. These reports are heavily redacted, with black boxes removing names and details. Much of this stuff covers tedious bureaucratic proceedings, but there are some juicy bits, such as FBI files of well-known personalities. The highly anticipated CIA files on the JFK assassination are due to be made public in 2017.

Other sought-after documents include the FBI’s internal guidelines. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been trying to get its hands on this material for years. In 2011, the FBI released a censored version of their interrogation procedures. However, in a bizarre turn, it was discovered that this information—without redactions—had been available through the US Copyright Office. For some inexplicable reason, a high-ranking FBI official registered the form for copyright, making it publicly available.

Unlike the FBI’s redacted version, the uncensored copy reveals that only FBI “clean” teams, who plan to bring cases to court, must follow the stated regulations. This indicates that underground operations work far outside the boundaries of the law. The uncensored report also confirms that the FBI uses the aforementioned Reid technique.

6 Interrogation Room Suicide

WARNING: The above video is actual, graphic security camera footage of a suicide.
The morning of December 19, 2003 would be a surreal one for the officers of San Bernadino County, California’s Sheriff’s Department. Deputy Michael Parham stopped 47-year-old Ricardo Alfonso Cerna for a traffic violation, only to have Cerna open fire, shooting him twice in the abdomen. Cerna was captured shortly thereafter and send to headquarters. He was placed in an interrogation room by the head of the homicide unit, Bobby Dean. But Cerna had no intention of being questioned.

Dean gave the suspect a bottle of water and stepped out into the hallway to speak with another officer. Then Cerna replaced the cap on the bottle of water, pulled a .45-caliber handgun from his pants, and calmly shot himself through the left temple. Dean returned to the room and exhaled a string of stunned expletives.

Exactly how the official interrogation footage was made available to the public has not been revealed—it was distributed to various law enforcement agencies and could have been leaked anywhere along the line. Officials claimed disciplinary action was taken against officers in the Cerna case but did not provide details.

If we accept the footage at face value, police arrested a man for shooting an officer and then allowed him into police headquarters with his massive handgun. Such a lapse of responsibility is so shocking that some believe there may have been a conspiracy.

5 Jodi Arias’s Interrogation

Jodi Arias murdered her ex-boyfriend Travis Alexader at his home in Mesa, Arizona on June 4, 2008. It was a savage crime; his body was found in his shower with over two dozen knife wounds and a gunshot wound to the head. Establishing Arias’s guilt was not difficult. Police discovered a digital camera in the washing machine with images of the two of them together. The last two pictures show Alexander in the shower and then lying on the bathroom floor covered in blood.

Arias was questioned on July 15 and 16, and footage of the interrogation reveals a woman with serious mental health issues. Over the course of the interviews, she acts in a bizarre fashion, singing, standing on her head, digging through the garbage, talking to herself, and stuffing paper down her pants. She reasons that “If I was going to ever try to kill somebody, I would use gloves. I have plenty of them.” And: “I had issues with Travis [but] I had worse issues with other people and they’re all still alive.”

Although some of her statements were revealed to the jury, they did not get to view the videos of Arias’s behavior. She was convicted of murder, and her first sentencing ended in a mistrial. She is scheduled to return to court in September 2014 to determine whether she will face death or life behind bars.

4 The Shameless Child Porn Interrogation

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Should the average person be arrested by the police, it would only be natural to be on one’s best behavior during the interrogation. Walter Louis Gafvert III, 48, is far from average.

Gafvert, of Boulder Creek, California, attracted the attention of child porn watchdog group Silicon Valley Internet Crimes Against Children in July 2013. They reported his suspicious activities to police, who went to his home and turned up a trove of thousands of pornographic images on his computer and other devices.

Gafvert was taken into custody on August 14, and during the interrogation, police took his cell phone. They found that he was actively downloading child porn right in the police station. His answers to any subsequent questions weren’t terribly relevant.

The man’s public defender nonetheless entered a not guilty plea during the arraignment, at which Walter fidgeted and cried. If convicted, he faces up to three years in prison.

3 Andrei Chikatilo’s Interrogations

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Andrei Chikatilo was one of the most frightening serial killers in history. Dubbed “The Butcher of Rostov,” this monster raped and murdered at least 52 women and children in the USSR.

He began his campaign of terror in 1978, and by 1984, police were desperate to stop the killings. A government unit was dispatched, given the title of “Division of Especially Serious Crimes.” Believing the murders to be the work of a serial killer, officers combed through the records of mental hospitals looking for a lead. During their investigations, they picked up Chikatilo, but they released him.

They then took a man named Shaburov into custody for suspicious behavior. Shaburov implicated himself and some friends (all of which had met at a school for the mentally disabled) in the murders, but when they were rounded up, none could provide any concrete details. Other disabled men were taken in for interrogations so savage that one suspect was killed and another took his own life while in custody.

When Chikatilo was finally caught, no brutal interrogative measures were necessary. He gladly gave up details of his crimes, describing scenes and victims in chilling detail. He was executed on February 15, 1994 by a shot behind his right ear.

2 Metallica Torture

Getting a casual offender to crack under pressure is probably not very difficult for a skilled officer. But crushing the will of a terrorist operative and getting him to talk is another animal altogether. Such men are hopelessly devoted to their cause, and some have resisted hundreds of sessions of physical torture. But soldiers in Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay have also made use of techniques known as “torture lite.”

Torturers played songs at an ear-shattering volume. The playlist included the kind of irritating tunes you wouldn’t want to sit through even once on the car ride home from work—Barry Manilow, Barney the Dinosaur’s “I Love You” song, teenage pop. A particular favorite was Metallica; according to Iraqi prisoners, the song “Enter Sandman” was played in a continuous loop for hours.

When informed, lead singer James Hetfield commented, “If the Iraqis aren’t used to freedom, then I’m glad to be part of their exposure. We’ve been punishing our parents, our wives, our loved ones with this music forever. Why should the Iraqis be any different?”

The band has since backpedaled from that seemingly willfully ignorant statement. Hetfield has issued more reticent quotes like, “Part of me is proud because they chose Metallica. And then part of me is kind of bummed about it that people worry us being attached to some political statement because of that. We’ve got nothing to do with this and we’re trying to be as apolitical as possible, ’cause I think politics and music, at least for us, don’t mix.”

1 Scientology Security Checks

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Those not caught in the thrall typically dismiss Scientology as a malicious cult, or at least the ruminations of Hollywood crackpots with nothing better to do with their time. However, for those in the inner circle, L. Ron Hubbard’s discipline is serious business. Believers are kept in the fold through various means, including intense interrogations called “security checks.”

Many religions enforce adherence by way of the administration of guilt, but security checks are on a whole new level of madness. The auditor (or interrogator) affixes an E-meter (a crude, useless lie detector device) to the subject then dictates a brief preamble stating that the Church will keep all information from police, no matter what the subject reveals. Auditors are not to use their own judgment during the interrogation. Per Hubbard, they are to have “thorough, swinish suspicion and no belief in mankind or the devil—only the meter.”

Like regular polygraph tests, the initial questions aim to gather a baseline reading. Then they devolve into a grilling as to whether the subject is a criminal or sexual deviant who harbors any ill feelings toward Scientology. They are asked whether they have engaged in any of the following acts: rape, interracial sex, abortion, bigamy, cannibalism, adultery, bestiality, homosexuality, sodomy, pedophilia, and more. Scientology-related questions include: “Have you ever written then destroyed critical messages to L. Ron Hubbard?” and “Have you ever used Dianetics or Scientology to force sex on someone?”

As ugly and intrusive as these queries can be, a few entries are also hilariously absurd. Such as: “Have you ever coughed during [Scientology] lectures?” It’s unclear what the desired answer to that question may be.

Mike Devlin is an aspiring novelist.