Interrogation is a method of extracting truthful information from a hostile or reluctant person by using an asymmetric interview method that requires a variety of skills or knowledge, including critical listening, behavioural science, psychology, questioning techniques, rapport building, negotiation, pursuasion, verbal and non-verbal communications.
Is interrogation legal?
Interrogation isn’t what you see in the movies. When conducted by professionals, interrogations don’t need to involve physical or emotional torture, inhumane treatment, coercion, extortion, intimidation or threats of any kind.
The subject (the person being interrogated) must voluntarily subject him/herself to interrogation and will complete and sign a consent form before the interrogation begins. The subject is under no obligation to participate, and is free to terminate the interrogation at any time. Video and audio of all interrogations is recorded in a forensically-sound manner and treated as evidence (with a proper chain of custody and other safeguards).
Interrogation is simply an effective method of engaging, relating, interviewing, interacting and questioning a person for the purpose of eliciting truthful information and/or voluntary admissions about a particular subject, event or issue. These are images of actual interrogations:
Interrogations are usually conducted in the course of an investigation for one or more of the following reasons:
the subject is suspected of involvement in the incident, act or activity under investigation
the subject is believed to be withholding information that is pertinent to the investigation
the subject’s confession or admissions are essential due to a lack of direct evidence
How do interrogations work?
An interrogator plays the interrogation by ear. Literally and figuratively.
In the one sense, “by ear” refers to the fact that interrogations are fluid situations. An interrogator will adapt to changing circumstances and realities, adopting the most appropriate method of interrogation at that moment in time, and changing tack when necessary as things develop. Although the interrogator’s choice of approach or tactic will usually follow the subject’s lead, the interrogator always maintains the perception of control unless the opposite is required.
“By ear” also refers to the fact that the interrogator will often be assisted by analysts, behavioural and other experts who will provide factual and contextual information to the interrogator which could be used to frame questions, force concessions, expose contradictions, challenge inconsistencies and evoke specific reactions.
Interrogators don’t threaten or even imply a threat of any kind. They use rapport and persuasion, and to a lesser extent, deception, psychological and emotional manipulation, in order to get the subject to want to speak. An interrogator is able to leverage an understanding of the subject’s psychological and emotional state and their knowledge of the facts surrounding the matter under investigation to convince the subject that the best option is to admit the truth.
Interrogations are team efforts. There are many aspects to an interrogation, each a moving part, which need to be coordinated for the best chance of success. An interrogation could include all or some of the following roles:
Primary Interrogator – this is the person dealing face-to-face with the subject. An interrogator needs to be able to create rapport with persons from all walks of life. They need a personable, trusting mannerism, yet command respect. An interrogator must also have excellent critical listening, memorization, recallection, verbal and non-verbal communication skills.
Secondary Interrogator – the purpose of a secondary interrogator is usually to reinforce a power imbalance but also to act as a second pair of eyes and ears in carefully observing the subject’s body language and other non-verbal cues, and in attentively listening to the subject’s responses. This enables the primary interrogator to interact more naturally with the subject – thereby increasing trust.
Intelligence Analyst – a key element of interrogations is getting the subject to make concessions (small, often insignificant or unrelated admissions). Although not the main purpose for seeking concessions, a useful byproduct of having the subject make these admissions is that they can act as a truth yardstick. An analyst is instrumental in giving the interrogator as much information, context and background as possible while also fact-checking and assessing the subjects responses in real-time.
Behavioural Scientist – it is not uncommon for a behavioural scientist (or a physchologist specializing in human behaviour and motivation) to be in attendance – especially during high-stakes interrogations where every possible advantage is needed and failure is not an option. An expert in human behavior can provide valuable insight into the subject’s psyche, attitude, motivation and values which can be exploited to influence the subject’s feelings, thoughts, behaviour and actions.
Field Technician – the technician plays a key role in setting up and operating video and audio recording equipment as well as any computing and communication devices used by the participants (for example, the interrogators will wear covert ear-pieces to enable them to receive live information updates from an analyst or behavioural expert).
Other roles – occasionally it might be necessary to have subject-matter experts, religious scholars, relatives or friends of the subject, legal practitioner, prosecutor or other person present or at least available telephonically so that assertions can be verified, context can be understood and further leads can be generated.