Context: Research for Brainwash: The Secret History of Mind Control
Interviewee: US Army Sergeant / Interrogation Instructor
This interrogator, a young sergeant in the US Army, worked in Afghanistan at the start of the War on Terror. Here he talks about his training and describes some of his experiences at Kandahar and Bagram. This guy is almost the exact opposite of what the general public might expect of an NCO involved in the interrogation business: highly intelligent, clearly well-trained – and with very strong ethical views regarding what is, and is not, acceptable in interrogation.
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Is interrogation a dark art?
It’s a public perception. I don’t think that it’s a dark art. It was never, all the time that we trained and all the preparation that we had, it was never – we thought that we were part of something really special and cool and out in the open. And because our training manuals were never classified and stuff, we never felt that we were part of something weird.
Not secret-secret, then?
There was a bit of elitism about it. They kept telling you that you were special to be selected for the corps. We then found out that there’s nothing that special about it at all… So, when you’re very young you buy into that.
Ever come across ‘truth drugs’ in your training?
I think that they’ve changed a bit about the instruction. I remember it being much more categoric when I was going through the training as a private. Versus what I remember teaching as a staff sergeant. The training that I got when I was very young, sort of 1990, 17 years old, was – the theme was that we went through the different classes of drugs, we went through what was their official pharmacological classification and we talked about what the effects were on people, but it was always in the context of either: a) This is what our enemies do; or b) They don’t work. This is what was told us, and it was repeated over and over again.
I think that as novice interrogators, educated in films – as we were – people thought that this would be a panacea, you know? I think a lot of us actually thought that we would learn how to give shots. There were rumours in basic training that they would teach us to give sodium pentothal shots by using oranges – you practised giving shots of the truth serum on oranges. That was the first I ever learned of it. Then we had this half-day class, maybe a three hour block of instruction.
Later when I went to instruct, the course had been revised in 1993, the course had been changed and there was a much more in-depth piece about it with practical examples, and they talked more about the American experience using truth serum.
It was never in a military context, it was always talked about as police investigations or the CIA. It was not talked about in terms of ‘does the army do this?’ And there were actual cases cited. Again the bias was always that it was not something that was applicable, not something that would work. It was taught to us as a kind of awareness thing.
What about sensory deprivation? What were you taught about that?
I have experienced it because I went to train at the Evasion and Escape School at Fort Polk, Louisiana. So I learned about it there. The first time I learned about it was as an instructor because it was a part of a block that was added. I was not taught that as a private but when I went back to teach as a sergeant, they talked about it. They talked about evolution of it – sensory deprivation, like isolation, darkness. Then they went into these funky things like water stasis chambers. It was stuff that we were talking about. Although there was a video, a movie about it that had the look of one of those 1960s nuclear bomb stories. But again it was never in the context of ‘we use it’. It was awareness. It was in the context of ‘you’re an army interrogator and you have 10 approaches. Use them.’
The film you saw featured somebody in a helmet?
No, not like that. It looked like it was a documentary not prepared by the army, it was too high quality for the army. It looked like somebody was in a Jacuzzi with a lid. There was a square-looking thing, much bigger than a bathtub and there were people looking down, because they were up high, on walkways that were around it.
They were looking down on the person in the tank?
It was up high and there was this tank surrounded by these walkways that must have been at their chest level. These platforms with staircases leading to it, and these people with clipboards.
Spooky or funny?
I didn’t find it comedic or spooky. It looked like something that had been done at a university. A research project.