Where Does Interrogation Become Torture?

But a different measure of public sentiment might be the popularity of fictional American heroes who will do what they have to do to stop terrorism.

The television program 24 has repeatedly visited the torture topic. Its hero is a U.S. counterterrorism agent who is willing to resort to torture to save lives. For instance, to make a Middle Eastern suspect talk, he staged a mock execution of the man's child. Such scenarios reportedly have not angered viewers.

"They want to see our characters do whatever it takes to get the job done," says Joel Surnow, a writer for 24. "That includes torture. That includes crossing lines, legal lines, anything."

Real-World Rules

But in real life, there are rules. And at places like Fort Huachuca, the Army's interrogation training school in Arizona, officers insist those rules are drummed into students.

The United States is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, which state, "No physical or mental torture, nor any form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information, of any kind whatever."

Greg Hartley, a former Army interrogator, now in the private sector, explains what he thinks that means in practice.

"We're allowed to trick, lie, and deceive," Hartley says. "But if it becomes torture, mental coercion, yeah, that's forbidden. Can I lie to you and tell you I'm someone I'm not? Absolutely. Can I tell you that this phone is hooked up to call your mother if you talk to me? Sure. But can I tell you that if you don't answer these questions, I'm going to hack off a finger? No."

Those may be the rules. The question is: Are they followed? Two former trainees at Fort Huachuca say there is a large gray area in what they were taught there.

"If technically you're not breaking the Geneva Convention, you're not breaking any law, you can do whatever you want to get the information out of somebody," says "Rafael," a former interrogation trainee.

"They're encouraging people to bend the rules to the maximum extent possible, if it helps to get the information," says "Margaret," another former trainee.

It's a complicated mix — needing to win, wanting to do the right thing. And Iraq is in a part of the world where, for a long time, as the Basra pictures suggested, not a whole lot of energy was spent worrying about the Geneva Conventions.

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