Prisoner Interrogation in Three Wars

Interrogation: World War II, Vietnam, and Iraq is an absolutely fascinating read. This book from the National Defense Intelligence College takes both an historical and policy-oriented view of prisoner of war interrogations in three wars. The World War II section examines the Army’s use of Japanese Americans – Nisei – as interrogators in the Pacific, along with incisive discussions of why Japanese soldiers seldom were taken prisoners, why a relatively high percentage of such POWs cooperated with their interrogators, and why they furnished such a significant amount of intelligence to their captors (the Japanese military hierarchy assumed that their men would not become prisoners and so did not indoctrinate them about the importance of not giving up information if they were.) This part of the book also analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the Army and Navy Japanese language training  provided during the war.

The Vietnam section focuses on profiles of the most able interrogators in World War II (the wonderfully named R.W. G. “Tin Eye” Stephens for the British and Hans Scharff for the Germans) and a number of successful American officers during the Vietnam conflict. Throughout the book, the authors make the point that linguistic ability, a deep understanding of the captives’ culture and worldview, and a perception that torture or other violent methods were useless in soliciting information of value are the hallmarks of a successful interrogator of prisoners. This part of the book also describes these individuals’ occasional conflicts with the military bureaucracy, such as Sedgwick Tourison’s experience in reporting more information about the Tonkin Gulf incident than his superiors wanted to hear.

The final section, on Iraq, focuses on policy issues – specifically, whether Army doctrine should permit Special Operations personnel to interrogate prisoners. Again, real-world examples from personal experience provide a study that is both gripping and insightful.

Interrogation: World War II, Vietnam, and Iraq is a thoughtful and provocative analysis of what any army confronts in war – the need to gather intelligence from prisoners, the most effective way to do that, and the ineffectiveness of “harsh methods” in delivering useful information.

You can read the book here or get a copy from GPO here.  To find it in a library, search here.

One Response to Prisoner Interrogation in Three Wars

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