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Author Mark Bowden to Speak on "The Dark Art of Interrogation," Feb. 5


 Mark Bowden, the author of Black Hawk Down and Killing Pablo, will discuss the findings of an article titled "The Dark Art of Interrogation" that he wrote for the October 2003 issue of the Atlantic. The talk will be in Room 129 on Thursday, February 5, at 6:10 p.m. It is sponsored by the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights. All people attending the event are encouraged to read the article, which is available at the Atlantic online.

"Dark" in the title of Mark Bowden's article "The Dark Art of Interrogation" means both morally dubious and hidden from view. Bowden begins the article with the story of al Quaeda chief Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was captured in Pakistan last year by a raiding party of Pakistani and American soldiers. Bowden writes that in American custody "[Sheikh Mohammed] would most likely have been locked naked in a cell with no trace of daylight. The space would be filled night and day with harsh light and noise, and would be so small that he would be unable to stand upright, to sit comfortably, or to recline fully. He would be kept awake, cold, and probably wet." But exact details remain secret.

Bowden describes this sort of treatment as "coercion" rather than "torture." He notes that the U.S. government has renounced the use of torture, but left the exact definition of torture vague enough to possibly allow the treatment described above. And while Bowden acknowledges that torture is repulsive, he wonders if some form of coercion is necessary in the battle against terrorism. "To counter an enemy who relies on stealth and surprise, the most valuable tool is information, and often the only source of that information is the enemy himself."

The article goes on to consider how interrogation has been practiced over the last fifty years, surveying experiments with techniques such as drugs, discomfort, and sensory deprivation. Bowden also profiles expert interrogators, including an Israeli security officer and a New York City policeman.

Bowden writes, "It may be clear that coercion is sometimes the right choice, but how does one allow it yet still control it? ... How does a country best regulate behavior in its dark and distant corners, in prisons, on battlefields, and in interrogation rooms, particularly when its forces number in the millions and are spread all over the globe?" Bowden's observations led him to the controversial conclusion that "Torture is a crime against humanity, but coercion is an issue that is rightly handled with a wink, or even a touch of hypocrisy; it should be banned but also quietly practiced."