Wednesday, June 02, 2004


Interrogation of Prisoners

There's an interesting historical sidelight on the interrogation of prisoners in an oral history interview of Stephen J. Spingarn, who was with the 5th Army Counter Intelligence Corps from 1943 to 1945. The interview is transcribed here.

Spingarn describes the interrogation of spies Mario Martinelli and Carla Costa. Martinelli sang like a canary, but Costa was a hard nut to crack:
Carla Costa was subjected to nothing but psychological pressure.

Once for two days I did restrict her diet to coffee and toast on the theory that if she tired a little and got hungry she would talk. But I had two army nurses chaperoning her and I said, "Whenever you say I ought to start feeding her again, I will," and after two days of coffee and toast they said, "You better start feeding her again." And we did. But we tried all kinds of psychological pressure. My theory was no violence, but psychological pressure is o.k., and I'll admit I put a pretty liberal interpretation on what constitutes psychological pressure.
Costa was imprisoned but eventually released. Martinelli died in front of a firing squad. Spingarn says:

Personally, I would never shoot a spy, never.

The reason is not any softness of heart, but the reason is you can never know when you may need that spy for information about some subsequent suspect you receive and he may fill in a valuable piece of information for you that may identify a subsequent agent. We had a case like that, there was a fellow, I think his name was Lancelotti, whom we shot. And a year later I would have given my right arm, almost, to have had that fellow to interrogate him against another man who I thought had worked with him, you see. That sort of thing.

It's all right to pretend you're shooting them.
A czarist firing squad pretended to shoot the Russian novelist Dostoyevsky. It psychologically scarred him for life.

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