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An interrogator is a police or government official charged with getting information from certain people through questioning. Non-suspect witnesses or victims are typically not questioned by interrogators, as these officials tend to work more with suspects or potential suspects. Interrogators employ a variety of psychological and sometimes physical techniques in order to make subjects honestly and completely disclose any information. The job of an interrogator is a controversial one that can lead to severe abuse of power in some cases. Many interrogators argue that violence and torture are not good methods of obtaining accurate information, and that gaining a source's trust and respect may be more beneficial than gaining his or her fear.
For centuries, interrogation was synonymous with torture. By employing physical pain, early interrogators could wring confessions and information from broken suspects. Most torture interrogation was completely legal and considered just punishment, particularly during times of war. Unfortunately, the downside to physical torture is its inaccuracy. Prisoners and suspects would often confess to crimes they did not commit, even fully knowing that the resulting sentence would be death. It is understandable, when looking at such devices as the rack, that death might seem a worthy price to stop daily, bone-breaking pain.
As espionage became an ever more vital part of government operations, the accuracy of interrogation findings became critical to the safety of government agents. In addition to some moral qualms regarding the torture of potentially innocent people, practicality suggested it would be easier and more humane for all involved if confessions or details were not wrung out of sources through pain. Many governments moved to outlaw extreme forms of physical torture in the 20th century, although loopholes do allow the use of “physical discomfort,” such as sleep deprivation.
Barring torture, an interrogator has many available techniques in order to gain co-operation from hostile and possibly dangerous sources. Many of these tactics are psychological in nature, and involve placing the source in a vulnerable and confused state where they may develop a trust relationship with the interrogator. As the source becomes more and more cut off from the world and any sense of life outside of confinement, his or her interrogator may become the only link with possible freedom and the world outside. Using this vulnerability, an interrogator can begin to get information.
Some people find the job of an interrogator inherently repugnant, even without physical torture being applied. The use of threat, manipulation, and deception on a human being in order to trick him or her into giving information appears to detractors to be cold-hearted and cruel. However, the information garnered by an interrogator can save lives, solve crimes, prevent attacks, and protect both military and civilian personnel. Those in favor of psychological interrogation tactics suggest that the information is worth the price in humiliation and fear, though many draw the line at blood.
An interrogator must be at peace with the demands of his or her job in order to do it well. They are often highly trained military personnel, fluent in many languages, and trained to read people and form connections with their charges. Although the job is not an easy or universally admired one, many believe it is a vital source of information that can keep innocent people safe.