Bits of Truth: genealogies of mass interrogation

Authors: Elliott Child*, University of British Columbia
Topics: Political Geography, Cultural Geography, Historical Geography
Keywords: interrogation, data, war, empire, science, intelligence
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Iberville, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


'Interrogators find tiny bits of the truth, fragments of information, slivers of data. We enter a vast desert, hundreds of miles across, in which a few thousand puzzle pieces have been scattered'. This is how 'Chris Mackey', a pseudonymous US Army interrogator, described his work in Afghanistan in 2004. He was one of thousands of personnel who 'assembled the pieces', extracting 'data' from many more prisoners detained in cages and booths across networked sites in the global War on Terror. His words coincided with the dramatic reentry of interrogation into public focus. Yet neither Mackey's self-imagining nor the techniques he utilised were particularly novel. Mass interrogation - eliciting information from hundreds of thousands of subjects under relatively compulsatory conditions - has a long history of use by US military and intelligence agencies. As a strategic imperative it has directly motivated the detainment or engagement of millions of enemy and friendly 'sources' since 1945. For the purposes of extracting, sifting, and composing 'intelligence' it drives the production of elaborate expert networks that 'process' oral accounts, biographies, psychological assessments and other subjective materials into 'data'. A significant but frequently overlooked modality of military geographical knowledge production, mass interrogation seems to punctuate US empire. This paper traces the salient features of its recurrence. It moves from post-War Europe, to Vietnam and the CIA's contemporary torture network, describing the technoscientific and genealogical lines of descent animating the continued identification of masses of enemy and civilian bodies as oceans of latent 'data' to be extracted.

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