Originally appeared in Flagpole Magazine July 2, 2003.


The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed government sources, recently revealed that American intelligence agents and law enforcement officials stationed in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay have been authorized to use “a little bit of smacky face” to make prisoners talk during interrogation. “If you don’t violate someone’s human rights some of the time, you probably aren’t doing your duty,” one anonymous U. S. official was quoted as saying. Americans were assured, however, that the face-slapping of prisoners to induce them to talk was nothing to worry about. There would be no revival of the third degree for persons arrested on criminal charges in this country. The prisoners subjected to having their faces smacked as an interrogation technique would be foreigners suspected of terrorist activities held outside the United States, and the technique would be used to obtain intelligence information, not to obtain incriminating statements for use in court. Besides, we were additionally assured, within the United States smacking prisoners in the face to get them to talk is impermissible under the Bill of Rights, and federal and state courts would never tolerate such treatment of criminal suspects in this country.

A recent U. S. Supreme Court decision, however, casts doubt on these assurances. The decision raises troubling questions about whether the Supreme Court now defers too much to law enforcement when police in America interrogate persons in their custody who are suspected of committing crimes punishable in federal

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