The Mendez Principles on Effective Interviewing

Torture is illegal, but does it work? Torturing a terrorist for information that stops the bombing of a busy shopping mall is one ‘ticking clock’ scenario often depicted in sensational TV series to suggest it does.

In real life, however, not only would 24’s Jack Bauer be open to criminal prosecution, he should also be subject to a performance review: Scientific research – not least the US Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into CIA torture after 9/11 –  proves conclusively that coercive interrogation initially increases the subject’s resistance and then leads to an increase in provision of false information and false confessions.

In short, torture does not work.

The Principles on Effective Interviewing for Investigations and Information Gathering, also known as the Mendez Principles are an answer to what does.

Named after Juan Mendez, the Argentine lawyer, torture survivor and former UN Special Rapporteur, the Principles establish for the first time the minimum international requirements for good practice in law enforcement interrogation, including military and police.

Solomon Arase, Former Inspector General of the Nigeria Police Force, says “policing is about trust” and implementing the Méndez Principles on Effective Interviewing will help police “start winning the hearts and minds of the people”. Credit: APT Geneva

“The worst and most cruel forms of torture happen in the course of interrogation of suspects and of persons thought to be in possession of information that is considered crucial to solving crime and to prevent other criminal offenses. For that reason, it is important to provide realistic alternatives to torture in interrogation. The Principles do just that.”

Juan Mendez, Argentine lawyer, torture survivor and former UN Special Rapporteur

“The Mendez Principles are a huge step forward in the prevention of torture. If police interrogators want to discover facts relevant to their investigations – and avoid their own potential criminal liability for torturing – then coercive interrogation should be replaced by trauma-informed interviewing. The Mendez Principles are a guide to how that can be achieved.”

Lisa Henry, IRCT Secretary General

Grounded in science, law and ethics, the Principles propose a concrete alternative to interrogation methods that rely on coercion to extract confessions. They provide guidance on obtaining accurate and reliable information in full respect of the human rights and dignity of all, including through the implementation of legal and procedural safeguards in the first hours of police custody. The Principles aim to transform the relationship between State and their citizen

The six core Principles establish that effective interviewing is instructed by science, law and ethics; is a comprehensive process for gathering accurate information while following legal safeguards; addresses the needs of vulnerable interviewees; is a professional undertaking requiring specific training; requires accountable institutions; and will be implemented through robust national measures.

The Principles grew out of two decades of scientific research post 9-11 – including articles in the IRCT’s Torture Journal – into the results of coercive interrogations of suspects, defined as a method of questioning aimed at overcoming an individual’s will.   

That research culminated in Mendez’ 2016 report to the UN calling for the development of universal minimum standards for non-coercive interviewing methods and procedural safeguards to be applied to all interviews by law enforcement officials, military and intelligence personnel and other bodies with investigative mandates.

In a collaboration between the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT) in Geneva, the Centre for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at the American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL), and the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights at the University of Oslo, an international Steering Committee of 15 expert members was established, including the IRCT’s Pau Perez Sales, editor of Torture Journal. 

The final text represents the culmination of four years of their analysis and research in consultation with an Advisory Council of more than 80 experts in the fields of interviewing, law enforcement, criminal investigations, national security, military, intelligence, psychology, criminology and human rights from over 40 countries.

Why Torture Doesn’t Work:

The Neuroscience of Interrogation

One of the best and most up-to-date books on the subject is Shane O’Mara’s ‘Why Torture Doesn’t Work’. Watch him describing his work here.