Paul Topalian, Visiting Lecturer about Ethical Interrogation

By Trevor Nozell ’17

Norwich University’s Peace and War Center hosted Paul Topalian ’71, retired Army officer with an extensive background in the intelligence community. Topalian offered a unique perspective on the morality and effectiveness of gathering information in both the military and civilian realms. The lecture he delivered about his book, Tradecraft Primer: A Framework for Aspiring Interrogators, touched upon the origins of torture and interrogation and the various ways information has been obtained throughout the centuries. “Torture and interrogation have long been assimilated, since the dawn of time,” Topalian stated. Many people view the two as synonymous; this could not be further from the truth.

Dr. Paul Topalian

Torture has been used as an expedient way to gather quick information. Employing torture techniques are not only immoral and illegal, according to international law, but also do not produce reliable information. The subjects of torture will say anything–true or not–in an effort to appease the torturer and make the pain cease. Whereas interrogation, a tradecraft as Topalian states, is intelligence gathering as a practitioner with key aspects that will result in information being extracted in an effective and humane manner. Topalian used Hanns Scharff, a German interrogator during World War II, as an example of an expert interrogator. Scharff had a reputation of being stern but kind and befriended his captives; he even gave them “freedoms” such as test flying German aircraft and going for walks on their own. Scharff was great at obtaining accurate information and often maintained friendships with his captives after their release.

Interrogation skill and tradecraft remain a paramount tool for military and police in today’s modern warfare. However, this tradecraft must be employed with rapport and dignity that Topalian says can be found in the values instilled by Norwich.

Topalian’s lecture gave a comprehensive analysis of the practical use of lawful interrogations compared to the ineffective techniques of torture. His lecture offered attendees a reflection of modern nation’s actions in the recent wars on terror and allowed them to think in terms of a leader responsible for intelligence gathering in the modern era.