Since January, when U.S. investigators at Cuba's Guantanamo Bay Naval Base began interrogating some 300 detainees of the Afghan war suspected terrorists who fought for al-Qaida or the ousted Afghan Taliban regime many Americans have no doubt guessed that torture or other forms of physical abuse would play a key role in the process.
Wrong, according to Jack Waer, a Payson resident who served as a prisoner-of-war interrogator both in Vietnam and Korea.
"A lot of people have misconceptions about what a prisoner-of-war interrogator does, how he goes about it, and how prisoners are treated," observed Waer. "The most popular myth is that we use torture and drugs to get people to talk. You don't have to do that.
"There are 13 different approach techniques that can be used the first one being the direct approach. Why mess around with other technique when they might just answer a direct question?"
Another reason to avoid employing torture, Waer pointed out, is that getting prisoners to talk by use of physical force is against the Geneva Accords of 1949 and the Geneva Convention of 1954.
"That is strictly adhered to," he said, "because no interrogator wants a stretch in Leavenworth."
The main reason torture is shunned as an interrogation tool, however, is that it simply doesn't get the job done.
"If the guy is hurting, he'll tell you anything just to get you to stop the hurt."
A second interrogator myth that won't go away, Waer said, is that prisoners are commonly deprived of food.
"We have to give them the same quantity and quality that they were used to in their lives before they became a prisoner," he said. "We can't withhold medical care, either. It can be delayed quote, unquote for a while. But if (the prisoner's wounds are) life threatening, it has to be given right away."
A decade-long resident of Strawberry before moving to Payson last summer, Waer refers to himself as a "career soldier" and the description fits. He spent 27 years in the military, initially as an Airborne Ranger.
"But then they found out I spoke several languages, and I had a high IQ, so they put me in the Army Security Agency. That was a little too calm for me, so I got out and entered my first love, prisoner-of-war interrogation. That's where I spent my last 15 years in the service."
About those languages. In addition to his native tongue, Waer speaks Vietnamese, Mandarin Chinese, Korean, French and sign language.
"You have to (be language-fluent) in order to be a prisoner-of-war interrogator," he explains with a laugh. "After all, the last English-speaking people we fought was ourselves."
Waer had pretty much put his military past behind him until recent world events launched both interrogators and interrogation into the headlines. Since that time, at his wife's behest, Waer appears at schools and civic meetings, debunking the myths of interrogation.
"Believe me," Waer said. "These guys in Guantanamo, the Taliban, are being treated better and are living better than the troops that are guarding them. And they're eating better than I did in Vietnam."
Still, there is palpable excitement in Waer's voice as he talks about his old job.
"It gives you a great personal high when you've conducted an interrogation and gotten an EEI the 'essential elements of information,'" Waer said. "I've gone 90 to 95 hours straight doing interrogations, but never felt tired because of that continual high. Of course, you crash and burn afterwards. But until then, it's great."
The first step in any interrogation, he said, sounds deceptively simple: Find out what the prisoner wants. "Does he really desire medical care? Does he want a cigarette? Whatever it is, that's what you hone in on."
Despite what Americans have been taught by Hollywood, Waer said, "You never ask for their name, rank, serial number and date of birth. You get that information from their pocket litter."
If the interrogator is lucky, he adds, pocket litter might also yield a letter from his wife or sweetheart, allowing him to hone in on an emotional approach.
"Because the prisoner is away from everything he knows, he has a fear of the unknown and doesn't know what's going to happen to him; the only thing he wants is immediate gratification of his situation and maybe one letter home, or one cigarette, will give that to him."
Sometimes, though, an interrogation can be successful not due to technique or strategy, but dumb luck and happenstance.
"In Korea, there was a North Korean major, a pilot, who had crash-landed his plane, and he was handed to me" Waer said. "This guy wouldn't even agree that it was daytime. He wouldn't say a word.
"Well, I had a name tag that identified me as (the Korean words for 'Dr. Death'), and I interrogated him in an area we called Booth No. 4 which is considered to be an unlucky number in Korea, because the Korean word for 'death' and 'four' is the same.
"It took me close to six months about 12 to 16 hours a day to get him to talk. But I finally broke him," Waer said. "And it was because of the combination of my 'Dr. Death' name tag and the number 4."