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Should I Be Saying, “Shame On You Mr. President!!”?

Dec 09

Before I begin this critique, I would like to refresh the memories of those who doubt my credentials on this topic.  Firstly, I am a trained (Counselling/Clinical) Doctoral level psychologist who focused on the area of conflict in his studies.  (I will add proudly here that I graduated from the RCMP training academy in 1982. I cherish my time spent in the RCMP).  Moving on from there, I will cite only some of the training and experience that will pertain to my comments on the recent decision made by the American President (he took credit for the assassination(s?) and as of 08/12/14 he had explained that his decision was made without knowledge of the imminent release of one or both of the kidnap victims).   At the point of this writing, I am not aware of how many U.S. Servicemen (Marines?) lost their lives in this horribly “wrong-headed” decision.  I am a trained crisis negotiator, having attended the FBI’s School of Crisis Negotiation from January 1 to February 21, 1993.  I have a long history of both teaching and consulting with U.S. and Canadian law enforcement agencies (I will cite only a representative few) e.g. Jordan Montana, Fort Davis Texas, Gustafsen Lake, B.C., and several prison hostage takings, both Canadian and American.  With regard to my teaching responsibilities, I have instructed all over the globe e.g. Colombia (representing the Canadian Police College (CPC)), the FBI Training Academy at Quantico Virginia, as an adjunct lecturer (for 12 years), the Australian Federal Police, Dubai, and at home in Canada, at the CPC (for 9 years); the Correctional Service of Canada; the Justice Institute of B.C. (where I encountered almost every municipal police service in B.C.). I was the psychological consultant to almost every crisis negotiation team in British Columbia; and I both taught and consulted with the FBI’s Training Academy and its’ Critical Incident Response Group.

If, in fact, the American President made the decision to assault the Al Qaeda compound, he should be held directly responsible for the lives lost there. (The US Senate has just declared the use of these tactics “ineffective”).  The most basic of principles apply in “high profile” incidents, such as this one, as they do in more “day-to-day” hostage/barricade events.  Basic principles proven over and over again, would include “locate, evacuate (if logistically valid and/or possible), and communicate”.  It is my understanding that the foreign hostage was about to be released voluntarily by his captors.  Where did you get your advice Mr. President? I’ll bet you the FBI Agents that I worked with, all over your Country and at Quantico, are cringing at your decision (if, in fact you made it?) and its outcome.  I’ll bet, Mr. President, that your trained” First Responders”, on scene, ( if there were any, were in disagreement with your decision? ) They would have grasped basic concepts like, “listening”; contrary to the common impression, good negotiators are not good talkers, nor do they have the “gift of the gab” etc.; they are good LISTENERS.  Listening aids in the defusion of emotion, disarming, of resistance, gaining of influence, and the gaining of intelligence.  Other concepts that your trained negotiators might have suggested to you in your state of “addled pique” might have included: a) don’t be authoritative – this concept is paradoxical, the harder you make it for someone to disagree with you the harder you make it for him/her to agree with you);  b) minimize past events –  it is an optimal tactic to downplay the seriousness of the subject’s behaviour;  c)  don’t emphasize the victims/hostages  –  you will inflate their value in the subject’s eyes; d) be empathic –  the subject determines the agenda, not you.  If the subject wants to talk about it, it’s important even if you think its trivial, disrespectful, or shows a lack of respect for U.S. citizens, military might etc.; e) be trustworthy – you must earn his/her trust in the context of a working relationship (this means no lying or threatening!); f) don’t command – no matter how irrational/unreasonable a demand sounds don’t say “no” to the subject.  You indicate understanding and you are willing to pass it on to the decision makers; g) soften demands – it doesn’t matter if the subject’s communication involves threat or intimidation, it is well to soften it e.g. much more productive to say “you have been deeply offended by the US presence in your holiest of places” than “so you are pissed off with us, see us as infidels, and you’re about to cut off the balls of an American to prove it”; h) avoid deadlines – invariably it will take you and the subject longer to complete the immediate task/request at hand than you estimate – avoid the disappointment,  be upfront and realistic;  i ) no third parties – while these folks can be helpful at times, this is a decision to be made by an experienced commander  ( unless I’m mistaken, this is not you sir) – this is a command decision to be made after careful deliberation by an experienced tactician and his “brain trust”; j) no exchange of victims – the most dangerous times during these events are surrenders, deliveries, and exchanges.  They require careful coordination and as little direct human involvement as possible.  Of special interest here, is that likely something called “survival identification” has begun to occur.  That is, the perpetrator has begun to identify with his/her captive as a fellow human.  The introduction of a “new” person could cause this bond to be disrupted, or delayed  ;  and,  absent the “liking” and “trust”, often kindled by longer term relationships, could make it easier for the subjects to execute a “stranger”( i.e. before a “working relationship” has been formed ;  k) probe the suicide issue – with this particular population (i.e. radical Muslims) suicide is the honourable thing to do.  That is, to use yourself as a weapon or to make a statement,  or a sacrifice to draw attention;  l) don’t expose yourself – and by this sir, in this case, I’m referring to the mighty American Military presence.  This would needlessly put the hostage’s life in danger or trigger the subject’s “psychological reactance” ( i.e.  embarrassing him\her, in this case, so badly that he\she must retaliate to save face); m) plan the surrender – this is important as the surrender process is extremely dangerous.  You learned this by making an ill informed decision to assault and you may have caused the death of the foreign national.  We need to think carefully about what we want done and how we will communicate this to the subject.

With all due respect, deserving of a U.S. President, by taking responsibility for this decision you may have made a critical error sir (or was it Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense?). While it is tempting to make blanket suggestions, the above discussion illustrates how slight changes in circumstances can make a previously risk effective plan obsolete.  The rule of thumb for a professional Crisis Negotiator (with all due respect sir, I could be wrong, but I don’t think you are ) is to keep in mind, for surrender decisions, that safety and control are of prime importance.  I invite a reply.  I assure you it will be posted immediately for the critical review of a rapt RCMP audience among whom are some of the finest crisis negotiators in law enforcement.

To the readers of Re-sergeance, although the topic  addresses  an American issue (are you following the release of 7,000 pages on the alleged  CIA torture tactics post 911?), I thought this topic would be of interest.  I hope the article finds you well, and I wish you the Peace of the Season; in addition, I thank you very much for your readership, Re-sergeance continues to grow in numbers.

“Stand in the light, when you wish to speak out”.

Dr. Mike Webster, R. Psych.

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