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This clip of the episode of The David Johnson Show features, Eric Maddox, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Baghdad interrogating members of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle, sharing some of the knowledge he gained in his role of interrogating prisoners.

“The prisoners would answer my questions, but I still wasn’t gaining any trust,” he says.  “I wasn’t getting cooperation. What I started to realize is that when I was talking to these prisoners, there were times they wanted to be more transparent. I started to realize, “Ah, it is me. It’s my behavior. It is my mindset.”

That’s when I start to realize, “Oh, my goodness, when I’m talking to a prisoner, if I can listen to them minus my biases, minus my goals, my objectives, my agenda of trying to get them to confess and gather actual intelligence, and just seek to understand them, that’s when I started to get transparency.” That’s where I got my first foothold into this technique.”

Watch Eric discuss this in the clip below. 

“The David Johnson Show” is a national voice that talks about points of interest in the American military and veteran subculture. Each show episode showcases a different guest with a different story. Sign up to get notified of new episodes at https://thedavidjohnsonshow.com and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Video Transcript:

David Johnson:  Let’s start with that. How do you even start then? You have a blank slate. You’re in Iraq, early days, not years and years and years of intelligence gathering, information gathering. How and where do you even start?

Eric Maddox:  The first thing you start with is your original training. You’re always told trust the training you received. As I’d use the Army techniques, I realized, “OK, I’ve done these correctly, they’re not going to work.”

David:  How soon did you realize that? That’s a key point, though. “The way I was trained is not going to work.” Was that in your first talk/discussion with somebody? When did that hit you?

Eric:  [laughs] It crossed my mind after my first two prisoners. After, I’m going to say, eight prisoners. I’m three days into this. I’m testing everything I knew to do. It wasn’t like I was getting close. This was not going to work.

For me, it was, “I don’t know a solution, but let’s quit getting stuck on the idea that maybe I just need to tweak the techniques.” I have to think of something completely different, completely out of the box.

David:  Without going into detail, what was some of the techniques you tried that you knew immediately wasn’t going to work?

Eric:  The basic interrogation techniques. The idea is that you’re going to sit in front of this prisoner. With conviction and authority, you’re going to make them think you know everything about them, and that under no circumstances are they going to talk their way out of this.

The idea, David, is you want to take away all hope. What I realized is that plausible deniability was hope. I realized, “Wait a second, that hope is actually the only way I can get them to talk.”

David:  Let’s touch on that then. You had to create a new strategy in your head? What was going through your mind? Like, “This isn’t working. What do I do?” How did you lead? We’re going to get into the nuts and bolts of this empathy based approach, which I really want to get into. What was the first steps when you started to realize this is not going to work? What did you do?

Eric:  David, the first was I just have to figure out how do I keep them talking. I don’t want to pretend that I came up with this grand idea. I did not know what to do. I said, “I’ve got to figure out who they are.” I would ask    and it’s just like you see on TV    the stupid questions about their family and life. I try to build rapport, just like you would see in the movies.

The prisoners would answer my questions, but I still wasn’t gaining any trust. I wasn’t getting cooperation. What I started to realize is that when I was talking to these prisoners, there were times they wanted to be more transparent. I started to realize, “Ah, it is me. It’s my behavior. It is my mindset.”

That’s when I start to realize, “Oh, my goodness, when I’m talking to a prisoner, if I can listen to them minus my biases, minus my goals, my objectives, my agenda of trying to get them to confess and gather actual intelligence, and just seek to understand them, that’s when I started to get transparency.” That’s where I got my first foothold into this technique.

David:  You said people want to open up. Was that because how you approached it, you’re a warm person, that’s just how human nature is? What does that mean?

Eric:  At the time, I didn’t realize it but it comes down to the fact that in all relationships, we use verbal communication to determine the level that we can trust an individual, regardless of the topic of conversation.

That interaction between two individuals, more than it is the transfer of information to either make better decisions or to influence, it’s our barometer determine how much can we trust this person.

David:  Would you say some of the prisoners felt they could trust you?

Eric:  It took a while. You can’t call this a level of trust of what you’re perceiving. The level of trust that it would build was this individual is at least seeking to understand my side of the story. That does not mean that I like them. That doesn’t mean we’re going to be friends or I’m going to try to break them out of prison.

To seek to understand somebody’s perspective, absent of your bias, is the level of trust people are trying to really want to acquire in a relationship.

David:  That’s probably point one then. Do you feel the detainees, the prisoners felt that you were truly trying to understand them as people, which maybe led to more trust?

Eric:  I wouldn’t describe it as to understand them as a person, understand the circumstances to which they’re in this situation at this moment in time. If you think about it, a prisoner doesn’t need me to understand their life. They need me to understand what’s going on right now. They’re people. They’re in prison. They’ve got a problem.

They don’t need me to understand what’s going on with their and aunt and…Like, “I need you to understand me right now.”

David:  Keep walking me through this then. Let’s go down this path of the story of catching Saddam. How did it even go down? You started catching up on these raids and…

David Johnson

Jaime Chapman is the COO and Co-Founder of the U.S. Military Spouse Chamber of Commerce, and the Founder & CEO of Begin Within, a staffing agency on a mission to place U.S. military spouses in “careers” and not jobs. She created the Military Spouse Center of Excellence™ consulting program to teach companies how to hire, retain and promote military spouses in the workplace. She has placed over 1,600 jobseekers in careers, creating an approximate economic impact totaling over over $112 million. Jaime has achieved recognition for:
#1 Military Spouse Owned Business Overall Award by Military and Veteran’s Choice in September 2019 at the Military Influencer Conference in DC.
2020 Armed Forces Insurance US Army Garrison Wiesbaden Military Spouse of the Year Award.
Jaime served in the Army for 6-years, and is an active duty Army spouse, hooah! She is a proud career and employment advocate for the military spouse community, actively working to reduce the 24% military spouse unemployment rate through advocacy, consulting, and staffing. She is a boy mom of two young boys, and “manimal” mom of a mean black rescue cat named Vader, and an Irish Wolfhound named Wally weighing in at over 150lbs.

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