Bringing The Case In... By Force

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

The Justice Department identified government scientist Bruce Ivins as the man responsible for the anthrax attacks that killed five people in 2001 — but he took his own life before he could be charged. His lawyer has insisted that not only was he innocent, but that it's possible it was the pressure of the investigation that drove him to suicide. Pressure like following Ivins, searching his home, interrogating his family — even showing his kids pictures of the anthrax victims. Tough stuff, but all legal. A previous suspect, Steven Hatfill, was subjected to even more relentless tactics — and eventually agreed he was paid millions to settle a lawsuit. Today, we're looking at the ethical boundaries of such investigations — it's just tough tactics when pressure is applied to a guilty person, but it's harassment when an innocent, like Hatfill, is subjected to them. Where's the line?



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

What about Bob Stevens - the only person to die from anthrax.

He lived in the same town as two of the hijackers when they were going to flight school. Bob Steven's Boss's wife RENTED and apartment to the high jackers whil they were in school..

how about relationship.
WHY would Irvin send anthrax to Stevens?
How would he know about him?

ask yourselves that question.

and why is none of this brought up?

Sent by joe magner | 2:17 PM | 8-14-2008

An earlier callere tried to convince your listeners that there are adequate safeguards in place to restrain law enforcement tactics. In the 1980s and early 1990s, there was a national rash of false accusations and arrests involving (often satanic) sex abuse in daycare centers. I'd like to hear your guest comment on that situation.

Sent by Michael Sloothaak (Sloot- hak) | 2:22 PM | 8-14-2008

What about people who are wrongly accused of a crime, but due to circumstantial evidence and threats of long sentences, innocent people accept a shorter sentence and are coerced into jail.

Sent by Sandra | 2:28 PM | 8-14-2008

Is the media comfortable that the suspect's death was suicidal? Who benefited from his death?

Sent by Lloyd | 2:29 PM | 8-14-2008

Like with the bombing of the Federal Building, and the exceedingly speedy exacution of McVeigh, we will not never really know the whole story with the Anthrax attacks.

Most of us are not convinced that the death of the main suspect is where this act began and ended.

Truth be told, with all the examples of government courruption, law enforcment abuses of the constitution and the repeated reports of courruption in our Justice Department, Like so many, we simply dont know what to believe

Sent by VIc | 2:30 PM | 8-14-2008

What about the washington post story from yesterday that claims the Police are using GPS tracking devices on cars even without warrants, that's absolutely going to far.

What about Steve Kurtz, who was threatened with Bioterrorism charges for mailing harmless bacteria through the mail, charged with mail fraud, and all charges dropped eventually. How is any of this not over the top?

Sent by Nate in slc | 2:30 PM | 8-14-2008

Many years ago when I was a young adult, about 19 years old, I called an agency about a payment that was expected. They checked and found that the check had been sent and cashed. I didn't cash it, so they reported it and it eventually ended up with the FBI. Their investigation began by accusing me of cashing the check and then reported it stolen. Their methods were so oppressive that now, 50 years later, I would not willingly report anything to the FBI. I'm even suspicous of police (I never seem to get the nice cops that are portrayed in dramas).
I underestand the urge to make a false confession just to get the questioner out of my face. (This occurred before the Miranda rights were implemented in our justice system.)

Sent by Jeanne S. Robinson | 2:32 PM | 8-14-2008

What happens when tough methods are used on someone innocent?

What do you do to the damage that has been done to someone innocent?

This sounds so much like what the authoritarian governments did that I was taught about when i was young. this is what i was taught the soviets did. have we become the soviets? what happened to innocent before proven guilty?
why does your whole program sound like they have convicted some one before trial?

Sent by joe magner | 2:35 PM | 8-14-2008

Its so easy to say "remain quiet" when told you have the right to remain silent, but when the interrogator repeatedly drills into you that your spouce, children, friends or wintesses are going to implecate you (even though they are not) forces people to have to talk.

The police often lie to people to solicit a response which often causes a false response.

How is it acceptable for an interrigator to lie and against the law for a person being questioned to.

Working for a local police department, I have seen MANY examples of people accepting responsibility for a crime they didnt commit because of heavy handed interrogation tequniques.

Sent by Rex | 2:37 PM | 8-14-2008

The Day After, with Jason Robards (I think) scared the begesus out of me for years.

Sent by Theo Swain | 2:55 PM | 8-14-2008

i seen and heard from many people how police would bring up and charge people to tell them want they wanted to hear about a case, and when people refused to lie to the police, they were thrown in jail, harassed, and at times ruffed up.

or i seen police make up mutiple charges that u have to hire a lawyer to show there false, to get people to admit that there did something both the police and them know there didnt do or say someone else has done so.

Sent by michael | 3:13 PM | 8-14-2008

sadly police use even worst tatics and get away with them every day, but only comes to light when a actually good officer,lawyer, or someone with a camara catches them doing so.

Sent by michael | 3:15 PM | 8-14-2008

What a frightening segment of TOTN. I'm still amazed that your guest said no one thinks of the police as their friend and that we should all teach our children to remain silent because they have that right. I am old (and maybe naive enough) to teach my children that the primary function of the police is to serve and protect.

Sent by Ramona | 3:44 PM | 8-14-2008

I was saddened by the tone of the guests and some of the callers on today's program about criminal investigation. I am also surprised by Mr. Conan's "softball" questions and responses.
One investigator actually laughed when asked if his aggressive investigation had ever hurt an innocent suspect.
Another statement accused a victim (Hatfill) of creating his own problems by proclaiming his innocence.
Leaving aside my outrage at this sort of Orwellian logic, I would like to pose a practical question that possibly someone from the law enforcement community could answer.
What is an acceptable level of the "collateral damage" that is caused by a misdirected investigation? While I understand that the reality of investigation is considerably more "gray" than discussing it in the abstract, these kinds of responses seem to suggest a rather Machiavellian attitude toward investigative outcomes
I want to believe the guest's statement that police never knowingly go after the wrong person. Once they have made a decision, however, it often seems they willfully ignore any evidence to the contrary.
Even those of us inclined to appreciate and be supportive of the role that police play in our society, might be forgiven for being a little cynical when we see how often video and DNA evidence seem to not support, or even completely negate, the official narrative.

Sent by Jim, CH | 3:52 PM | 8-14-2008

I can say with certainty that I wasted 40 minutes of my day listening to Talk of the Nation today. I kept waiting for the topic of the ethics of interrogation to be addressed.

Instead I heard law enforcement defending tactics that I find to be morally repugnant (your guests referred to them as 'nuances" -- how sanitary of you).

This was truly NOT a discussion of the ethics of interrogation methods.

I wish I had listened to "Fresh Air" instead.

Sent by Carol Montgomery | 4:01 PM | 8-14-2008

I heard on the program that one of your guests wrote a book entitled, "Police Procedures and Investigations." Who is the author? Thanks, as I want to buy the book.

Sent by Jacque Delgadillo | 7:13 PM | 8-14-2008

Ignorance is bliss. Personally I do have a lack of faith in our government's ethics. But on the other other hand, do we really want to know all of countries dirty secrets?

Whether it be witholding information about investigations of large federal cases or interrogation of suspected terrorists, I would rather not know the horrid secrets that our nation keeps locked away.

Sent by Scott | 2:34 AM | 8-15-2008

Jim - I was one of the guests on the show and I certainly don't recall laughing about police tactics hurting an innocent suspect. I wouldn't have done so intentionally. In fact, I would never dream of hurting anyone, including a guilty suspect, unless there was absolutely no way to avoid doing so.

I've served many search warrants in my day, many of them very high-risk, and I've always stressed safety first, including the safety of the criminal suspects. We also did everything humanly possible to serve those warrants when the least number of innocent people would be in the area. We also attempted to preserve the dignity of anyone involved in the arrest of service of the warrant.

When officers kick in those doors they never know what to expect on the other side (Believe me, I'd prefer not to do things this way. It's dangerous). In those situations, officers don't know who's an innocent bystander and who's the criminal. I've even seen young children armed with automatic weapons.

Until officers can sort out the good from the bad they have to assume the worst for everyone's safety. I've seen the wrong end of a knife (I've got the scars to prove it), and I've been shot at. It's very frightening.

Unfortunately, there are bad apples in every bunch. Yes, there are cops who take things to the limit and beyond. I do not approve of those shady and harmful tactics.

Carol - I'd really love to know which tactics we discussed that you found repugnant.

Jacque - I'm the author of Police Procedure and Investigation. My book is available at all the usual online outlets and bookstores.

Sandra - I'm with you all the way. That's a tactic I definitely do not agree with and would never use it if could. By th way, the tactics you mentioned are not police tactics. Police officers do not have the power to enter into any type of agreement with a criminal suspect or defendant. That's something only a prosecutor can do.

With that said, I urge everyone to please stay safe, and for goodness sake exercise your right to remain silent if you're ever placed in a situation where you're sitting in front of a police detective. You'll have plenty of time later to answer questions, if necessary, after you've spoken to your attorney.

Sent by Lee Lofland | 8:27 PM | 8-15-2008

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from