A Clarification On The Miranda-Free Interrogations, And The ‘High Value Detainee Interrogation Group’ In ‘Patriots Day’

In my review of Patriots Day yesterday, I discussed a few points of the story that seemed slightly vague or ambiguous in the movie, such as the interrogation of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s widow, Katherine Russell. In the movie, it wasn’t entirely clear who the agency in charge was, and there was a slightly opaque discussion of Miranda rights.

Since then, a studio representative sent a few clarifications (which was nice). Here’s the statement:

The interview with Katherine Russell was diligently researched — the justice department/White House called in HIG [the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group] – to handle the Quarles interviews of Katherine and Dzhokhar.

Based on our research, both Katherine and Dzhokhar’s initial interviews were done as Quarles interviews, which is the legal term for non-Miranda protected interviews where the suspect in custody may have information regarding an imminent threat to public safety. In this situation, the police/FBI do not have to mirandize the subject before interrogation and, in Boston we’ve heard they specifically radioed to [the Boston Police Department] that anyone who came in contact with the wife or Dzhokhar was to hold them in place and not mirandize. In both the case of Dzhokhar and Katherine, that interview was considered a national security interview and neither were allowed to be used for prosecution.

Here’s a little more about the HIG, or the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, from the FBI:

The High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or the HIG, is a cooperative effort between the FBI, the CIA, the Department of Defense, and other government agencies. […]

Mobile Interrogation Teams, or MITs, are deployed worldwide at a moment’s notice to lawfully conduct interrogations with those who have information that will help the U.S. identify and thwart terror attacks and emerging threats. MITs use interrogation techniques derived from the HIG’s scientific research program.

As for Quarles interviews, the gist is that in 1980, the Supreme Court ruled that there was an exception to Miranda if the interrogation involved an imminent risk of public safety, which was the assumption operating in the Katherine Russell and Dzokhar Tsarnaev interviews.

As for my review, it wasn’t so much the depiction that I questioned, it was the movie’s endorsement, which is certainly up for interpretation. For me, it’s telling that the part of the Russell interview that most feels like artistic license, like when Russell asks about her rights and the interrogator says, “Honey, you ain’t got shit,” which is in most of the trailers and marketing, is structured like an applause line. Like we’re supposed to be going, “Woohoo! F*ck her rights, USA! USA!” (A second later, the interrogator, who had told Russell she was born in a refugee camp, took off the hijab she’d been wearing, which I wasn’t sure how to interpret. Was the interrogator lying? Was she even a Muslim?)

Peter Berg says he wants the movie to “spread a message of love,” and maybe that’s true and he believes that, but to me it feels like that message is drowned out by all the tough guy, “You messed with the wrong city” vengeance stuff, which is the part all the marketing seems to lean on most heavily. Chalk it up to inertia, maybe, that’s essentially the message we’ve been sending since 9/11. Again, it’s up for interpretation. But like the mirror image of Meryl Streep’s Golden Globe speech, the fact that most of Patriots Day is pretty good and well done feels like it matters less on balance than the smaller part of it that simply restates some of the same harmful old bullshit with an uncritical eye. It showed itself capable of being better, so maybe it’s that much more frustrating when it’s not.