It's called the "Fear-Up Approach." Its point, as explained in a US Army interrogation training manual: exploiting prisoners' preexisting uneasiness to extract information.
It's even permissible to heighten these fears with play-acting - behaving in an overpowering manner, for instance, or throwing things around an interrogation room.
But "Fear-Up" is a gray area, says the manual. Great care must be taken not to violate bans on coercions and real threats.
Of the permissible questioning methods "this approach has the greatest potential to violate the law of war," concludes Intelligence Interrogation Manual FM 34-52.
As this example shows, even approved US military interrogation techniques can be far removed from lawyerly depositions.
Add inexperienced and scared US troops, confused chains of command, and the brutalizing effects of war, and the result is itself horrific: a scandal of US abuse of Iraqi prisoners that deepens by the day.
Some two weeks after the story first broke, the question remains: Why?
"At the very least, there was a total break down in oversight and in command responsibility," says retired Army Gen. John Reppert, security expert at the Marshall Center in Garmisch, Germany.
The full extent of alleged mistreatment of Iraqi detainees may not yet be known. The New Yorker magazine this week published new photos, including one of a naked Iraqi prisoner threatened by US military dogs. US lawmakers will leaf through yet-unprinted images in the next few days, in an effort to understand how widespread abuses were.
"How much can be made public remains to be seen," said Sen. John Warner (R) of Virginia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, in a broadcast interview on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has moved quickly to begin courts-martial of accused abusers. Spec. Jeremy Sivits, a member of the 372nd Military Police Company, will face a military court in the Baghdad Convention Center May 19.
Television cameras will not be allowed in the court, but a military spokesman said the proceedings would otherwise be fully open to media coverage. The speed of the trial's scheduling, plus indications that Mr. Sivits had perhaps reached a plea bargain with military authorities, indicated that the Pentagon was moving as quickly as possible to try to quiet outrage and get its story about what happened in front of the public.
To this point, the entire military chain of command, from President Bush on down, appears to have been caught off-guard by the seriousness of the abuse allegations.
"They miscalculated the severity of the problem and the reaction to the problem [in the rest of the world]," says Robert Pfaltzgraff, an international security expert at Tufts University's Fletcher School in Medford, Mass.
In the military ethos, this means that commanders share some culpability, say a number of former high-ranking officers. In the Navy, the captain of a ship can be held responsible for a navigation mishap that occurred while he was asleep. Perhaps no less should be true of Iraqi military prisons, say some analysts.
"I think the president ought to fire a three- or four-star general tomorrow," says Stansfield Turner, former director of the CIA and a retired Navy admiral.
Of course, the question of why the abuse occurred must start with the thinking of the guards and interrogators involved. More detail about what they were thinking will surely surface at their trials.
Many of the relatives of the accused have complained about lack of training, or proper preparation. Mechanics and clerks were suddenly lifted from day-to-day life in the US and plunged into a chaotic, and possibly dangerous prison - while commanders pushed hard for information to quash a deadly insurgency.
It's difficult to judge the validity of the no-training defense, says Mr. Reppert. "However, after a lifetime in uniform I find it difficult to believe that we have soldiers, active duty or reserve, who ... believe that the actions shown in these pictures could be acceptable," he says.
Still, the alleged abuses did take place in the context of an interrogation system that is a bit rougher than the one seen on television court dramas.
FM 34-52 is an old document, but one still used at the Army's intelligence school at Fort Huachucha, Ariz.
A copy of this manual obtained by the Monitor notes that none of the psychological techniques and principles it outlines should be construed as authorization for physical or mental torture.
Examples of prohibited mental torture include mock executions and abnormal sleep deprivation - two things alleged to have been used by US interrogators in Iraq.
The chapter on the interrogation process notes that the direct approach is the preferred method, particularly on lower enlisted personnel. In Desert Storm, this was 95 percent effective, says the manual.
But "the interrogator is under no duty to reduce a source's unjustified fear," notes the manual.
Under an approach labeled "Futility," interrogators are urged to make the detainee's situation appear hopeless.
"When employing this technique, the interrogators must ... be aware of and exploit the source's psychological, moral, and sociological weaknessess," says the training manual.