Now that I have your attention, let me say "Okay, it CAN work."

I'm not arguing here that torture always works or that it should be the first resort. That in some cases it is reprehensible is beyond doubt. I'm just saying that the notion that it never works simply doesn't pass the giggle test.

Let's take a hypothetical example:

The President (don't think of a particular one) hears that the CIA has gotten wind of a major attack on one of America's major cities, as yet unidentified. Their primary handle on the attack is a man they have very good reason to believe built a biological weapon around the Marburg hemorrhagic fever virus, genetically changing it to delay the onset of symptoms and making about 1/4 of those infected asymptomatic carriers. They have him in custody.

There are two worries. Of course, there's the deaths of perhaps 25% of the population, but the contagion could devastate the American economy first, and then the world's, for there would be no way to contain it. 

One additional consideration, there are also strong indications that they have only two days to figure out where the virus will be released and the identity of the person releasing it. 

Now, if I were President, I suppose I have two choices. I could try all kinds of mental jiu-jitsu to get him to give up the goods or I could tell the CIA "Do what ya gotta do. We need results fast."

Now, torture needn't involve the direct affliction of pain or proximate terror. It can appeal to more nebulous psychological fears. For example, it could involve threatening his wife and children. They might start off by showing him evidence they've already punctuated the threat by killing his 12 year old son just to show they mean business (the "death" could have been staged, of course, but he needn't know that). 

Anyway, in starkly practical terms, what form of interrogation might work better? Truth serum (that's more a reality in the movies than in real life). Hypnosis? Don't make me laugh.

Tags: torture

Views: 344

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Torture works

Does it? I wonder.

It's not like the CIA has no information available on the effectiveness of torture as a means of getting useful intelligence. For instance, they spent three years and $40 million reviewing millions of internal documents to produce a report on the subject for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2012. The report has not been made public, but the Senate concluded that the CIA lied to them about the effectiveness of torture (presumably so the CIA could continue using it).

SSCI Chair Senator Dianne Feinstein said the report "uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight" and that "the creation of long-term, clandestine 'black sites' and the use of so-called 'enhanced-interrogation techniques' were terrible mistakes."

It has been widely reported in the media that the report found the CIA misled not only Congress, but also the Justice Department and President George W. Bush about the "effectiveness" of torture methods such as waterboarding, shackling in painful positions, and slamming detainees against walls. The report apparently concluded that these methods did not help locate Osama bin Laden or thwart any terrorist plots, and were in fact counterproductive.
(Source: ACLU)

It's not difficult to imagine the counterproductive aspect. Say, for instance, your captors are waterboarding you, or have just convinced you that they have killed your child. Give them false information so they stop the torture and subsequently waste time and resources following up on your bogus lead.

Misleading them will be especially damaging if the interrogator needs results fast. Or worse, if the subject really has surrendered everything he knows and is incapable of producing anything but deception (just to make the torture stop).

Are you attempting to derail this post into the "CIA lied to Congress" area because you know deep in your heart that torture can and has on many occasions actually produced important life-saving information?

If you want to talk about CIA lies regarding torture, why not start a thread about that?

My point isn't that it always works, but that it sometimes works and in some cases there may be no real alternative. In fact, I said so:

I'm not arguing here that torture always works or that it should be the first resort. That in some cases it is reprehensible is beyond doubt. I'm just saying that the notion that it never works simply doesn't pass the giggle test.

Be honest with yourself, there must be something an interrogator would do that would force you to give them the information they want. 

Are you attempting to derail this post into the "CIA lied to Congress" area

Your post is about torture. I'm challenging your premise that torture is effective: "torture works". That's not a derail, that's entirely to the point.

because you know deep in your heart that torture can and has on many occasions actually produced important life-saving information?

I haven't cited the depths of my heart as a source of information. I cited a $40 million report-- based on a review of millions of CIA documents-- that assesses the effectiveness of torture as a means of producing important information.

The US Senate Intelligence Committee says the CIA report concludes that torture produced no such information and that torture was often counterproductive.

I'm not arguing here that torture always works or that it should be the first resort. That in some cases it is reprehensible is beyond doubt. I'm just saying that the notion that it never works simply doesn't pass the giggle test.

I understand that's what you're saying. However, if you believe what the United States Senate is saying about the CIA report, the giggle test result is counterintuitive: the CIA torture foiled no terrorist plots. None. Not on any occasion.

Be honest with yourself, there must be something an interrogator would do that would force you to give them the information they want.

If there were innocent lives at stake-- such as in the scenario you suggested-- and I thought torture would work, then I'd say beat the information out of the terrorist bastard. What I question is the premise that torture works: that pain will illicit truth.

The information we have casts doubt on this notion. And if torture is self-defeating, then should it not be avoided?

It's worth noting that torture is neither a new approach, nor a new subject of research. The conclusion of the CIA report builds upon the conclusions of similar research that has come before it:

"...although there is no valid scientific research to back the conclusion most professionals believe that pain, coercion, and threats are counterproductive to the elicitation of good information. The authors cite a number of psychological and behavioral studies to buttress the argument, but are forced to return to the statement: 'more research is necessary.' (p. xix-xx)."

From Ugly Truth: Sometimes torture works:

...(W)here did the CIA learn the identity of (Bin Laden's) courier? And the answer, we now know, is from victims of some of the most brutal interrogations of the CIA and its allies:

• The first mention of Ahmed the Kuwaiti came from a young al Qaida member held at Guantánamo named Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Slahi, before giving up the name, was tortured so grievously — beaten, deprived of sleep, exposed to extreme heat and cold, and threatened with the arrest of his mother — that the U.S. Marine colonel assigned to prosecute his case before a military commission quit.

• Slahi didn’t offer much more about Ahmed the Kuwaiti except that he existed. (Or had — Slahi thought he was dead.) But the next Guantánamo prisoner to talk offered much more: that Ahmed was a member of bin Laden’s inner circle and sometimes functioned as his courier. That disclosure came after the prisoner, al Qaeda militant Mohammed al-Qahtani, was interrogated 20 hours a day for 48 straight days, subjected to a mock execution, forced to perform dog tricks, drugged and given enemas until he hallucinated. His treatment was so brutal that the Pentagon decided it couldn’t prosecute him, even though he was scheduled to be one of the hijackers on Sept. 11.

• Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the principal architect of the Sept. 11 attacks, also confessed to knowing Ahmed the Kuwaiti at some point during the 183 waterboardings given him by U.S. interrogators. But Mohammed insisted that Ahmed was an unimportant member of al Qaeda and had left the group years before. The CIA knew he was lying — by that time, Ahmed the Kuwaiti’s senior status in al Qaeda had been widely confirmed — but found the attempted deceit even more interesting than the truth. They must be getting close to something important, the CIA trackers concluded.

• Ahmed the Kuwaiti’s real name — Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed — was finally supplied in 2004 by a bin Laden aide caught slipping into Kurdish territory with bomb-making documents. In the TV documentaryManhunt, one of the CIA’s trackers is asked what the Kurds did to make the aide, Hassan Ghul, talk. She just offers a sly smile that slowly broadens in a Cheshire-cat grin.

Once the CIA had Ahmed the Kuwaiti’s real name, it was able to zero in on his cellphone, his vehicle and the Pakistani compound where he lived with a tall, mostly-unseen man who would eventually prove to be bin Laden — a process that took another seven years. Torture may not have led U.S. forces right to bin Laden’s front door, but it surely pointed the way to the first steps.

The Miami Herald article you're quoting came out in May 2013: well before the story about the CIA report broke. Congress says the CIA report admits torture had little or nothing to do with getting intelligence of value against al-Qaeda. The report is not public so it depends on who you believe: Congress or the CIA.

"Officials said millions of records make clear that the CIA’s ability to obtain the most valuable intelligence against al-Qaeda — including tips that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011 — had little, if anything, to do with “enhanced interrogation techniques. [...] The CIA conflated what was gotten when, which led them to misrepresent the effectiveness of the program,” said a second U.S. official who has reviewed the report. The official described the persistence of such misstatements as among “the most damaging” of the committee’s conclusions."
[Source]

The Miami Herald article you're quoting came out in May 2013: well before the story broke about the CIA report broke. Congress says the CIA report admits torture had little or nothing to do with getting intelligence of value against al-Qaeda. The report is not public so it depends on who you believe: Congress or the CIA.

A tough choice, I admit (Congressmen or CIA officials). However, I only have to think isn't there SOME valuable information that could be extracted from me once they strap my feet into a balogna slicer or poke out one of my eyes?

Then there's the fact that our own troops aren't expect to never break under torture.

The evidence shows that, far from it never working, it sometimes does work. That doesn't make it right, necessarily, but the notion that it never works is clearly a myth.

Maybe it doesn't work well most of the time, but what if there are no other options and time is of the essence?

This article lays out the role torture played in finding Bin Laden. Was it worth it just to find a pathetic man restricted to an obscure building in Pakistan? Perhaps not. But my contention is only that it sometimes works, not that it always works or that it's the right thing to do, but to say that it never works is nuts. Few things in real life are that absolute.

Tellingly, American military members are instructed that it's not treason to break under torture, though of course they are expected to start with drib and drabs of the least crucial data, giving their military leaders a chance to weigh the fact that their plans may have been compromised and to make adjustments.

The evidence shows that, far from it never working, it sometimes does work. That doesn't make it right, necessarily, but the notion that it never works is clearly a myth.

As I've been trying to explain, the evidence you're citing was fabricated, Unseen. Since that time the CIA has admitted to Congress it persistently misrepresented torture as a means for obtaining useful intelligence:

"The report, built around detailed chronologies of dozens of CIA detainees, documents a long-standing pattern of unsubstantiated claims as agency officials sought permission to use — and later tried to defend — excruciating interrogation methods that yielded little, if any, significant intelligence, according to U.S. officials who have reviewed the document. The CIA described [its program] repeatedly both to the Department of Justice and eventually to Congress as getting unique, otherwise unobtainable intelligence that helped disrupt terrorist plots and save thousands of lives,” said one U.S. official briefed on the report. “Was that actually true? The answer is no.” [Source]

It would be accurate to say torture almost never worked in the cases where the CIA used it.

This article lays out the role torture played in finding Bin Laden.

"Officials said millions of records make clear that the CIA’s ability to obtain the most valuable intelligence against al-Qaeda — including tips that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011 — had little, if anything, to do with “enhanced interrogation techniques.” [Source]

Maybe it doesn't work well most of the time, but what if there are no other options and time is of the essence?  Was it worth it just to find a pathetic man restricted to an obscure building in Pakistan? Perhaps not. But my contention is only that it sometimes works, not that it always works or that it's the right thing to do, but to say that it never works is nuts. Few things in real life are that absolute.

I accept that torture may work in producing truthful intelligence in some cases, but if these cases are rare and unreliable, and in most cases the results are counterproductive, I don't see how torture can be considered useful.

This is purely a matter of pragmatism, totally aside from being "right" or "wrong", as I'm willing to set that debate aside to stop a major terrorist attack against a US city, for instance.

What about sophisticated methods like fMRI scanners that can spot a lie as it forms in the brain? Surely a superpower like the United States can do better than rubber hoses and waterboards.

"(don't think of a particular one)." Riiiiiight.

Torture certainly seems to work on those that don't know that torture doesn't work.

Your scenario is the stuff of Hollywood and is extremely improbable, thus it wouldn't justify torture as a norm. I don't know of one such extreme case like that in the real world.  If there were more common occurrences of your scenario then your argument might hold more water.

To reiterate, this thread isn't about whether torture is ever justified. I'm saying it has to work at least sometimes.

My argument is this: to say that it never works defies common sense and can't possibly be true. It's like saying tossing heads 10 times in a row is impossible because most times it doesn't happen.

But with torture, there may be circumstances indicating a higher degree of success. Or, it may be the only option left.

Anyway, there certainly are cases, however few, when it has yielded important information that saved lives or helped win a battle. 

RSS

Blog Posts

The tale of the twelve officers

Posted by Davis Goodman on August 27, 2014 at 3:04am 0 Comments

Birthday Present

Posted by Caila Rowe on August 26, 2014 at 1:29am 3 Comments

Services we love!

We are in love with our Amazon

Book Store!

Gadget Nerd? Check out Giz Gad!

Advertise with ThinkAtheist.com

In need a of a professional web site? Check out the good folks at Clear Space Media

© 2014   Created by umar.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service