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First Person Personal

My personal views on a variety of matters ranging from popular culture to quantum physics to religion to politics to history to bushido to ... well, whatever I feel like, really. Warning: we all have agendas. Trust no one totally, myself most specifically included. Email me at wbrerwolf at gmail.com

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Torture, Part One - I'm against it.

I, personally, am of the old school on torture.

I do not believe that torture works well enough to justify the costs involved.

Now, let’s say that you are in an interrogation room and the interrogator is breaking your fingers until you tell him what he wants to know. Do you tell him the truth, no matter how unpleasant or unbelievable he might find it, or do you come up with a plausible lie? Remember that Galileo told the Inquisition what they wanted to hear. You’d be surprised at how good you can be at sucking up to someone who can run an electric current through your genitals.

What if you don’t know the answers to the questions the torturer is asking you? The torturer obviously thinks you know something, so if you say “I don’t know”, he’s only going to think that you’re resisting, so he will step up the pressure. Eventually, you come up with an acceptable lie. Senator John McCain, a man who was actually tortured during the Vietnam war confirms this.

Let’s say you do know something and tell it to the torturer. Many torturers assume that you know more than you are telling and try to get more information out of you by continuing the torture. Sooner or later, you run out of things to tell him and you have to start feeding him plausible lies. The French used continuing torture in Vietnam and this was cited by Robert McNamara in his book ARGUMENT WITHOUT END as a reason why Vietnamese prisoners uniformly refused to talk while in custody, regardless of whether or not they had ties to the Viet Minh.

Suppose that they ask you for your collaborators, your fellow conspirators. Perhaps you give them up, perhaps you simply throw out names, more or less at random. Very likely there are at least a few people that you’d pay to have tortured, just to settle some old scores. So the torturers drag in the people you have named and work them over. Some of them know things that the torturer wants to know, some do not. Quite a lot of what the torturers get from these people are lies.

So torture produces quite a lot of bad information, possibly enough to actually interfere with the information gathering process. Crosschecking with other sources can eliminate bad information, which is a time consuming and manpower intensive process. Still, this is part of the normal verification process, so in and of itself, this is not a problem. But what if the person you are torturing is the only source you have? Is he lying or is he giving you vital information? This is, of course, a general problem with intelligence gathering, but I contend that information obtained through torture only exacerbates the problem.

Further, torture produces other bad effects.

Firstly, whom do you torture?

Do you torture only terrorists who are believed to have vital information? How about torturing anyone who is a terrorist and hoping that some of them know something important? How about torturing people who might be terrorists? How about the friends and relatives of suspected terrorists? How about foreign nationals who are not actively harming anyone but instead organizing mass protests against your country’s polices? How about torturing citizens of your own country, obviously traitors or fellow travelers, who are likewise protesting your country’s policies to see what links, if any, exist between them and various terror organizations? How about people you or someone in a position of power just don’t like very much? As a little bit of thought will reveal, once you start torturing someone, it is a very small step to torturing anyone.

And even if “proper” targets are selected for interrogation by torture, there are other side effects. Let’s say that you have Achmed in custody and are persuading him to talk with a bit of light torture. Nothing too serious, just interfering with his sleep, preventing him from bathing, causing him to miss his religious observances, giving him food he finds to be unclean, perhaps a bit of sexual humiliation by a female guard.

You know: head games.

Let’s further assume that you run the first absolutely leak proof operation in human history, that no one outside your authorized circle knows who you have, where they are or what you are doing with them.

But Achmed and his fellow prisoners did not come out of a vacuum. They have friends, family, neighbors and comrades who are wondering what happened to them. Human nature being what it is, if they do not know what has happened to Achmed, they start making things up. Probably they end up by accusing you of doing worse things than you are actually doing. Further, since you are running a leak proof operation, any missing person is considered to be in your prison, regardless of whether they are or not.

So the foreign populace becomes increasingly upset with you. People who had neutral or friendly attitudes towards you become hostile. They may not decide to take up arms against you, but they do become increasingly willing to work against you and your cause and increasingly unwilling to cooperate with you. Those who already are hostile to you become increasingly fanatical and desperate to strike back in revenge or they fight to the death to avoid being taken to your camps. Suicide attacks become more common.

You are now faced with some very unpleasant alternatives. You can stonewall and watch as enemy propaganda accuses you of everything up to and including running death camps. You can parade a select group of prisoners in front of the camera, tell them what to say and hope that they look more convincing than the American POWs in Vietnam looked when they were talking about how well they were being treated in the Hanoi Hilton. Or you can open up your prisons and interrogation procedures to the scrutiny of some impartial third party such as the Red Cross or Amnesty International and deal with the political fallout involved by promising – and delivering – major reforms. Or you can blame all of this on people low in the chain of command exceeding their authority and making them into scapegoats. Military morale and initiative plummet. Or you can kill everyone in the prisons, destroy the corpses, and deny that you ever had anyone there. This last would be particularly bad for military morale as the guards and staff would probably consider themselves to be next on the list to be disappeared as possible embarrassments to the State. Further, you have established a government policy of mass murder, a policy that is almost certain to be eventually revealed.

Such things would be very bad for us domestically. Earlier civilizations could shrug off human rights violations as part of the cost of empire and not worry about them very much. We, however, like to think of ourselves as “the good guys”. As a matter of definition, good guys do not resort to torture and mass murder. If we torture prisoners, it becomes increasingly difficult to think of ourselves as being the heroes. This could make our government increasingly unpopular as happened during the Vietnam era. I very seriously doubt that we would find ourselves in open revolt over such matters. However, I would anticipate an increase in cynicism along with an overall reduction in morale.

I don’t want to be a citizen of the new Evil Empire.

I don’t think that many Americans do.


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