Thursday, December 9, 2010

Does Torture Work?

We've watched it on TV, we know it all: you get caught, get dragged into the cellar, and they punch you, electrocute and plunge your head in water just to make you confess some crime you haven't commit.

Most of us believe that it really works--beating vital information out of a criminal could save lives. Well, if mutilating John Doe's penis is going to stop a bomb going off in my favourite football stadium then hand me the dagger.

But what if he isn't the one? Are we torturing someone for something he didn't commit? Human-rights activists are opposed to torture, and rightly so, or else why would they call themselves "human-rights activists"? =P

The strongest argument in favour of torture is the so called 'ticking bomb' scenario. Alan Dershowitz gave a good summary of it in the San Francisco Chronicle back in 2001:

Everybody says they're opposed to torture. But everyone would do it personally if they knew it could save the life of a kidnapped child who had only two hours of oxygen left before death. And it would be the right thing to do.

It's a compelling argument, until you start to look at the assumptions that you have to make to accept it. This argument assumes that:

a)You have the right person in custody

b)This person has the information you need

c)There isn't a better way of getting hold of the evidence

d)Torture is an effective way of getting that information.

Many in the military and intelligence communities seem unconvinced about the effectiveness of torture. Ali Soufan, a former FBI special agent with considerable experience interrogating al-Qaeda operatives, pointed out that:

When they are in pain, people will say anything to get the pain to stop. Most of the time, they will lie, make up anything to make you stop hurting them. That means the information you're getting is useless.
American soldiers torturing Iraqi P.O.W in Abu Ghraib Prison. Image:
And he's not alone. His words are echoed by the US Army Training Manual's section on interrogation, which suggests that:

…the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.
Why wouldn't torture work? Well, let's do some mental experiment here.

Suppose I start smacking your head, urging you to confess that Justin Bieber or Joe Brooks(Jocelyn Stemilyn I wonder whether you're reading this XD) are in fact two supremely talented artists. Eventually, despite taking several days of torture to get there, you'll tell me what I want to hear, but that doesn't make it true.

Secondly, the human memory could easily be distorted. Take a bunch of witnesses from any major news event: a bombing, 9/11, a car crash, wherever-the more people you interview, the more different stories you'll get, because our recall of past events isn't always very accurate. What worst is that most of us would include our personal preference into our memory, which makes it very unreliable and biased. On top of that, deprive the suspects of sleep, or put them under great stress, or otherwise confuse them would make a person's memory even less reliable-like you do with torture.

In spite of decades of use, and ample opportunity to gather statistics, there just isn't any scientific evidence beyond a few dubious anecdotes to show that torture works. Torture is an extreme method and could easily cause casualty, thus effectiveness of torture must be demonstrated to some reasonable degree.

The use of torture has to be justified, as I said, I am not completely against the usage of it. Enough said.


No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...