A friend of mine linked me today an article at the Guardian, covering WikiLeaks’ latest batch of releases, which cover Gitmo. The article is a swell summary of what’s going on at Gitmo. One line in particular caught my eye: "The range of those still held captive includes detainees who have been admittedly tortured so badly they can never be successfully tried[.]"
Before I even touch the moral implications of torture, let’s cover the topic from a more utilitarian angle by asking does torture work?
The answer, as it turns out, is no. Torture does not work. Not from a moral point of view, but simply from an efficacy point of view. Torture is grossly ineffective at acquiring accurate information. Studies based on reports by French torturers between 1500-1750 indicated that 3-14% of suspects cracked under torture. Grats, torture, you’re disgustingly ineffectively. Worse, you create enemies.
If I punch you in the gut several times, are you going to think I’m a good guy? Are you going to tell your friends I’m a good guy? The price of torture even when effective is paid in soft power amongst the people, the most important kind of power in modern operations. If the people won’t cooperate in a broader sense, because you tortured their friends and families, it undermines you in the long run. You can crush them under your heel today, but you will have poisoned diplomacy for generations to come.
What if the people never find out that you’ve been tortured? Well golly, the hell are we going to do with you then? Detain you forever? That sets a great precedent amongst the ranks who know about the abuse: not only can we break people in half in a lazy attempt to gather information, but once it’s over, we just throw you in a hole whether or not we got what we needed. Great!
That’s assuming torture works to extract useful information, which we are proper sure it does not, outside of very rare cases. Even the US Army Training Manual’s section on interrogation states, "…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." Militaries across history have concluded torture is shitty-as-balls for extracting information. The Japanese handbook on the stuff during WWII said as much, indicating that torture is not to be used for interrogation, only for intimidation. That’s reasonable: torture is fucking scary, so using it to scare people follows logically. Even the goddamn Gestapo avoided torture as much as possible until towards the end, when the war had claimed numerous senior and experienced officers, leaving only young and inexperienced recruits to the job. Why go through the complex job of building relationships with communities (thereby fomenting voluntary informants and sources for public tips) when you can just shout and wave a whip?
To beat a dead horse, say you have just enough time to torture some information out of someone before a plane blows up, or somesuch. Assuming that you’re torturing the right guy and he knows what you need to know, you still only have a 14% probability in actually getting that information out of him at best. That’s an 86% chance he tells you nothing, or worse, the wrong information, meaning the plane still blows up and you’ve just physically and psychologically abused another human being senselessly.
Justifying torture for information extraction is absolute nonsense.