Thursday, September 06, 2007

Torture, part 1

Over at The Atlantic, Matthew Yglesias points out something that should have been obvious to even the dimmest among us: torture simply doesn't work for gathering intelligence except in fantasy land. 350 years ago, Hobbes pointed out that when you torture people, they tell you lies that might make you stop torturing them.

The myth of tortures effectiveness is understandable: the angry ape inside all of us might very well like the idea of ripping terrorists' fingernails out, and if you can save lives by stopping crimes before they happen by indulging in your sadistic fantasies, all the better.

But who do you want fighting the war on terror -- an angry ape, or an intelligent, sensible, calm and collected human being? I'll even go further: when it comes to a choice between having interrogators who know how to perform "waterboarding" and interrogators who actually speak the prisoners' language, my choice is the diametric opposite of that of the Bush administration.

Yglesias explains:

So in summary, what they've hit upon is a protocol based on the best practices developed by Soviet and medieval torturers alike to accomplish torture's traditional goal -- the extraction of false confessions -- and seem to have wound up with a bunch of false confessions. Which, of course, is precisely what you'd expect to wind up with if you thought for a minute about why governments have, historically, resorted to the systemic deployment of torture.


Tootsie's Mom said...

Torture has historically neither been a totally reliable method of gathering intelligence nor an infallible deterrence for certain antisocial behaviors. That having been said, torture or even the threat of it will definitely keep 95% of the population in line (including me). As for the remaing 5%, they are incorrigible and should be eliminated from the gene pool anyway. I really love the quote from the 1960s Brando film Mutiny on the Bounty in which Captain Bligh (portrayed by the flawless actor Trevor Howard) said (which BTW Bligh never said historically) "Cruelty with a purpose is not cruelty. It is efficiency." Amen to that!

Vlad the Impala said...

Maybe torture will keep 95% of people in line, but 90% of them would have stayed in line regardless of the threat of torture or not. And out of the remaining 5%, how many will have been pushed to disobedience by the injustice of torture?

There are many countries which use torture, and many which do not. Has society broken down in torture-free Sweden, Japan and Belgium? Is there more or less crime in torture-using Egypt and Uzbekistan or torture-free Canada and New Zealand?

When you answer that question, don't forget to include government crimes as well as street crimes.

As for the 5% incorrigibles... they were the ones who risked torture and death to hide Jews from the Nazis, or protested the inequalities of Russia under the Czars, or fought for democracy and freedom behind the Iron Curtain, or merely stood up to the drug dealers in Columbia. I think that rather than eliminating such people from the gene pool, we need more of them.