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January 07, 2005

"Torture Produces Nothing But Lies"

A lot of commenters and emailers object to the use of torture -- or non-torture coercion -- because, they claim, it produces nothing but lies.

I think this is a rather silly statement. It produces nothing but lies? Always? It never is useful in extracting truthful information? How do we know this?

Isn't it the case that our own military expects our soldiers to break eventually under torture, but tries to get them to at least hold off on spilling anything important for 48 hours or so, after which point, hopefully, their information will now be stale and operationally useless (or at least less useful)?

Furthermore, the fact that coercion may produce a lot of lies is hardly a reason to say it's useless. All interrogations, including non-coercive police interrogations of common criminals, produce 90% lies.

Are people saying we should abandon station-house questioning of common criminals just because they lie so much?

Lies are useful. Criminals get caught in lies, and then must change their stories; sometimes they eventually tell the truth. And sometimes detectives can figure out what the truth is, simply by the sorts of lies of they're telling, and the subjects they're trying to avoid.

You can glean the truth from a liar -- but you have to have him actually talking to do so.

And if coercion is sometimes necessary to get important terrorists talking -- just so trained interrogators can attempt to sift the lies from the half-truths from the actual truths -- so be it.

But again, I think that those who are committed to the anti-torture/anti-coercion position are engaging in a rather transparent rhetorical dodge. It makes the question so much easier if you just posit that "torture doesn't work, ever, so why bother with it at all?" I don't think that's the case at all.

It's not the be-all and end-all; it's not a panacea, it's not a silver bullet. But in a situation where you have, say, a known terrorist who of course knows other terrorists in his cell, and you'd like to arrest those other terrorists, and your suspect refuses to talk at all-- well, what harm can there be in some arm-twisting?

Not to be flip, but as the Terminator said in Judgment Day: "They'll live."

The "harm," I suppose, is that we diminish ourselves by sanctioning such brutal methods.

But this is really not a "fact" that can be proven; this is a gut-level judgment call that each of us have to make. I personally don't feel diminished or barbaric for supporting a bit of, let us say, non-permanent inflicting of pain upon known terrorists who know the names and meeting places of other terrorists. If "waterboarding" can save a few lives, then, as a practical matter, it is all for the utilitarian good.

As for absolute morality-- I don't know if I buy that, especially in wartime, and especially against such monstrous animals as we're fighting.

Our soldiers are losing their lives and limbs -- permanently-- trying to put Al Qaeda down. If our soldiers give up so much in this fight, I really can't say I'm bothered that Joe Terrorist had his wrist bent painfully in an effort to loosen his tongue.

I'm sorry if that sounds callous or immoral to some. But that's the way I feel about it.

To employ my own easy rhetorical dodge: I don't support torturing human beings, but I believe that known terrorists have removed themselves from the family of humanity and have, by their own actions, forfeited the consideration we would normally show towards actual human beings. They are monsters by their own choice and of their own creation, and my moral standards for dealing with monsters are a bit... latitudinarian. Vague. Permissive.

Liberal, if you will.

Update: The indispensible Michelle Malkin comments with some good linkage.

The lady gives good link.

Thanks to an unknown commenter.

Update: Rightwing Nuthouse has a good essay on torture, which, unlike mine, includes quotes from people who actually know something about tough interrogation practices.

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posted by Ace at 11:46 AM

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