Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Returning to torture

Every now and again, the question comes up about whether torture is reliable.

Today I remembered a little tidbit that I then checked on.

If you've followed the "debate" about whether or not the United States should engage in torture, you may have heard of SERE training, Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape training, and you've heard that people are subjected to practices there that ended up providing the basis for the tortures the US engaged in.

People have argued that, if we can do these things safely to our own troops, surely it must be okay to do them to prisoners.

There are two things that are missing from that debate.

First off, if you're in the military, you have to learn certain painful lessons. If you're at high risk of being captured, you have to be aware of just how awful it can be to be captured. The tortures undergone as part of SERE training is to make sure that a service member is bound and determined not to get captured. "Anything - living on nasty tasting, but non-toxic plants, sleeping in the cold, hard, rocky ground - anything is better than what I might face if captured."

That we do it to our own soldiers does not mean it's acceptable to do it to others.

Second, a quick Google pulled up this post from someone on the other side of the argument. It corroborates the tidbit I remembered.

Students are transported to a prison facility and then get the Full Monty of coercive interrogation techniques in order to get them to sign a paper admitting to war crimes. All students know going in that they would spend less than a week in the prison, and that they couldn't actually be damaged permanently, yet virtually everyone of these macho studs "Signs Ze Papah" (Remember him stupeed one?).


Translation: people who are are fully aware that they will be free in less than a week, people with complete confidence that they won't be hurt, almost universally give false information.

And not just false information, information that is extremely damaging to them. They confess to crimes.

Does torture work? Well, it can elicit false confessions. But unreliable information wastes time and resources, so torture would be a bad idea even if it wasn't morally repugnant.

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