There Is No Value To Torture

January 16, 2007 at 1:30 pm | Posted in American politics, Torture | 15 Comments

A new report out hopefully clarifies to all that torture really is not the magic bullet, the elixir to stop terrorism, or even to get any kind of actionable intelligence. Some of the key points to this new report are:

“There is little systematic knowledge available to tell us ‘what works’ in interrogation,” wrote Robert Coulam, a research professor at the Simmons School for Health Studies in Boston. Coulam also wrote that interrogation practices that offend ethical concerns and “skirt the rule of law” may be narrowly useful, if at all, because such practices could undermine the legitimacy of government action and support for the fight against terrorism.


“The scientific community has never established that coercive interrogation methods are an effective means of obtaining reliable intelligence information,” wrote Col. Steven M. Kleinman, who has served as the Pentagon’s senior intelligence officer for special survival training.

Kleinman wrote that intelligence gathered with coercion is sometimes inaccurate or false, noting that isolation, a tactic U.S. officials have used regularly, causes “profound emotional, psychological, and physical discomfort” and can “significantly and negatively impact the ability of the source to recall information accurately.”

Therefore, noting the severe political and humanitarian cost to the nation that wishes to apply such techniques, why would anyone even think this stuff works, or that our great nation should use these techniques?

Finally, over at Obsidian Wings you find a very detailed accounting of the methods and use of torture on CIA prisoners, and on Jose Padilla. Hilzoy concludes with the following:

The KUBARK system of interrogation was based on a lot of research into, on the one hand, the results of horrific treatment of prisoners, and on the other, how to drive people crazy. It was designed to induce serious psychological damage. Many of the passages cited above make that clear, as does this paragraph (sec. IX.B):

“The profound moral objection to applying duress past the point of irreversible psychological damage has been stated. Judging the validity of other ethical arguments about coercion exceeds the scope of this paper. What is fully clear, however, is that controlled coercive manipulation of an interrogatee may impair his ability to make fine distinctions but will not alter his ability to answer correctly such gross questions as “Are you a Soviet agent? What is your assignment now? Who is your present case officer?””

Parts of this paragraph, including the reference to “irreversible psychological damage”, are repeated in the 1983 interrogation manual at L.6.

Which is to say: the author(s) of the KUBARK manual knew that they were describing how to inflict massive psychological damage in the course of an interrogation. They didn’t just break people’s souls into tiny little pieces by accident; that was the whole point.

Remember this?

“Padilla’s lawyers contend that as a result of his isolation and interrogation, their client is so mentally damaged that he is unable to assist in his own defense. He is so passive and fearful now, they maintain, that he is “like a piece of furniture.”

Even at this late stage, after dozens of meetings with his lawyers, Padilla suspects that they are government agents, says Andrew Patel, who is on the legal team. Padilla may believe that the lawyers assigned to represent him are in fact “part of a continuing interrogation program.”

The situation has become impossible, defense lawyers say; they’ve hired two psychiatric experts to examine Padilla. Both have often testified for the prosecution in criminal cases. This time they have sided with the defense.
After spending more than 25 hours with Padilla, both psychiatric experts have concluded that his isolation and interrogation have resulted in so much mental damage that he is incompetent to stand trial.”

The fact that Jose Padilla has become “like a piece of furniture” is not an unforeseen effect of his interrogation. It’s the whole point. It’s a feature, not a bug.


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  1. The U.S.’s torture policy has Mormon fingerprints all over it, namely those of Jay Bybee and Tim Flanagan.

  2. Tony,

    Thanks for commenting. Trust me, as a Mormon, I’m not too happy about it.

  3. Question for you…

    If someone was to kidnap your family, and you managed to capture one of the people involved. You would not interrogate that person, even if it could save your family???

  4. knight,

    interrogation is one thing. the use of torture is another. would i employ torture to find my family? No.

    What do I recommend instead? Ask God where my family is at. He knows all after all…..why do I need to employ torture on a man when I’ve got the ultimate source of knowledge with a single prayer?

    Seems silly to me to have to dehumanize someone when the Lord can just as well answer my question, far quicker than torture can get it out of someone.

  5. I don’t question that God knows all. And yes, prayer would be a great thing to do.

    But I’m I to understand that God will verbally tell you the adress, how many men are holding them, and give you instructions on how to stop them? Fascinating…

    All this time we should have just asked God where
    Osama Bin Laden was, duh… It’s all so simple…

  6. Yes actually, it is that simple. No wonder no one has thought of it. But wait, there are actually scriptural examples…..In Alma 43:23 we read the following:

    23 But it came to pass, as soon as they had departed into the wilderness Moroni sent spies into the wilderness to watch their camp; and Moroni, also, knowing of the prophecies of Alma, sent certain men unto him, desiring him that he should inquire of the Lord whither the armies of the Nephites should go to defend themselves against the Lamanites.
    24 And it came to pass that the word of the Lord came unto Alma, and Alma informed the messengers of Moroni, that the armies of the Lamanites were marching round about in the wilderness, that they might come over into the land of Manti, that they might commence an attack upon the weaker part of the people. And those messengers went and delivered the message unto Moroni.

    Frankly, I trust the Lord for accurate information over a hardened terrorist. Just me though….

  7. You must be a prophet then, if you have the ability to carry on an active two-way conversation with God himself…. Impresive, what does God tell you?

  8. knight,

    actually we all can talk to God in prayer. James 1:5-6:

    5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
    6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

    He answers our prayers, if we but have faith.

  9. Tell that to the Christians who were eaten alive by lions in the Roman colosseum…

  10. Always the pessimist, eh? I could point out to you that Daniel was also in a lion’s pit, and his prayers saved his life, but methinks you’ll find something negative about that too.

    In any case, my point is well made. You ought to try it one day.

  11. Actually, I pray often… I am a devout Christian,

    and you’re right, I should look at the positive aspects of that terrible time, just as you should look at the positive aspects of Iraq and Afghanistan…

  12. Are you saying that the Christians that were eaten alive by the lions in the Roman Colosseum lacked faith? You tell us that Daniels’ “prayers saved his life” Jesus Christ saved mine. When I face death, I do not put my trust in my prayers, but I put my trust in Jesus Christ that he died for me, and that he will take me to heaven with him. In the Colosseum the Christians lost their temporal lives, but were taken to heaven. I do not think that is a pessimistic point of view.

  13. hospitaller,

    Actually I do look at the positive aspects of Iraq and Afghanistan. Saddam, being an evil guy is now gone. That is a good thing. Is it worth all the negative that surrounds our invasion of Iraq? Hell no, but it is still a good thing.


    Are you saying that the Christians that were eaten alive by the lions in the Roman Colosseum lacked faith?

    Hardly, because we can’t generalize about their lives, about how faithful they were, about whether or not they prayed to God to be freed through some miracle. your buddy brought up that Christians were eaten by lions as if God doesn’t answer everybody’s prayers to save them from lions, I merely proved that that is not the case, and that God does answer our prayers, even when faced with being digested by a lion….

  14. Daniel,

    Sorry, but I don’t understand what you proved. According to what you wrote, when it is untangled it says that: God does answer everybody’s prayers to save them from lions. (the “not the case” negates the “doesn’t”) Is this what you meant to say? If so, you did not prove anything untill you can show me that all those people were either not Christian, or according to you, lacked faith. Taking into consideration human nature, I bet at least one of those Christians were praying to God to deliver them from that horrible death. I do realize that I could be wrong, but it is a pretty good bet.

    God answered Daniel’s prayer. End of story. Bye-bye. See you later. The only thing this proves is that God answered Daniel’s prayer. If you really could prove what you pretend to, I have a feeling there would be a lot more Mormons than there are now.

  15. eh there’s no point in trying to explain it to you.

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