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Is Torture Ever Right ?


mistermack
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11 minutes ago, iNow said:

Or a congenital insensitivity to pain… or just practice desensitizing to it. Or years of mental and mindfulness training and an ability to keep a quiet mind even in the presence of intense stimuli. Or be in a state of physical and mental shock. Or any of the countless many other things which would help one resist torture that have literally nothing whatsoever to do with motivation.  

Are those things common then? I don't know anybody like that. I can't stand pain myself. It hurts too much. 

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17 hours ago, mistermack said:

I think like many other ethical questions, this question is not as simple as it sounds. 

Firistly, to declare my position, I don't believe anything is objectively right or wrong. The ethics, to me, come from our situation in society, and our evolution as social mammals. 

But in light of the human condition, is torture ever right? (and religion doesn't really have an answer, George Bush and the Spanish Inquisition come to mind)

 

Imagine an innocent toddler has been abducted by a couple of pedophiles, and you have one in captivity, and he knows where the other is keeping the child, but he won't tell. Forgetting the legal and practical issues, if you had a free hand, (if you were dictator say) would you use torture to get the location of the child? I would.

(you have to assume that there was no doubt at all that the pedophile you held was truly guilty)

I would ignore the slippery slope argument, and go ahead. But I wouldn't be happy or sure about it. It's a difficult one.

Plot twist: unknown to you, the police have picked up the wrong man and you are proposing to torture someone who is actually innocent, or at least, unaware of the child's location.

Does that change your view, or do you torture them anyway?

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The questions would be, do you have one of the guilty persons that know the whereabouts? Have all other methods of information extraction been exhausted? How desperate is the situation? 

If the person captured is guilty, all other forms of information extraction have been exhausted to no avail, and the child's life is in immediate danger, then if anyone has any better suggestions then I'm interested to hear them.

This post is gonna end up down the same road as the "punishment" thread.  

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11 hours ago, mistermack said:

In other words, it's a highly selected sample.

That's true of much of the research, but not all. The paper using cold immersion as a surrogate for torture was on ordinary people and came to the same conclusion regarding its ineffectiveness. There was also the theoretical paper that took a game theoretic approach. It's quite an involved paper so i've delved into its rigor, but it bypasses the enriched sample problem.

There's also a historical perspective that lends credence to the scientific literature: during the witch trials women would confess to anything that they thought their torturers wanted to hear. Truth was the second victim, after the 'witches'.

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2 hours ago, Prometheus said:

The paper using cold immersion as a surrogate for torture was on ordinary people

But that's like saying that the paper not torturing the subjects came to the same conclusion. 

 

2 hours ago, Prometheus said:

There's also a historical perspective that lends credence to the scientific literature: during the witch trials women would confess to anything that they thought their torturers wanted to hear. Truth was the second victim, after the 'witches'.

But in that case the 'witches' had nothing to tell. So the torture could not have worked. It seems pretty obvious that if they HAD had a secret, they would have spilled the beans. So if they had been the second pedophile, they would have given the location of the child. 

I think it's becoming obvious that the crisis has to be very extreme, and clear-cut, for me to go with it. But I can certainly conjure up extreme situations where I would approve torture as a very last resort. Like the classic "location of a nuclear weapon, timed to go off in London". 

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The fact that some people have no beans to spill is a huge practical as well as ethical argument against torture. People will confess to anything to make the torture stop, which is why coerced confessions are generally disallowed. Where the rule of law is truly in place, at least.

Even if they do have information, there is no assurance that they won't lie or mislead. What if they claim that there is another accomplice, who is in fact innocent. Do you go and torture them, too? If it's a nuke that's going to detonate in an hour, what's to keep them from just giving a wrong location once or twice, and literally run out the clock? 

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1 minute ago, mistermack said:

But that's like saying that the paper not torturing the subjects came to the same conclusion. 

They simulated torture as best they could to gain empirical insights. It's the best they can do, and it accords with observational data. This is similar to many epidemiological studies, so i'm not sure what the problem is regarding methodology given the necessary limitations.

 

4 minutes ago, mistermack said:

But in that case the 'witches' had nothing to tell. So the torture could not have worked. It seems pretty obvious that if they HAD had a secret, they would have spilled the beans. So if they had been the second pedophile, they would have given the location of the child. 

Not true. The witches were sometimes guilty of the 'crimes' of which they were accused, it's just those crimes (and punishments) were ridiculous: having body deformations, practicing innocuous pagan rituals, killing their neighbour's cat etc... That they also confessed to whatever else their torturers accused them of shows how ineffective a method torture is.

To bring it into our setting,  if inflicted upon our imaginary paedophile he would have told us the location of every single child we asked about - one true positive among a forest of false positives. Maybe that is sufficient for you, but it raises practical issues of spending limited resources down (self-inflicted) false positives.  Until you show me some evidence, whether empirical, observational or theoretical, i'll remain sceptical of its effectiveness beyond unrealistic practical constraints (i.e ignoring its limited effectiveness and the possibility of innocent people being tortured).

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2 minutes ago, Prometheus said:

if inflicted upon our imaginary paedophile he would have told us the location of every single child we asked about - one true positive among a forest of false positives.

I don't recognise that as a likely situation. You can put up imaginary situations where it wouldn't work, but I am absolutely sure that I can put up imaginary situations where it would. If you are making the claim that torture would NEVER achieve the desired outcome, then I don't think that stands up. 

I'm asking about the situations where it's pretty obvious that it would work. You have to assume that, to anwer the question, would you EVER use it, under extreme circumstances. I've made it clear that in my case, it would be a pretty extreme situation.

But if you would rather let a nuclear bomb go off in London, rather than torture the person who without any doubt was guilty of planting it, then you have to wash your hands of failing to save millions of lives, in order to maintain your principles.

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6 minutes ago, mistermack said:

I don't recognise that as a likely situation...

That sums up this whole thread.  Ethics is an applied art - ignore the real world and all we have are empty words.

2 minutes ago, zapatos said:

it seems obvious that torture would be effective in many circumstances.

What seems obvious is irrelevant. We should look at the evidence. 

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2 minutes ago, Prometheus said:

ignore the real world and all we have are empty words.

No, I think you're dodging the real question, would you EVER authorise torture? If you are claiming that it would NEVER work, then I think that's plain wrong.

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2 minutes ago, mistermack said:

No, I think you're dodging the real question, would you EVER authorise torture? If you are claiming that it would NEVER work, then I think that's plain wrong.

Until someone shows me actual evidence of its efficacy there is no question to answer.

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7 hours ago, mistermack said:

Torture may be ineffective on the type of people who usually get tortured,

Which type is that? Egyptian protesters? Chinese class-aliens? Random guys kidnapped for bounty in Iraq?

Torture is not exclusively used to elicit information. It doesn't work on regular cowardly people, because we just say whatever we're expected to say, whether it's true or not, whether we we know anything useful or not; we just babble.

Yes, we've seen the war movies, but we're not living in one. Captured spies are the smallest minority of people abused in custody. The most common purpose of torture is to force confessions from suspected criminals, or make an example of political nonconformists and disobedient subjects of dictators large and small; to make dissidents recant and denounce their leaders and their cause.

Of course, there is the sadistic element, as in Abu Ghraib.... and many other prisons, where it's not about information, or revenge, or any practical end - just domination.  If you authorize your enforcers to torture whom they capture, you allow all of that, because you attract sadists and bullies and emotionally unstable people to your enforcement agencies. This is not good for the unarmed population.

54 minutes ago, mistermack said:

would you EVER authorise torture? If you are claiming that it would NEVER work, then I think that's plain wrong.

There are three questions: Would I do it in some imagined situation? A: Maybe.

Would I give my police force blanket permission to do if they thought it's warranted? A: No.

and Is it ethical? A: No.

Edited by Peterkin
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23 minutes ago, Peterkin said:

There are three questions: Would I do it in some imagined situation? A: Maybe.

Would I give my police force blanket permission to do if they thought it's warranted? A: No.

and Is it ethical? A: No.

Well, that's my position too. I've made it pretty clear in my posts that I wouldn't advocate the regular use of torture, or any kind of legalisation, as was the case under George Bush. I'm not trying to excuse torture. I'm just curious if people would never use it, even in the most extreme circumstances. 

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Fact from several years ago...

A captured kidnapper finally revealed the location of the victim held by his other criminal fellows when a hired team of 'inquisition descendants' opened his belly with a knife and pulled his intestines out, while interrogated well alive.

The kidnapped victim was located;  later the 'disemboweled' crook was left to die tied to his bed surrounded by his guts; I call that mostly mental torture pretty much.  A smile was worked on his dead face and the picture given to the press to show the prisoner was just... fine.

Torture was then very right for finding the victim.  -My boss, a multi millionaire philanthropist-

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59 minutes ago, mistermack said:

I'm just curious if people would never use it, even in the most extreme circumstances. 

Nobody who hasn't been faced with those circumstances knows what they would do. Nobody who has no killed knows what it would take for them to kill.  We can only imagine. I imagine there are situations where someone has to choose between evils - but that doesn't make the lesser evil good.

It's the self-deception I'm arguing against. If you have to do a wrong, own it. 

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9 hours ago, mistermack said:

Are those things common then? I don't know anybody like that.

Entirely irrelevant to what I said. You suggested motivation was the only thing which might allow someone to resist torture. I provided numerous other things which demonstrated that claim as plainly false. Frequency or commonality of those alternative explanations matters not. 

2 hours ago, mistermack said:

I don't recognise that as a likely situation.

Your personal incredulity is also irrelevant, as is your own personal response to pain. 

2 hours ago, zapatos said:

Given that people will tell you what you want to know with means far short of torture, it seems obvious that torture would be effective in many circumstances.

Why wouldn't a person just tell you what you want to hear also when they're being tortured? If they'll do that and just tell you what you want to hear even in the face of far less intense or severe questioning practices, so why wouldn't that extend also to more torturous approaches? (EDIT: I may have misread you... you may be saying they'll share what you NEED to know, not LIE and say what they think you WANT to hear to end the captivity or torture /EDIT).

 

This subject has come up many times here. The outcome is always the same. My unkind summary of those exchanges is as follows:

Some people watched a bit too much 24 where Kiefer Sutherland playing Jack Bauer was able to beat the terrorist and save the girl. This is basically the sum total of their thoughts on torture as a mechanism for extracting information.

Note that I'm not referring to Zapatos here, but instead am speaking in general terms. Knowing him like I do, I suspect Zapatos is mostly saying that no options should be ruled out in advance and torture ought to be left as an option on the table. The stance he has represents an unwillingness to ever answer in the absolute... to never say anything with 100% certainty and ensure all positions leave room for the exception... that he's 99% certain he wouldn't torture, not 100% (please correct me if I'm wrong).

I digress... the past discussions on torture always seemed to return to the same answer. Torture will sometimes be helpful but only as if that happened by accident. The person shared information they would have shared via other means (i.e. the torture was incidental, not causative). Further, those discussions always reminded us who are using evidence to inform our positions (and not Jack Bauer from 24 episodes) that the FAR better and more successful approach to extracting information is to build a trusting bond with the captive and have them share openly what you need after building a rapport and trusting relationship with them with respect and dignity. More bees with honey... fewer beatings from batons and more sharing of few bits of nice food, bringing water when they're dehydrated, offering them a smoke, etc.

The research seems to support this, but I'll be damned if the search function on the site will let me find all of the past works I've cited when this topic was raised. Sorry about that. Feel free to dismiss this all as unsupported, but it's not. 

Edited by iNow
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3 hours ago, Prometheus said:

What seems obvious is irrelevant. We should look at the evidence. 

I wasn't aware there was evidence that torture did not work in any circumstances. Did I miss something?

1 hour ago, mistermack said:

Well, that's my position too. I've made it pretty clear in my posts that I wouldn't advocate the regular use of torture, or any kind of legalisation, as was the case under George Bush. I'm not trying to excuse torture. I'm just curious if people would never use it, even in the most extreme circumstances. 

I agree.

33 minutes ago, iNow said:

Why wouldn't a person just tell you what you want to hear also when they're being tortured? If they'll do that and just tell you what you want to hear even in the face of far less intense or severe questioning practices, so why wouldn't that extend also to more torturous approaches?

Just for an extreme example, let's assume I break into your house and ask where you keep your cash (and let's say you DO keep some cash around). You say "I have no cash", hoping I'll go away. But if I start torturing you, I imagine you would succumb to the torture and tell me where the money is. Giving me the fake location in your house only buys you time, not a reprieve.

Many criminals will tell the police who their boss is just by being offered a shorter sentence. It seems obvious that many criminals would also succumb under torture.

I of course don't condone any of this, only making the point that to say torture doesn't work is overstating things. Personal motivation, risk/reward, strength of character and belief, all play a role.

43 minutes ago, iNow said:

 I suspect Zapatos is mostly saying that no options should be ruled out in advance and torture ought to be left as an option on the table. The stance he has represents an unwillingness to ever answer in the absolute... to never say anything with 100% certainty and ensure all positions leave room for the exception... that he's 99% certain he wouldn't torture, not 100% (please correct me if I'm wrong).

Absolutely correct. Torture is horrible. It should never be policy. It is of limited effectiveness. It is a step back for humanity. It entails huge risk.

But... If the outcome of some act was bad enough and could potentially be averted, I think it shouldn't be off the table. That's all. I was just answering the OP, not promoting torture.

 

 

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1 hour ago, zapatos said:

Let's assume I break into your house and ask where you keep your cash

Good post. I had forgotten that the same thing happened to a friend of mine. He was a well-off trader, a bit shady himself. He was attacked in a house invasion by three heavily armed men. They threw a heavy stone garden ornament through his front door, and forced their way in shouting "armed police".

They then terrorised my friend, and dealt him some pretty nasty wounds, and got him to open his safe, and got away with about £13,000 plus various property items. So the torture certainly got them what they wanted. These are not isolated cases, it's clearly torture, even if those using it are on the nasty side of morality. It would take a special kind of courage to play games with someone who has your life in their hands, and doesn't care at all about your welfare.

Men regularly use torture to intimidate women during rape. Very few cases lead to a conviction. A lot don't even lead to a complaint. 

As far as torture of evil people by law enforcement goes, by it's very nature, you would be unlikely to hear about it if it happened. 

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4 hours ago, Peterkin said:

If you authorize your enforcers to torture whom they capture, you allow all of that, because you attract sadists and bullies and emotionally unstable people to your enforcement agencies. This is not good for the unarmed population

It's always weirdly interesting how any situation/protest/scenario against the "law of the land of that day" does attract the sadists, the bullies, and the emotionally unstable. Also of course in the same vane, the political opportunists. I remember being a part of the anti Vietnam moritorium marches in the 60's as a hairy arse lad, attracting some extreme socialisitic political group, (after casually speaking to one in the march, (unknowingly) and the following door knocking at my parents home where I was living at the time, until I politely told them to f%$# off! The otherwise legitimate anti vaccine and mandatory orders protest marches of recent times all innevitable attracted the conspiracy nuttters as another example. 

4 hours ago, Peterkin said:

There are three questions: Would I do it in some imagined situation? A: Maybe.

Agreed.

2 hours ago, Peterkin said:

Would I give my police force blanket permission to do if they thought it's warranted? A: No.

Agreed.

4 hours ago, Peterkin said:

and Is it ethical? A: No.

Agreed.

How about the situation say, where one half of a duo, who have commited a particulalr horrendous crime is captured, and he is offered a leniant sentence to reveal the where abouts of his partner. 

And of course as mentioned earleir, I dare say there are also those that would confuse just punishment for a crime, as torture...eg: locked up in jail...in jail and solitary confinement....

And of course the consideration of the parents of a kidnapped child where their whereabouts is unknown. Are they not being emotionally and mentally tortured? 

 

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3 hours ago, zapatos said:

So you cannot think of one single extreme situation that would warrant torture?

I think this is one of the questions where one would need to do a reality check. I am pretty sure one can construct a situation where somehow torture is justified, as long as you recast it in way where the outcome is inevitably positive. There are likely also scenarios in which one can imagine genocide somehow to be acceptable. But in mind that would only allow us to explore the limits of morality in general and not the ethical concerns of the acts themselves. For the latter one would need to take reality into account.

8 minutes ago, mistermack said:

That might just reflect the fact that generally, people who get tortured are a fanatical lot. In other words, it's a highly selected sample. And of course, if you are torturing innocent people, then you won't get anything useful out of them. 

FBI interrogators have objected to interrogation tactics because a) they found it ineffective and b) they found out that non-toture methods (e.g. building rapport) was more effective in getting actual intel. I.e. they got more information from insurgents before they tortured, rather than after.

Here is one of such interviews to this effect: https://www.npr.org/2020/09/08/910640336/former-fbi-agent-addresses-post-sept-11-torture-in-newly-declassified-book

There are also theoretical considerations  and a more complex review of interrogation methods (https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/law0000136) concluding that torture is simply not a good interrogation method. A review specifically of the "enhanced interrogation program" came to the same conclusion as mentioned already but essentially it does state that the whole program, i.e. the logic behind the method and the training program (spearheaded by contracted psychologists, IIRC), were ultimately devoid of scientific evidence and evaluation.

However, a key finding was that psychological theory does suggest that  high-pressure coercion and torture and increase the resistance of an individual not to comply. And there is no evidence (outside of Hollywood movies) that it can yield useful information from uncooperative sources. http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/OathBetrayed/Intelligence Science Board 2006.pdf

In summary, I do not think that one can disassociate the moral argument from torture, for the simple fact that we have evidence that it actually works. 

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27 minutes ago, beecee said:

And of course the consideration of the parents of a kidnapped child where their whereabouts is unknown. Are they not being emotionally and mentally tortured? 

Sure, but not by the police or the law-makers or anyone who enters into a discussion of ethical behaviour.  The victims have already been victimized before the question was asked.

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9 minutes ago, Peterkin said:

Sure, but not by the police or the law-makers or anyone who enters into a discussion of ethical behaviour.  The victims have already been victimized before the question was asked.

Bingo! So if the captured half won't talk, would it be torture to put the Father ( a big hulking brute) into the jail cell with him?

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33 minutes ago, beecee said:

the Father ( a big hulking brute)

Sez who?

Anyway, the problems of mistaken identity and misinformation don't just disappear if the father happens to be bigger than the suspect.

In fact, the problem may be exacerbated if the father, unversed in the finer points of enhanced interrogation, accidentally kills the suspect or renders him (?her) incapable of speech before they can utter a coherent sentence.

Edited by Peterkin
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1 minute ago, Peterkin said:

Anyway, the problems of mistaken identity and misinformation don't just disappear if the father happens to be bigger than the suspect.

We are talking of certainty of guilt as per the example given previously. Question again, Would sticking the big hulking brute Father in with the kidnapper be torture for the kidnapper? 

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