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Is Torture Ever Justified?


Marat
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I strongly suspect that torture is still commonly used today even though it is known not to be very effective at producing reliable information, and it is also well-established that other, more humane methods such as drugs and keeping people awake for long periods are more effective. The reason for continuing to use torture is pure sadism, both on the part of the governments using it and the people performing the torture, lighly covered by the cloak of its supposedly being necessary.

 

Since the Nazis preferred to use scopolamine over torture, and they were hardly true gentlemen in their methods, I think it must be clear by now that scopolamine is a superior device to making people talk. I have had extensive experience with versed, which usually causes patients to babble so incessantly about everything that comes to mind that it is impossible for physicians to concentrate on even the most simple surgeries. They also tell the most interestingly embarrassing things about themselves, their lives, their perceptions, and their desires, that it is difficult to look them straight in the face afterwards, especially if their 'official' persona is that of a prude. So why wouldn't a harmless drug like versed, which leaves patients sufficiently conscious that they can respond to questions, be suitable for extracting information? It even seems better than torture since it causes patients to forget everything that has occurred while they were under its influence, so they would not know what they revealed or what their questioners knew.

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Scopolamine might be better than torture, but it's still profoundly poor.

The essence of the problem is that it's a hallucinogen. The prisoner is likely to talk, but he's as likely to talk about the big green hairy monster climbing up the wall as about his army secrets.

 

Sure people talk a lot while high on versed ( or weed, come to that), but there's no way of knowing how much of what they are saying is bollocks.

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Trip - Could you not use the same argument for palmistry, tarot cards, and astrology? Just because something cannot provide verifiable results does not mean that those with a financial/career investment in the techniques will not continue to claim they work.

 

This is a sound point. But I disagree with your last statement. I doubt the agents in the field that do some of the more undesirable torture have any "investment" in torture still being viewed as a method that gets results.

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I can think of two factors that could influence the effectiveness of torture in extracting information.

 

First is, for want of a better word, a person's character. Someone who feels they must never betray anyone or ever go against their word would probably feel a stronger need not to give up any useful intelligence. A highly motivated leader of a group like al qaeda might fit this bill. On the other hand, a weak person who has spent a lifetime taking advantage of his friends and neighbors is probably less keen to accept suffering for the benefit of others.

 

Second is the level of loyalty you have toward those you have information about. If someone grows up in the military, believes in what they are doing, and grows close to those he workes with, he is probably going to resist torture more than, say, a conscript who is considering whether or not to suffer for an organization he did not want to be a part of in the first place.

 

Since weak, conscripted soldiers are probably less likely to be in posession of critical secrets than motivated loyalists, it seems possible that while torture would likely extract information, that information would tend to be rather low in quality.

 

While I can come up with scenarios that I believe justify torture, I tend to believe that torture is not an intelligent method to gather information.

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Torture is likely to get the prisoner to say something, but there's no reason to think he will tell the truth (even if he knows it).

If there's a way of checking what he says, then you wasted your time (and your dignity) torturing him in the first place.

If you can't verify the data then you can't use it anyway.

 

Verifying information is a completely different animal from discovering information from scratch. It is not only possible, but the norm, that a statement can be investigated and verified in a routine fashion, perhaps using "national technical means", while discovering that piece of data in the first place is nearly impossible without a "tip".

 

In theoretical computer science this is subsumed in the P=NP conjecture.

 

Example: Determining whether Bin Laden is or is likely to be a resident in a certain specified building is one hell of a lot easier than finding which acre of the surface of the Earth contains his current abode.

 

In short, you are all wet.

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I can think of two factors that could influence the effectiveness of torture in extracting information.

 

First is, for want of a better word, a person's character. Someone who feels they must never betray anyone or ever go against their word would probably feel a stronger need not to give up any useful intelligence. A highly motivated leader of a group like al qaeda might fit this bill. On the other hand, a weak person who has spent a lifetime taking advantage of his friends and neighbors is probably less keen to accept suffering for the benefit of others.

 

Second is the level of loyalty you have toward those you have information about. If someone grows up in the military, believes in what they are doing, and grows close to those he workes with, he is probably going to resist torture more than, say, a conscript who is considering whether or not to suffer for an organization he did not want to be a part of in the first place.

 

Since weak, conscripted soldiers are probably less likely to be in posession of critical secrets than motivated loyalists, it seems possible that while torture would likely extract information, that information would tend to be rather low in quality.

 

While I can come up with scenarios that I believe justify torture, I tend to believe that torture is not an intelligent method to gather information.

When faced with death or intense suffering, I think that most would give away secrets, no matter what level of character or loyalty they had.

 

Your topic sentence doesn't really relate to the topic, "is torture ever justified."

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When faced with death or intense suffering, I think that most would give away secrets, no matter what level of character or loyalty they had.

 

Your topic sentence doesn't really relate to the topic, "is torture ever justified."

You mean, as opposed to your topic sentence?

 

It is interesting that you don't think that whether or not torture is effective in gathering information has anything to do with whether or not torture is ever justified. It seems pretty obvious to me that if torture does not extract useful information then it will be tough for anyone to justify its use. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that nearly anyone who does justify its use does so because they believe it will extract useful information.

 

And a quick read of the previous posts shows that roughly half of the posts, including the OP, discuss the relative effectiveness of torture in gathering information.

 

Can you please expand on why you don't think the effectiveness of torture is related to justification of its use?

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Verifying information is a completely different animal from discovering information from scratch. It is not only possible, but the norm, that a statement can be investigated and verified in a routine fashion, perhaps using "national technical means", while discovering that piece of data in the first place is nearly impossible without a "tip".

 

In theoretical computer science this is subsumed in the P=NP conjecture.

 

Example: Determining whether Bin Laden is or is likely to be a resident in a certain specified building is one hell of a lot easier than finding which acre of the surface of the Earth contains his current abode.

 

In short, you are all wet.

You seem to overlook the fact that there are a practically infinite number of lies the torture victim can tell.

Checking each of them is a major problem because there are a lot.

It's not possible to know if the prisoner lied because Mr B-L is mobile.

 

Incidentally since you can (in principle) do it by checking each house in turn it's very clearly a P problem not an NP problem; if you are going to drop things like that into the discussion, make sure you know what they mean.

 

I can't see what "In short, you are all wet." really adds to the discussion.

Would you care to expand on it?

Edited by John Cuthber
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Edtharan,

in saying

"If you had a prisoner that could not remember any previous torture sessions, then the torture would be completely ineffective. "

you seem to overlook the fact that torture is ineffective anyway.

I actually struggled over the wording. I agree that torture does not give reliable results.

 

What I meant by "completely ineffective" is that it would not result in the breaking down of the prisoner (whether they told the truth or not is not what I was talking about).

 

You have established that the goal of psychological and physical torture is the same. I don't dispute that. I also don't dispute that psychological interrogation techniques are in fact torture. Other than that, what is your argument? My post merely conjectured that psychological torture is less morally reprehensible than torture that inflicts permanent medical harm.

Actually mental harm can be more permanent and disabling than physical harm. And when/if the prisoner is released, the psychological harm can spread to the people in the prisoners community too so psychological torture has even more wide reaching effects than physical torture too. So this would put mental torture as much worse than physical torture.

 

Also, address my point about how killing isn't a war crime but water-boarding is. Is there a justification for that?

If there is, it is fine line. I suppose that killing a combatant means that you killed someone in a comparable situation. They are willing to kill you and you are willing to kill them. In torture, the prisoner is not willing but the torture is. So I think that is where the line lies.

 

But I agree, that War is immoral and brutal and the worst of human nature (and brings out the worst too).

 

However, what happens is that wars tend to become justified to the population as some form of ideological justification.. Put simply: Good guys vs the Bad Guys, and we are the good guys. But when the action undertaken in the name of the "Good Guys" is torture, killing civilians, etc, then the justification of "The Good Guys" no longer applies.

 

All wars in modern times, due to the scrutiny of the world media, needs to have this ideological justification. Especially in terms of terrorism. The only way the terrorists can recruit is by ideological justification. They paint the enemy as the bad guys and use that as their recruiting. They are not protecting a country from invasion, they are not a regular army, thus means they need to recruit with other justifications than patriotism.

 

If the non terrorists take actions that are clearly immoral (like torture, killing civilians, etc) then this just enhances the ability of the terrorists to recruit and thus perpetuating the war.

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My problem with torture is the previously stated unreliable nature of the information, but also another larger issue. People have said that in certain situations it could be justified, like a 9/11 type event, etc. THe problem with that is, when you give the torturers teh go ahead to use torture when they think it is justifiable, how is that policed?

 

Considering the sensitive nature of a lot of the information surrounding the likely situations where torture would be justified, isn´t allowing it in any circumstances just giving a green light for all torture?

Edited by Butters
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My problem with torture is the previously stated unreliable nature of the information, but also another larger issue. People have said that in certain situations it could be justified, like a 9/11 type event, etc. THe problem with that is, when you give the torturers teh go ahead to use torture when they think it is justifiable, how is that policed?

 

Considering the sensitive nature of a lot of the information surrounding the likely situations where torture would be justified, isn´t allowing it in any circumstances just giving a green light for all torture?

I didn't follow how allowing torture under some circumstances allows all torture. Governments and military list what type of interrogation is allowed and what type is not allowed. I'm quite sure that in interrogation, like in any other endeavor, rules are not always followed, but I don't see where interrogation is somehow in a class by itself and uncontrollable.

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"isn´t allowing it in any circumstances just giving a green light for all torture?"

No

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camel%27s_nose

 

But it's still easiest to maintain the moral high ground by simply not doing it.

 

 

Incidentally, is a government's use of the threat of torture the counterpart to the terrorist's threat of terrorism?

Both don't really achieve much; both make you look like complete s***s, and both rely on fear.

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One of the things done in my place of work is that central line catheters are inserted into the sometimes complex vasculature of the patient. It is often necessary to obtain feedback from the patient while these catheters are being threaded in, but the procedure can be so disturbing to the patient that the patient must also be sedated. So the problem arises, how do you get reliable feedback from the patient while still sedating him?

 

The answer is Versed. This drug allows the patient to space out so that he isn't bothered by anything that is happening and he wakes up without remembering anything that happened. This drug often causes patients to babble away while the catheter is being inserted, since these people naturally become quite voluble. You can easily direct them to talk about one thing or the other, so you can get them to shift the topic of conversation from their first wife's bad breath to their sensation of the catheter just by asking, and they put up no resistance.

 

So from this, it seems that Versed is a perfect substitute for torture, though I am not aware that it has ever been tested or used for this purpose.

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One of the things done in my place of work is that central line catheters are inserted into the sometimes complex vasculature of the patient. It is often necessary to obtain feedback from the patient while these catheters are being threaded in, but the procedure can be so disturbing to the patient that the patient must also be sedated. So the problem arises, how do you get reliable feedback from the patient while still sedating him?

 

The answer is Versed. This drug allows the patient to space out so that he isn't bothered by anything that is happening and he wakes up without remembering anything that happened. This drug often causes patients to babble away while the catheter is being inserted, since these people naturally become quite voluble. You can easily direct them to talk about one thing or the other, so you can get them to shift the topic of conversation from their first wife's bad breath to their sensation of the catheter just by asking, and they put up no resistance.

 

So from this, it seems that Versed is a perfect substitute for torture, though I am not aware that it has ever been tested or used for this purpose.

 

I am going to make a wild guess and assume that the professional interrogators in the military and in intelligence agencies are

aware of any effective drugs of which you are knowledgeable. Maybe even a couple more.

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I agree. But then why do they still resort to torture or waterboarding, if the latter can really be distinguished from the former at all? Perhaps they just enjoy it or they want to exact vengeance? Perhaps it is a form of counter-terror against terrorist attacks, in the hope that people will be more reluctant to join terrorist campaigns if the thought of potential torture torments their minds? If the purpose of torture is just to scare the enemy rather than extract reliable information, then perhaps it doesn't exist at all, but is only said to exist for its apotropaic effect, and that is why the government doesn't want to release anyone from Guantanimo, since they would then reveal the secret that there is no torture?

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I didn't follow how allowing torture under some circumstances allows all torture. Governments and military list what type of interrogation is allowed and what type is not allowed. I'm quite sure that in interrogation, like in any other endeavor, rules are not always followed, but I don't see where interrogation is somehow in a class by itself and uncontrollable.

 

 

Because if you have a human signing off that in any particular and unique circumstance it is justified, for example in the interests of national security or some other blanket term, then it is open to interpretation and a gradual stretching of the definition. People think of systems as having a defined set of rules and definitions, but in reality this is not the case. These rules are enforced and interpreted by humans with vested interests and biases.

 

The reason it is different is that the consequences are worse if we allow torture. In law, supposedly somebody is guilty until proven innocent and should be treated as such. If somebody is tortured for information because they were captured in suspicious circumstances then their presumption of innocence is removed. Considering the fact that recent terrorism can be broadly separated by race, innocent people will inevitably be tortured.

 

And it´s not enough to say that it MAY be saving innocent lives by doing so. People die all the time and in horrible ways through the inaction of others. Just because somebody dies unexpectedly from an explosion rather than predictable from starvation or disease from unsanitary conditions does not mean we should allow basic rights to be violated.

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"if you have a human signing off that in any particular and unique circumstance it is justified, for example in the interests of national security or some other blanket term, then it is open to interpretation and a gradual stretching of the definition. "

 

By that "logic" murder is widely permitted because some states have the death penalty for certain, clearly specified crimes.

People are quite good at judging what is and isn't acceptable, provided that they have proper information.

 

I have another possible explanation for at least some cases of torture. It's widely accepted that violence is used by those who are frustrated in their aims and who do not, or feel they do not, have any alternative.

For example, most fit young men could become muggers, but most don't. Those who do are generally desperate or somehow inadequate. It's also well documented that small children who lack the ability to communicate well become frustrated and have tantrums.

In a similar way I think that governments and their agents become violent when they find that they are otherwise impotent.

If a soldier feels that "the other guy" isn't telling him what he wants to hear then he will become frustrated. That frustration is likely to boil over into anger and aggression.

Post facto, he will justify his violence by claiming he was trying to get information.

Regrettably, this story does not, and can not distinguish between the case where the guy doesn't tell the torturer what he wants to hear because he is deliberately holding back or the case where the victim simply doesn't know.

A government can behave in just the same way as that soldier.

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By that "logic" murder is widely permitted because some states have the death penalty for certain, clearly specified crimes.

People are quite good at judging what is and isn't acceptable, provided that they have proper information.

 

I have another possible explanation for at least some cases of torture. It's widely accepted that violence is used by those who are frustrated in their aims and who do not, or feel they do not, have any alternative.

For example, most fit young men could become muggers, but most don't. Those who do are generally desperate or somehow inadequate. It's also well documented that small children who lack the ability to communicate well become frustrated and have tantrums.

In a similar way I think that governments and their agents become violent when they find that they are otherwise impotent.

If a soldier feels that "the other guy" isn't telling him what he wants to hear then he will become frustrated. That frustration is likely to boil over into anger and aggression.

Post facto, he will justify his violence by claiming he was trying to get information.

Regrettably, this story does not, and can not distinguish between the case where the guy doesn't tell the torturer what he wants to hear because he is deliberately holding back or the case where the victim simply doesn't know.

A government can behave in just the same way as that soldier.

 

Sure, I´m happy to argue against the use of the death penalty as well if you like! I´ve served on juries before, and they are an absolutely ridiculous way to decide somebody´s fate in my opinion. In every case I´ve been on one there have been racists who vote guilty regardless of evidence, people too stupid to graps some of the concepts, people determined to solve the crime like they saw on CSI, etc etc. The death penalty should never be an option for a judge to hand out based on the judgement of members of the public. It is irreversible in the case of a mistake or bigotry, and I am certain that such things happen all the time.

 

The second part of your post seems to agree that torture should not be used. Anger and frustration being regular occurrences, should mean that torture is not a legal option given to soldiers or law enforcment agencies. If all it takes is for the angry or frustrated person to sign off and say it was justified because we had reason to suspect that in the interests of national security there was an immediate threat to blah blah blah, then unless some independent tribunal is able to review EVERY single case then it will be abused.

 

I am of the opinion that it is better to let the guilty go free than imprison the innocent, and it is better to risk terrorism than demolish human rights. Terrorism is a tool of fear, not of any significant civilian death toll (at least not in the US and Europe etc). If the media stopped trumping it up and injecting fear, then the few events that do occur would lose a lot of their impact. It is not the deaths that terrorists want, they are nothing compared to other causes of death, it is the fear that accompanies them and the outrage that inspires a population to push their government for action.

 

Evidence of torture is just another recruitment tool to demonstrate the so-called barbarism of the enemy and incite yet more hatred and, yes, more terrorism.

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