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The Effectiveness of Torture
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There's lots of talk in the blogosphere about torture, whether it's moral, whether it's effective, and whether it should be used. Jim Henley thinks it's inhumane and wrong. And I think this is the best argument against its use.

I've seen various comments to the effect that torture is wholly ineffective. They claim that anybody will tell you anything under torture, but I got to thinking about it, and this seems like an oversimplified approach. I think torture could be effective.

Here's how:

First, you don't just ask the subject a question you don't know the answer to and then indiscriminately burn them with a hot poker.

I would imagine you could "prime" a suspect with a serious of questions that:

1) You knew the answer to
2) They knew the answer to
3) They didn't know you knew the answer to

For example, I kidnap you and intend to get your ATM code out of you. You don't know how much I know about your personal information, or even that I want your ATM code. But let's say I knew some information about you, like your social security number, your dog's nickname, etc. But you don't know that I know this information.

So I begin by asking you what your social security number is. If you're truthful, I reward you with a cold drink or a candy bar. If you lie, you get the hot poker to the groin.

Now if I start out with a series of ten questions that I know whether or not you're lying, and you're tortured for lies, how are you going to start answering questions? Are you going to gamble on whether or not I know the answer already? When I've primed you, ten questions down the road, and I ask you your ATM code, how are you going to answer?

So a clever interrogator wouldn't start out by asking, "Where is Osama bin Laden?" If they effectively wanted to use torture, they could ask a series of questions that they had extremely good intelligence on, that Mohammed didn't know whether they knew or not, then work their way up to more sensitive matters.

I'm sure there are other approaches, but the point is, I don't think you can simply rule out torture as completely ineffective. I think it can probably be incredibly effective under the right circumstances, and with a skilled interrogator.

But I'm with Jim and others who say that utilitarianism aside, it's wrong. Wrong because it's inhumane and it degrades the society that uses it. That, and not its effectiveness, is the reason it shouldn't be used.

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