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The Morality of Torture

Started by LegendarySandwich, November 28, 2010, 02:07:44 AM

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Quote from: "Tank"Morality isn't the same as effectiveness.

One can argue that under some circumstances torture will lead to the extraction of inaccurate or false information. I would contend this is mainly down to torturing the wrong person e.g. they don't know what you think they know. Thus the person being interrogated tell lies to stop the pain. The British used very effective interrogation methods during WWII. One such example was to put prisoners together in a cell with a hidden microphone and listen to them. In due course remarkable amounts of information were obtained. The effect can be seen on Big Brother. Contestants start to become blasé about the cameras after a few days. The captured Germans, mostly aircrew were not even aware they were being listened too. Once they thought they had been interrogated and deemed of no interest they happily chatted about every thing. This allowed the British to create 'Trojan Prisoners' who were put into detention with the real prisoners and they would lead the conversation around to the subjects the British wanted to find out about. These were very brave men as if they were found out they would almost definitely come to a gruesome end.  

However if one is certain that an individual does poses the information required then torture is often effective. How effective is again determined by the amount you know the subject knows and if that 3rd party information allows one to verify what you expect the subject to know. There are a number of techniques that the SAS and Royal Marines are taught that are highly effective at encouraging individuals to tell them what they need to know, and they work. But the issue of accuracy will always be a balancing act. Even if the person knows what you think they know and they tell you what you want to know there is no guarantee that the interpretation of that information will be accurate. One example, although not related to torture, occurred during WWII when the Germans brought some radar jamming equipment to Sicily to disrupt the British radar on Malta. The British had expected this. When the jammers were switched on the British radar screens turned into an indecipherable field of static 'snow'. The operator went to switch off the system and the commander told him not to. Three days later the Germans switched off the jammers, they obviously hadn't worked as the British were still using the radar. The Germans stopped using that type of jammer completely as a result of its failure. The Germans failed because they didn't correctly interpret the information they had.

To my mind the behaviour of the security forces at Guantanamo Bay has everything to do with revenge and nothing to do with intelligence gathering. The use of boredom and Trojan Prisoners would have given the security services all they needed to know. Now this makes me very suspicious about the motivations of the security forces there. They are professional interrogators, they know about the effects of boredom and how to exploit human psychology.

So the effectiveness of torture as a method of extracting information is not 100%. It has to be used on the right person, the information has to be verifiable and it has to be correctly interpreted to be effective. In other words it's not a magic wand.

Now as to the morality of torture it's a classic numbers game. Does torturing one or a few individuals prevent something else happening that is worse for more people? That has to be dealt with on a case by case basis. On a personal level if I was 95% sure that torturing a person would definitely save the life of one of my kids and I knew I would go to prison for a very long time and probably never get out again as a result of my actions I would do what needed to be done to get the information. Would I do it to save somebody else's child? No I don't think so, but I wouldn't stop that parent from trying.Would I do it to save a number of children not including my own? Don't know, but I expect it would come down to how emotionally bound to the situation I was.

So to my mind the efficacy of torture is one thing, it does work but there are often better ways to get information. The morality is 'does the end justify the means?' and on a personal level under certain extremely specific circumstances I think torture is justifiable.

Now spreading the net wider is torture of terrorist suspects after the event of a terrorist act a reasonable thing to do? And by reasonable I would say does the action prevent more terrorism? Personally I do not think torture is justifiable as there are infinitely more effective ways to exploit a terrorist suspect than to lock them up and water-board them. Imprisoning them for a little while and really learning about them and then releasing them is far more effective as they become bait for others and their actions can be tracked, their connections to organisations, suppliers and other groups could be monitored and would give invaluable intelligence to security forces. They would act as 'activity markers'.

The human desire for revenge has really fucked up the so called 'war on terror'. You can't wage war on terrorists you have to trap them one by one in a painstaking exercise and at the same time erode their credibility as providers of the result they are attempting to gain. This is precisely how the British and Irish governments closed down the IRA, they removed their credibility as an organisation for providing the reunification of Ireland. Killing loads of Iraqis and Afghans has not removed the threat of terrorism and it never will. To truly stop a terrorist one has to remove their desire to kill. Killing them may win a battle but it does not win an ideological war.

Well said.
I am what survives if it's slain - Zack Hemsey