Saturday, September 05, 2009


A letter I sent to Jerry Pournelle at his blog:

I read with interest your correspondent who (presumably) graduated from the United States Army Intelligence Center and School at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.  (If he didn't graduate, how does he know details of what happened at the closed ceremony?)

His take on the subject is a nice counterpoint to that of another Trained Interrogator (tm) of my acquaintance.  This particular Trained Interrogator (tm) does offer the utilitarian argument, claiming endlessly and loudly that Torture Doesn't Work.  Anyone who suggests it might work on occasion is declared a "Supporter Of Torture".  Any news releases claiming that enhanced interrogation methods (which he considers torture, every last one of them) yielded useful information are all lies.  They must be lies, because Torture Doesn't Work.  He knows, because he's a Trained Interrogator (tm) -- an Expert.

Of course, he has to take this position, because he's adopted the utilitarian argument up his gold standard.  Since utilitarian arguments are only as good as the data you have at hand, and indeed, only as good as the data at hand that you *believe*, no  hint of contrary data must be allowed into the discussion.  Contrary data must be cast as mistakes, errors, or outright lies by people determined to brutalize others.  No reasonable person may believe these contrary data, and anyone who does must be presumed to do so for his own evil ends.  And there's no point arguing with evil people, is there?

In the "Please don't post this from me" post, the question is asked: "How often does such a situation happens in the real world?"  How often do we have the "ticking time-bomb" situation where we need information *right now* to save one or more lives?  One Professional Interrogator (tm) claims such a scenario *never* happens -- ever.

There was a case a few years ago which is very hard to depict as anything *but* a "ticking time-bomb", though a non-explosive one.  I posted a link in my blog, just to have as a reference <>.

A Deputy Police Chief was confronted with someone who had kidnapped a young boy and buried him somewhere.  Hours of legal interrogation failed to extract the location of his victim.  When the kidnapper was threatened with torture, he gave up the information in a matter of seconds.

How many such cases are there?  I don't think anyone has counted them.  Given that torturing suspects in police custody is illegal in the Western world, I suspect there's a tendency not to report them when they occur.

But another question might well be, "How many do there *need* to be?"  If only one such case arises per year, or per decade, is that small enough to justify taking these techniques off the table altogether?  (Do you want to be the person explaining why we allowed some number of deaths rather than inflict some pain on a criminal / terrorist?  I mentioned "belief" earlier.  Even if it were solidly established through double-blind, placebo controlled studies that torture never works, what will it take to convince the families of victims of this fact?)

I think, rather than deny that such cases occur, or declare the number so low as to be insignificant, I'd rather see people trained in discerning when such cases have arisen, and some sort of policy set forth so amateurs aren't tempted to improvise with whatever tools they have at hand.  If, after such training and guidelines have been put in place, a "ticking time-bomb" scenario never arises, then great! 

But my philosophy is that I'd rather have a tool and not need it, than the other way around.

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