Saturday, December 15, 2007

Tortured Good Intentions

Kevin Drum posted this on the Washington Monthly site, and I'd like to register my response to the logic contained therein.

The logic is, we're doing this to save people. Funny thing is, they're doing it for that reason, too. Save people from us, from the pre-Islamic state of ignorance, from themselves, more or less. They're saving the world, for crying out loud!

At least, that is, in their own minds.

They are rightly considered cruel, violent, and extremist for their behavior. Which is the situation we are in to a lesser extent, when we think up wonderful ways to justify what is just basically torture. It's cruelty, and what's more, it doesn't work like it's supposed to.

Supposedly, it's a magic way to get perfect information just by threatening or hurting a bad guys. That, unfortunately, is something out of the movies. We're not hard drives, to be broken into by torturing hackers. When you break a person's will, you have no idea whether they believe that telling the truth fulfills what you desire of them. If you're rather insistent on a point, they might begin to see the merits of agreeing with you, whether or not they know it to be true. If they've kept their wits about them, they can feed you whatever BS they can.

It's not that torture can never reveal good information. It's just that being the interrogator, the person who wants to know, you yourself will probably be the last person to know where the truth is or is not within a tortured person's confessions.

The glorious vision of instant actionable intelligence is an illusion. If you don't know where the truth begins or ends, you will end up having to do follow up, or perhaps possibly missing the opportunity to take action elsewhere. If you will have to follow up anyways, and your instant intelligence turns out to be BS more than anything else, then you could end up no closer to the truth than somebody who stuck to normal interrogation methods and took their time looking up leads in the first place.

But instead of being better off then them, you're worse off. You lose reputation, you lose campaigns for hearts and mind. You make it easier for people who really do dislike us to become more hateful. You make it more difficult for America to take the moral high ground and fight against these kinds of injustices.

The more we become like the terrorists, the more paralyzed we become in opposing their evils.

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