Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Being Smart Beats Beating

How necessary is torture to get information from terrorists?  As a teenager I read about the Gulag and Nazi Germany and other settings where people got tortured.  I wasn't particularly looking for torture stories, but they came up in many books I read.  I soon realized that these stories of torture were always written by the people who were tortured, not by the torturer.  But I wanted to know what was going on in the head of the torturer.  How could one human being inflict such horrible pain on another?

It's still one of the questions I keep gathering data on (not in any rigorous manner, but I note things as they come up.)   The debates over torture in the television show "24" (skip down to "This wouldn’t have been a problem. . . in the link) were of great interest to me.  The show was one of the media that popularized the idea that torture was acceptable if the person being tortured knew about a plot that would, say, kill two hundred civilians.  Of course, that begs the question how the interrogators know the suspect knows this.  The issue came up in real life over torturing Guantanamo prisoners and John Yoo's lawyerly defenses of torture.

Stuck somewhere in my brain was the idea embedded in the Fifth Amendment - that one cannot be compelled to testify against oneself.  Our founding fathers knew that torture victimized the innocent and that subjects of torture would tell their interrogators whatever they thought they wanted to hear.

So when I read this article in the LA Times yesterday, I found evidence that supports my view of all this.  (And, of course, I recognize that we all tend to believe what we want to hear, so I'm offering this, as evidence, not proof.)  Here are some excerpts, but it's worth reading the whole thing:
"Hanns Scharff was a master manipulator, but not in the stereotypical Gestapo-like ways that usually come to mind. His tools were kindness, respect, empathy and guile. He told meandering stories, took detainees on long strolls in the countryside and left them alone in his office to read the U.S. military newspaper, Stars and Stripes. He provided hard-to-find cigarettes and even let one captured U.S. pilot take a short flight in a German fighter plane. But all the while, without them even knowing, he was swiping their secrets. .
"He died in 1992, well before the U.S. war on terror commenced. But his methods began getting a second look amid the fierce national debate over the harsh interrogation tactics used by the George W. Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks. President Obama and others have condemned some of those methods as torture. 
Former CIA officials have defended the rough techniques as useful, but a 2014 Senate report found that the agency’s use of torture failed to stop any imminent plots. 
Sometimes, it even backfired, the report concluded. At least one suspect “sang like a tweetie bird,” according to a CIA official quoted in the report, before he was tortured. But after being subjected to harsh interrogation, he provided no other useful information, according to the report. Amid the debate, the FBI-led interrogation unit began funding research to scientifically analyze various interrogation practices. It plans to soon release a report detailing best practices. 
Though Scharff’s techniques had been long known to U.S. officials, the research confirmed for the first time that it actually works better."  [Emphasis added]

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