Monday, April 20, 2009

Belief in torture's efficacy = Belief in witchcraft

This piece on Slate about the history of witch hysteria demonstrates to me the absolute absurdity of torture. Anyone who thinks that torture techniques such as waterboarding are effective tools of interrogation must also believe in witches. Why? Because throughout history (and into the present day) people have confessed to being witches under torture. Therefore, if you believe that torture works to "extract the truth" then all those people who confessed must really have been witches!

This demonstrates the insidious evil nature of torture. Not only can the torturer come to a false conclusion -- the one they want -- but even the tortured can come to hold the same false ideas. In other words, torture isn't merely morally reprehensible, but it doesn't even work!

Indeed, suppose you were "the Devil" and your goal was to explicitly foil legitimate interrogations because, as the devil, you had a sick desire to ensure chaos reigns throughout the world. As such, you couldn't come up with a "better" interrogation technique than torture. The questioner ends up reinforcing the ideas they started with and thereby ignores possibly valid alternative leads and the suspect may end up believing the planted ideas thereby reinforcing the incorrect assumptions of the torturer. If it weren't horrific, it would be the plot of a goofball comedy where two characters engage in a circular conversation convincing themselves of something absurd like up is down or love is hate. A "real" malevolent Devil would watch humans engaged in such cruel pointless floundering and be amused to no end. Will we stupid humans ever stop entertaining "the Devil" by engaging in this ghastly charade given the obvious pointlessness and immorality of it? Signs are not hopeful.


Anonymous said...

Torture is effective. Not for getting people to tell you their secrets, but for getting people to say what you want them to say.

So: as a method for intelligence gathering? No

As a tool for propaganda? Yes

If you want to say: "We have confessions from senior Al Qaeda operatives that they have been collaborating with the Iraqi government to plan terrorist operations," then torture some senior Al Qaeda operatives until they tell you what you want to hear.

Anonymous said...

And the people who are using torture for this end are smart and know EXACTLY what they are doing.

Zack Booth Simpson said...

As to Anonymous' point about it being a tool for propaganda -- there's no need to commit cruel acts of violence to create propaganda, that only requires the much easier task of lying.

As for your claim that they are smart and know exactly what they are doing, I refer you to the Stanford Prison Experiments. Circumstances play a huge role in behavior -- otherwise smart people can end up doing things that are clearly NOT smart.