Monday, December 24, 2007
  Torture Myths
Todays Washington Post has an excellent column by Darius Rejali on the "efficacy" of torture. R. Rejali is a Poli-Sci professor at Reed College in Portland, Oregon and an expert on government torture and interrogation. He is author of 3 books, contributor to several others and the author of numerous others.

I wish I could post the entire WaPo column, but here are some highlights:

"5 Myths About Torture and Truth"

#1. Torture worked for the Gestapo.

Actually, no. Even Hitler's notorious secret police got most of their information from public tips, informers and interagency cooperation. That was still more than enough to let the Gestapo decimate anti-Nazi resistance in [occupied countries] and the concentration camps.

It's surprising how unsuccessful the Gestapo's brutal efforts were. They failed to break senior leaders of the French, Danish, Polish and German resistance. ...the number [of successes] is small and the results pathetic, especially compared with the devastating effects of public cooperation and informers.

2 Everyone talks sooner or later under torture.

Truth is, it's surprisingly hard to get anything under torture, true or false. [In France] between 1500 and 1750, [despite brutal, barbaric, inhumane methods] the number of prisoners who said anything was low, from 3 percent in Paris to 14 percent (an exceptional high). Most of the time, the torturers were unable to get any statement whatsoever.

The Japanese fascists, no strangers to torture, said it best in their field manual, which was found in Burma during World War II: They described torture as the clumsiest possible method of gathering intelligence. Like most sensible torturers, they preferred to use torture for intimidation, not information.

3 People will say anything under torture.

Well, no, although this is a favorite chestnut of torture's foes.

In fact, the problem of torture does not stem from the prisoner who has information; it stems from the prisoner who doesn't. Such a person is also likely to lie, to say anything, often convincingly. ...and the CIA's own 1963 interrogation manual explains that "a time-consuming delay results" -- hardly useful when every moment matters.

4 Most people can tell when someone is lying under torture.

Not so -- and we know quite a bit about this. ... Ordinary folk have an accuracy rate of about 57 percent, which is pretty poor considering that 50 percent is the flip of a coin. [Police] accuracy rates fall between 45 percent and 65 percent -- that is, sometimes less accurate than a coin toss.

In fact, most torturers are nowhere near as well trained for interrogation as police are. ... And, not surprisingly, they make a lot of mistakes.

5 You can train people to resist torture.

Supposedly, this is why we can't know what the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques" are: If Washington admits that it waterboards suspected terrorists, al-Qaeda will set up "waterboarding-resistance camps" across the world. Be that as it may, the truth is that no training will help the bad guys.

Simply put, nothing predicts the outcome of one's resistance to pain better than one's own personality. Against some personalities, nothing works; against others, practically anything does.

The thing that's most clear from torture-victim studies is that you can't train for the ordeal. There is no secret knowledge out there about how to resist torture.

And yet these myths persist. "The larger problem here, I think," one active CIA officer observed in 2005, "is that this kind of stuff just makes people feel better, even if it doesn't work."

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Retired from the US Air Force after more than 20 years of service. Now working as a contractor for various government agencies.

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