Thursday, February 2, 2017

Enhanced Interrogation

45  has made the case that torture is an effective tool. He is not the first person to make this case, nor is the claim absurd on the surface. It is rooted in the assumption that someone has vital information but won’t voluntarily give it up. By applying extreme discomfort or pain, you can cause him to change his mind and tell you what he knows. In times of war, when the lives of your warriors or citizens are at stake, prohibiting torture means either you value the enemy’s life and comfort more than your compatriots’ or you value moral principles more than moral outcomes. If that were all a discussion of torture involved, it would be simple.

The problem with torture can be stated this way. When you know precisely what you want to know, and from whom you want to know it, and you are certain he knows it, torture is a very efficient tool. But when you are in possession of that much intelligence that you basically have broken the key elements, the likelihood is that less time-consuming analysis of available facts would return you to the source who provided prior information, and it would get you there faster. All that intelligence didn’t fall into your hands by miracle. Go back and look at it again.

The more you know, the more useful torture is. But the more you know, the less likely you are to need to torture. In the case of Boston, it would be no holds barred, and torture would be likely. But the Boston example is unlikely because by the time the investigators got the information they had, they could likely figure out the rest. The less information you have, the more you are likely to collect something new. But what you need more than anything else is to figure out what you need to know. And for that you need to begin by talking to a lot of people. Torture is inefficient.

The moral question of torture is whether it is ever appropriate in order to get information. The answer is obvious. If my grandchild were kidnapped, and the kidnapper wouldn’t talk, I would tear his eyeballs out in a second. The reason is moral. The kidnapper’s moral value is nonexistent because of what he did, while my grandchild is guiltless. Protecting the rights of a monster while endangering the innocent is the height of immorality. I don’t believe anyone who claims to be morally offended by torture, until I see him protecting a kidnapper while risking his child’s life.

But as much fun as making the moral argument is, it is minimally connected to the practical question of torture. Torture is rarely useful because you seldom know the owner of the information you need and precisely what you need to know. And if time really is of the essence, you need to be focusing on what you know.