Everything old is old again

>> Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I think I've said this before, I guess I have to say it again: it seems to me that if you believe in the efficacy of torture as an intelligence-gathering tool, you must necessarily believe in magic.  Because we know from historical experience--in medieval Europe, in colonial New England--that people who are tortured will admit to practicing witchcraft, to being in league with the Devil, to being werewolves.  And if you want to update that data with more recent instances, we know, for instance, from all the horribly detailed records at Tuol Sleng that prisoners of the Khmer Rouge confessed in detail to being participants in seemingly-absurd joint conspiracies in which the United States was allied with the Soviets, Chinese and Vietnamese.

When I think about this, two hypotheses present themselves.  The first is that there are witches and werewolves, Satan is a real guy who lurks in the woods with a big black book that he gets recruits to sign their names in.  And nations that are mortal enemies on the brink of nuclear war can set aside their rivalries for the sake of persecuting a small, insignificant and bloody land.  The second hypothesis would be that most torture victims will, at some point, say absolutely anything they think their torturer wants to hear, no matter how absurd, incorrect, misleading, or contrary to basic laws of physics it is.

One of those hypotheses seems self-evidently ridiculous to me.

There's a usual rebuttal at this point, to the effect that this only matters if torture is the only tool, but that "properly" used, "enhanced interrogations" supplement other data.  This seemingly reasonable response disintegrates upon inspection: if you already know what your victim is telling you, all he's doing is confirming biases; at best, he's telling you nothing, but at worst he's reinforcing mistakes you're already making.

The witch-hunters of Europe already knew damn well Satan was afoot and making people and cattle sick, and causing all sorts of other mischief; torture wasn't their primary or sole source of intelligence, either, it was mostly being used to gather confessions with which to speed up trials and executions.  Without having read the Congressional report on torture issued this week, one assumes the CIA used torture--excuse me, "enhanced interrogation"-- to similar effect: a victim who disagreed with the prevailing wisdom and known knowns was subjected to further "interrogation" until he stopped "lying."  That's how it works, didn't you know?  Resistance is your excuse for torturing in the first place, it's a feedback loop: we already know x, so if the subject isn't telling us x, we add a few more pounds to his chest, we turn up the voltage, we put him back on the board.

Because Satan himself is abroad in the land.



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