Effectiveness of torture for interrogation

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Torture has been used throughout history for the purpose of obtaining information in interrogation. Some arguments say that it is an effective way of making someone divulge vital information whilst others say it is violent, horrific and useless.

Since the revelations in 2004 and 2008 that the President George W. Bush administration authorized the use of torture in interrogations, and that United States personnel have used such practices in interrogations related to the 9/11 attacks and al-Quaeda, both at black sites and at Guantánamo Bay detention camp, discussions on this topic have been heated. In commenting on the use and effectiveness of various torture methods, with a focus on waterboarding, former U.S. Director of National Intelligence, Dennis C. Blair, wrote in 2009 that "high value information came from interrogations in which these methods were used".[1]

Alex Knapp, a staff writer at Forbes, wrote the following in 2009, "Time and time again, people with actual experience with interrogating terror suspects and actual experience and knowledge about the effectiveness of torture techniques have come out to explain that they are ineffective and that their use threatens national security more than it helps".[2] He had written an article about an FBI interrogator, who noted their practice did not include torture; FBI agents had registered strong disapproval of the US military approach.[2]

Whilst American professor of law Alan Dershowitz, a person morally opposed to torture, says that he believes law enforcement officials will employ torture in “ticking bomb” cases, an article by Dr. Marvin Zalman says that "the problem is that the “ticking bomb” scenario is a myth".[3]

FM 34-52 Intelligence Interrogation, the United States Army field manual, explains that torture "is a poor technique that yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say what he thinks the interrogator wants to hear."[4] Not only is torture ineffective at gathering reliable information, but it also increases the difficulty of gathering information from a source in the future.

Annette Sisco argues that "the [torture] techniques... are specifically designed to make captives pliable and dependent. They are designed to get prisoners to say whatever you want them to say".[5] Many torture survivors report revealing false or incomplete information since their goal was to satisfy the torturer and end the suffering, not to reveal information.[6] As an example, after the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, the Japanese military tortured a captured American P-51 fighter pilot, Marcus McDilda, in order to discover how many atomic bombs the Allies had and what the future targets were. McDilda, who knew nothing about the atomic bomb nor the Manhattan Project, "confessed" under torture that the U.S. had 100 atomic bombs and that Tokyo and Kyoto were the next targets. McDilda's false confession may have swayed the Japanese leaders' decision to surrender.[7]

The book Physicians at War: the Dual-Loyalties Challenge by Fritz Allhoff explains that "to test the effectiveness of torture researchers would have to ignore the consent of the research subjects".[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Interrogations' Effectiveness May Prove Elusive". New York Times. 22 April 2009. Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  2. ^ a b "An FBI Interrogator on the Effectiveness of Torture". Outsidethebeltway.com. 10 September 2009. Retrieved 10 February 2012. 
  3. ^ "Torture and Interrogation in a Time of Terror". Terrorism.about.com. 19 June 2010. Retrieved 10 February 2012. 
  4. ^ United States Department of the Army (28 September 1992). FM 34-52: Intelligence Interrogation. 
  5. ^ Annette Sisco. "How effective is torture? Not very | NOLA.com". The Times-Picayune/ Blog.nola.com. Retrieved 10 February 2012. 
  6. ^ Costanza, Mark A.; Gerrity, Ellen (December 2009). "The Effects and Effectiveness of Using Torture as an Interrogation Device: Using Research to Inform the Policy Debate". Social Issues and Policy Review. Retrieved 5 March 2013. 
  7. ^ Jerome T. Hagen (1996). War in the Pacific, Chapter 25 "The Lie of Marcus McDilda". Hawaii Pacific University. ISBN 978-0-9653927-0-9. 
  8. ^ Physicians at war: the dual-loyalties challenge - Fritz Allhoff - Google Books. Books.google.com.au. Retrieved 10 February 2012. 

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