Effectiveness of torture for interrogation

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Torture has been used throughout history for the purpose of obtaining information in interrogation.

Ineffectiveness of torture[edit]

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-Qaeda, 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]

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."[3] 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".[4] 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.[5] 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.[6]

The problem of false information only applies when it is difficult to independently verify the information. An example of information that would be easy to verify but hard to obtain would be a password or encryption key, a location of a terrorist training camp, or a bomb.[citation needed]

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".[7]

Effectiveness of torture[edit]

Not long after William Francis Buckley's capture (in Lebanon), his agents either vanished or were killed. It was believed that his captors had tortured him into revealing the network of agents he had established."[8] According to the United States, Buckley had undergone 15 months of torture by Hezbollah before his death. In a video taken approximately seven months after the kidnapping, his appearance was described as follows:[9]

Buckley was close to a gibbering wretch. His words were often incoherent; he slobbered and drooled and, most unnerving of all, he would suddenly scream in terror, his eyes rolling helplessly and his body shaking. The CIA consensus was that he would be blindfolded and chained at the ankles and wrists and kept in a cell little bigger than a coffin.

Some Russians were also kidnapped in Lebanon. After one of the four hostages was killed, the Russians stopped negotiations. They located a relative of a Hezbollah leader and sent his castrated testicle and dead body back. They said they located other close relatives and would send more packages of human remains if the hostages were not released. They were released.[10][11]

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. ^ United States Department of the Army (28 September 1992). FM 34-52: Intelligence Interrogation. 
  4. ^ Annette Sisco. "How effective is torture? Not very | NOLA.com". The Times-Picayune/ Blog.nola.com. Retrieved 10 February 2012. 
  5. ^ 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" (PDF). Social Issues and Policy Review. Retrieved 5 March 2013. 
  6. ^ Jerome T. Hagen (1996). War in the Pacific, Chapter 25 "The Lie of Marcus McDilda". Hawaii Pacific University. ISBN 978-0-9653927-0-9. 
  7. ^ Fritz Allhoff, ed. (2008). Physicians at war: the dual-loyalties challenge. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 9781402069123 – via Google Books. 
  8. ^ Tom Clancy and Carl Stiner. Shadow Warriors: Inside the Special Forces. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2002. 261.
  9. ^ Ceren, Omri (11 July 2011). "What It Means to Engage Hezbollah". 
  10. ^ Jack McKinney (February 26, 1988). "Kidnap A Soviet? Well . . . Shiite Moslems Tried It In Lebanon - Once". Philly.com. Archived from the original on January 15, 2013. 
  11. ^ Jack McKinney (January 15, 1986). "Hostages? No Problem Soviets Offer 'How-to' Lesson In Kidnapping". Philly.com. Archived from the original on August 6, 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

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