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Abuse of Torture

Those concerned with the subject of torture fall into too extreme groups, those who see torture is an uncompromising way to get results fast and those who see it as morally wrong under any circumstances. The first is a functional argument and the second a moral one.

I believe both views are wrong.
  • The functional view is wrong, in that it would seem that torture is the best way to get results only under a very limited set of conditions.
  • The moral view is wrong in that under a limited set of conditions torture can be morally justified.
Yet these two views have become the two sides of the torture debate and severely clouded the question "What is the use and what is the misuse of torture?"

By understanding the limited set of conditions where torture is functionally or morally justified, we automatically understand that nearly all the cases of its use today are neither functionally or morally justified. Today the misuse of torture has become a dangerous cultural norm.

Kubark counter-intelligence interrogation July 1963

One blogger quoted from the 1963 CIA interrogation manual "Kubark counter-intelligence interrogation July 1963";

So yes, under a very limited set of circumstances torture may work but the only time that's true is when you're in a rapidly developing situation, and you can't tell when it does and when it doesn't until it's too late. And it doesn't work as well as other interrogation techniques if you have the time. The CIA had established that by 1962, and had a manual on it.  Allow me to quote from it:

"The threat of coercion usually weakens or destroys resistance more effectively than coercion itself. The threat to inflict pain, for example, can trigger fears more damaging than the immediate sensation of pain. In fact, most people underestimate their capacity to withstand pain. The same principle holds for other fears: sustained long enough, a strong fear of anything vague or unknown induces regression, whereas the materialization of the fear, the infliction of some form of punishment, is likely to come as a relief. The subject finds that he can hold out, and his resistances are strengthened. 'In general, direct physical brutality creates only resentment, hostility, and further defiance.' (reference provided in original text)"

The tone here is clear: threats are much more effective than punishments. The threat allows the subject's mind to work against itself; the actuality creates the feeling that resistance is possible, once it has been endured. This impression is strengthened by the following:

"Interrogatees who are withholding but who feel qualms of guilt and a secret desire to yield are likely to become intractable if made to endure pain. The reason is that they can then interpret the pain as punishment and hence as expiation. There are also persons who enjoy pain and its anticipation and who will keep back information that they might otherwise divulge if they are given reason to expect that withholding will result in the punishment that they want. Persons of considerable moral or intellectual stature often find in pain inflicted by others a confirmation of the belief that they are in the hands of inferiors, and their resolve not to submit is strengthened.

Intense pain is quite likely to produce false confessions, concocted as a means of escaping from distress. A time-consuming delay results, while investigation is conducted and the admissions are proven untrue. During this respite the interrogatee can pull himself together. He may even use the time to think up new, more complex "admissions" that take still longer to disprove. KUBARK is especially vulnerable to such tactics because the interrogation is conducted for the sake of information and not for police purposes.

If an interrogatee is caused to suffer pain rather late in the interrogation process and after other tactics have failed, he is almost certain to conclude that the interrogator is becoming desperate. He may then decide that if he can just hold out against this final assault, he will win the struggle and his freedom. And he is likely to be right. Interrogatees who have withstood pain are more difficult to handle by other methods. The effect has been not to repress the subject but to restore his confidence and maturity."

The ineffectiveness of pain is emphasized. It is more likely to create exactly the opposite effect of that desired.

Let me repeat: this was KNOWN in 1963. This is a study published by one of the most effective intelligence agencies in the world. Anyone who thinks the people writing this didn't know what they were talking about is a fool; this manual lays out the techniques of coercive interrogation, coldly, clinically, and without pulling any punches.

And the people currently conducting interrogations for the United States are ignoring this. And if you think I just said they're fools, you are correct.

The manual also states;

The intelligence service which is able to bring pertinent, modern knowledge to bear upon its problems enjoys huge advantages over a service which conducts its clandestine business in eighteenth century fashion.

The manual states;

A number of studies of interrogation discuss qualities said to be desirable in an interrogator. The list seems almost endless - a professional manner, forcefulness, understanding and sympathy, breadth of general knowledge, area knowledge, "a practical knowledge of psychology", skill in the tricks of the trade, alertness, perseverance, integrity, discretion, patience, a high I.Q., extensive experience, flexibility, etc., etc. Some texts even discuss the interrogator's manners and grooming, and one prescribed the traits considered desirable in his secretary.

Perhaps the four qualifications of chief importance to the interrogator are
  1. enough operational training and experience to permit quack recognition of leads;
  2. real familiarity with the language to be used;
  3. extensive background knowledge about the interrogatee's native country (and intelligence service, if employed by one); and
  4. a genuine understanding of the source as a person.
Of the four traits listed, a genuine insight into the source's character and motives is perhaps most important but least common.

Although it is often necessary to trick people into telling what we need to know, especially in CI interrogations, the initial question which the interrogator asks of himself should be, "How can I make him want to tell me what he knows?" rather than "How can I trap him into disclosing what he knows?" If the person being questioned is genuinely hostile for ideological reasons, techniques of manipulation are in order. But the assumption of hostility -- or at least the use of pressure tactics at the first encounter -- may make difficult subjects even out of those who would respond to recognition of individuality and an initial assumption of good will.

The manual also contains the following in the bibliography;

37. U. S. Army, The Army Intelligence School, Fort Holabird, Techniques of Interrogation , Instructors Folder I-6437/A, January 1956. This folder consists largely of an article, "Without Torture," by a German ex-interrogator, Hans Joachim Scharff. Both the preliminary discussion and the Scharff article (first published in Argosy , May 1950) are exclusively concerned with the interrogation of POW's. Although Scharff claims that the methods used by German Military Intelligence against captured U.S. Air Force personnel "... were almost irresistible," the basic technique consisted of impressing upon the prisoner the false conviction that his information was already known to the Germans in full detail. The success of this method depends upon circumstances that are usually lacking in the peacetime interrogation of a staff or agent member of a hostile intelligence service. The article merits reading, nevertheless, because it shows vividly the advantages that result from good planning and organization.

So whether you have a moral problem with torture you will no doubt instantly realise that much of the prisoner abuse that has become military policy, approved of by people like Dick Cheney, is not and cannot be called "interrogation" by any intelligent military manual. [See State Approval of Torture]

Lets face it most torture now is simply an excuse to kick asses because some who prefer to be be called "bad ass mother fu.kers" feel they are somehow contributing to world freedom. In truth they do exactly the opposite and discredit both good soldiers and good interrogators, them selves, their units and their countries.

Noting that a high I.Q. is a requirement of the interrogator. Lynndie England who was a participant and was chosen as an early scape goat for U.S. prisoner abuse policy could not be described as meeting the criteria for being an interrogator.

British forces have similar examples where coercive interrogation is nothing more than abuse. UK forces tought torture methods by David Leigh Saturday May 8, 2004 The Guardian The sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison was not an invention of maverick guards, but part of a system of ill-treatment and degradation used by special forces soldiers that is now being disseminated among ordinary troops and contractors who do not know what they are doing, according to British military sources.

Beyond the Truth

The torturer whose motive is purely to extract information from an unwilling subject has one thing in common with that subject. Both require an acceptable story fast. The torturer because it will lead to their next promotion and the victim because it will lead to relief from pain.

The torturer hopes to get as much information as possible and the victim is equally motivated to give as much information as possible for the same reasons as have already been given.

It is likely that the information will flow as long as pain is applied even after anything the victim knows has long since been divulged.

"I will tell you nothing more than I have told you; no, not even if you tear the limbs from my body. And even if in my pain I did say something otherwise, I would always say afterward that it was the torture that spoke and not I."

 'I was responsible for 9/11, from A to Z' - a confession from Guantánamo Bay Thursday March 15, 2007 The Guardian states "It is not clear why Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would have wished to confess to such a wide-ranging number of outrages". The article also states "He is understood to have gone through torture, including 'waterboarding' when the suspect being interrogated is strapped to a board and placed underwater. According to the New York Times, the Justice Department and the CIA approved of using harsh interrogation techniques on Khalid, including near drowning followed by revival. But seemingly the two are never connected by the author Ed Pilkington!  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times while being interrogated by the CIA.  Torturers boast of the speed with which they get results yet the majority of prisoners currently detained seem to have been detained an extraordinarily long time.

An MI5 officer is purported to have said that Al Quaeda is like a piece of knitting, it is complex, interwoven, at times impenetrable. You think you've got a grip of one bit of it then suddenly the whole thing unravels. This is exactly the effect we would expect. Forced interrogations, prompted confessions lead to a works of fiction which must eventually be matched up to reality. “I would suggest that the whole system of intelligence gathering is all to often prone to producing inadequate, unreliable and distorted assessments ...” said Sir Peter Heap, Ambassador to Brazil 2003.
The vast amount of evidence for the ineffectiveness of torture is  accumulated precisely because torture is, in the majority of cases, used unnecessarily where it has no hope of being effective, by people whose primary desire is the illusion of truth, not the real truth.

These people then hold up the illusions they have fabricated with their victims as proof that torture is effective. Indeed it is very effective at creating a plausible illusion of truth which can both promote  the torturer and be politically useful in creating an illusion of progress. The BBC program The truth about torture (BBC) Produced by Kate Townsend.

Most of the torture and abuse conducted today is immoral and dysfunctional and those who perpetrate it should face justice.

These dysfunctional practices, turn away those that would otherwise support us, give neutral individuals a genuine justification to join those who oppose us and fully strengthen the enemies resolve against us. For every mouth opened through torture a hundred others are shut for ever and the useful information they have is lost. This is why many Muslims are now afraid to speak even though the vast majority have never supported al-Qaeda and the Taliban, unlike the CIA who have.

These incompetent practices destroy the legitimacy of our forces and our intelligence services, are a serious threat to national security, create new enemies where there were none, discredit our nations and have betrayed what could have been the liberation of the Iraqi people.


For those who genuinely want to think about the issues;

Government Files

Torture and the Law

Disbar Torture Lawyers

Binyam Mohamed, Abou Elkassim Britel, Ahmed Agiza, Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, Bisher Al-Rawi

(Thanks Mary)

Other links

Baltimore Sun series:

© Tom de Havas 2011. The information under this section is my own work it may be reproduced without modification but must include this notice.



The Torturers

Obedience and Conscience

The Harvard  professor Stanley Milgram, known for his famous experiments in relation to the conflict between obedience to authority and personal conscience.
Milgram summed things up in his 1974 article, "The Perils of Obedience", writing:
The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous importance, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' [participants'] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' [participants'] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation. From Wikipedia.


Court allows Abu Qatada to be deported to Jordan
By Robert Verkaik, Law Editor
Published: 27 February 2007

Extraordinary Rendition

Italian judge orders CIA agents to face trial for kidnap
By Peter Popham in Rome
Published: 17 February 2007

Return of Torture

The Roots of Torture 24 May 2007
The road to Abu Ghraib began after 9/11, when Washington wrote new rules to fight a new kind of war. A NEWSWEEK investigation
By John Barry, Michael Hirsh and Michael Isikoff
Newsweek International Edition
Iraq Tactics Have Long History With U.S. Interrogators
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 13, 2004; Page A08
About KUBARK and the manuals.

Judge quashes control order on terror suspects
By Robert Verkaik, Law Editor
Published: 05 April 2007

Reasons for torture

History of Torture

The Inquisition
Cold war

Foolishness of Torture

1963 Kubark Manual
1967 Greece:  Military Coup
The military coup in Greece in May 1967, which led to the severe beating of those suspected of subversion and dissent, resulted in actions taken against Greece by Scandinavian governments and the Netherlands through the Council of Europe – clear instances where the combination of non-state actors and enlightened states could work in tandem to expand the areas of moral concern.
from “Torture: The Struggle over a Peremptory Norm in a Counter-Terrorist Era” by Rosemary Foot, St Antony’s College, Oxford based on a revised and expanded version of the E. H. Carr Memorial Lecture given at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, 13 October 2005.1
1973 Chile: Military Coup
“Another military coup, this time in Chile in September 1973, again enhanced the potency of Amnesty’s arguments. It particularly boosted the organization’s membership base in the United States (from 3000 to 50,000 members between 1974 and 1976) 28 Chile helped Amnesty’s cause for other reasons too. The coup not only displaced the leadership of a country member of the non-aligned movement but also a socialist government. Moreover, a US hand was seen to be behind the overthrow of the country’s leader, Salvador Allende. This made certain states more receptive: you could be both anti-torture and against a US-installed Pinochet regime.”

from “Torture: The Struggle over a Peremptory Norm in a Counter-Terrorist Era” by Rosemary Foot, St Antony’s College, Oxford based on a revised and expanded version of the E. H. Carr Memorial Lecture given at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, 13 October 2005.1
Torture: The Struggle over a Peremptory Norm in a Counter-Terrorist ...

1980 Iran

Northern Ireland

Requirement to be Met
See the Columbia memo.

Proper Interogation
Thinks like Ried Techneque.

Stopping the Abuse of Torture


Practices include beating, hooding, deprivation of sleep, food and water, being restrained in positions of physical stress, repeated near drowning, and near asphyxiation, loud noise for days on end, being stripped, made to participate in sexual acts, severely burned, intimidated by dogs and other such acts. Detainees have died as a result of these acts.