Military Torture Yields Bad Intelligence and Harms Reputation

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Military Torture Yields Bad Intelligence and Harms Reputation

by Paul Grant, October 14, 2004

Editor's note: Paul Grant, a civil-rights and criminal-defense lawyer in Denver, wrote the following in response to the position of some Objectivists as I described it in a recent article. During a September 23 talk in Boulder, Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute argued that captured enemy soldiers may be tortured only if necessary to save American lives. -- Ari Armstrong

Torture of enemy combatants as done by American soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan was probably not productive and probably not needed, even though there might be emergency, life-and-death situations where you would have to try it.

I was trained as an Army interrogator. I might try and write for you a short piece on field interrogation of combatants -- even though I was never in combat.

I do know a lot about interrogation, including that coercion, threats, and terror will -- as you might suspect -- often produce unreliable intelligence. People will say anything to get out of a dangerous situation, but they know "instinctively" that they don't owe the truth to anyone torturing them.

If you rely on coercion or torture -- or terror -- to induce information, you may well wind up bombing your own positions.

And torture of prisoners in custody will inevitably show the world that your side is evil.

Intelligent and more civilized interrogation techniques can elicit so much higher-quality intelligence and can do so much more to enhance your public image that it is hard to imagine why Americans don't rely on it.

Combat prisoners are so psychologically vulnerable to a good interrogator that physical coercion or torture just doesn't add much unless you have to have an immediate response.

The interrogator "owns" the prisoner, controls his future and his life, and very few prisoners can resist trying to somehow please an effective interrogator.

Even well-trained, well-educated American officers were usually unable to resist "brainwashing" and other interrogation techniques in Korea and Vietnam. And those interrogators weren't that good.

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