You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘torture’ tag.

Sandeep has previously blogged about the problems with torture as a mechanism for extracting information from the unwilling. As with any incentive mechanism, torture works by promising a reward in exchange for information.  In the case of torture, the “reward” is no more torture.

Sandeep focused on one problem with this.  This works only if the torturer will actually carry out his promise to stop torturing once the information is given.  But once the information is given the torturer now knows he has a real terrorist and in fact a terrorist with valuable information.  This will lead to more torture (for more information) not less.  Unless the torturers have some way to tie their hands and stop torturing after a few tidbits of information, the captive soon figures out that there is no incentive to talk and stops talking. A well-trained terrorist knows this from the beginning and never talks.

Let me point out yet another problem with torture.  This one cannot be solved even by enabling the torturers to commit to an incentive scheme.

The very nature of an incentive scheme is that it treats different people differently.    To be effective, torture has to treat the innocent different than the guilty.  But not in the way you might guess.

Before we commence torturing we don’t know in advance what information the captive has, and indeed we don’t know for sure that he is a terrorist at all, even though we might be pretty confident.    A captive who really has no information at all is not going to talk.   Or if he does he is not going to give any valuable information, no matter how much he would like to squeal and stop the torture.

And of course the true terrorist knows that we don’t know for sure that he is a terrorist. He would like to pretend that he has no information in hopes that we will conclude he is innocnent and stop torturing him.  Therefore the torture must ensure that the captive, if he is indeed an informed terrorist, won’t get away with this.  With torture as the incentive mechanism, the only way to do this is to commit to torture for an unbearably long time if the captive doesn’t talk.

And this leads us to the problem.  In the face of this, the truly informed terrorist begins talking right away in order to avoid the torture.  The truly innocent captive cannot do that no matter how much he would like to.  And so torture, if it is effective at all, necessarily inflicts unbearable suffering on the innocent and very little suffering on the actual terrorists.

%d bloggers like this: