Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Fruit of the Poison Tree

See, here's the thing.

Torture corrupts.

Call it what you want; "enhanced interrogation", "extraordinary measures", "psikhushka". The systematic infliction of suffering is inherently corrupting to the people who administer it and the organizations that employ it.

Because torture is not interrogation.

Interrogation is intended to gain information.

Torture is intended to gain confessions. Confessions that the torturers want to hear.

A person that uses torture to gain confessions becomes useless as an interrogator and deaf to information. The agonized babble of a person suffering beyond coherence quickly becomes meaningless noise. If you are tortured you will say anything, everything, to make the torture stop. If you are the torturer you lose the ability to find the truth amid the pain and fear.

An organization that employs torture and torturers quickly becomes a servant of the propaganda that the torture is meant to support and the presumptions that the torture is designed to confirm.

Armies that use torture begin to become instruments of that propaganda rather than instruments of policy. Intelligence agencies that use torture begin to become guardians of the secrets of and defenders of the barbarities of torture rather than cold instruments of state. Nations that use torture quickly find how useful it is in generating results that they want in the short term. And the spiral of torture, and lying to hide the torture, and lying to excuse the torture, and lying to hide and excuse the lies, works deeper and deeper into the culture of the army, and the intelligence agency, and the nation.

Until first the torturers end up running the intelligence agency.

And then the torturers become the generals.

And, finally, the torturers become the presidents and prime ministers.

The toxic "war on terror" has been the ground that has nursed this poison tree, and has given it the night and fog it needed to grow. To our shame We the People have never insisted on throwing open the doors, letting in the light that would have killed this noxious weed, never dug deep and uprooted and thrown it and the torturers on the fire. In our fear and hate we have let it grow.

If shame were still a permissible public emotion we should be ashamed of ourselves.

But we will not.

And, instead, we will nurture the fruit of that poison tree in our hands and our hearts.


Tom Kratman said...

You're really not going to like this:




Short version: 1) Yes, torture can work, 2) No, that using it in ineffective forms, ineffectively, doesn't mean it can't work, 3) it often has worked, 4) it is always present, and effective, even if not used, 5) there is no difference, in operating principle, between a plea bargain in a criminal case and torture (see 4), above), 6) better a little, as a preventative, than a lot if something really bad (marca registrada) happens, that could have prevented with that little, but 7) if it's a case of totally destroying the home front if you use it, probably just as well not to bother.

FDChief said...

So, here's the thing;

Did you notice the part in the post where I said "Torture doesn't work!"


That's because I didn't say "Torture doesn't work". I said torture corrupts, I said "A person that uses torture to gain confessions becomes useless as an interrogator and deaf to information.", I said that an agency or an organization that succumbs to the temptation to torture quickly becomes a captive of the torturers, and has to devote a ridiculous amount of wasted time and energy to concealing, or defending, or justifying torture that should be more valuably spent on other things.

I NEVER said torture "doesn't work".

It does - for what it's designed to do; get confessions.

You torture me and by the time you've gotten around to my third knuckle I'm swearing to you that my gray-haried granny was a spy for the KGB. Fuck, I'll say ANYthing to make the pain stop.

That's my point; use torture regularly and you start to lose the sense for what is intelligence and what is agonized babble.

Here's another thing; torture is sloppy and undisciplined.

Organizations that use torture begin to rely on it. They lose the edge that good interrogators have for working their subjects. They begin to get crude and brutal. They will fuck up your intel because they have stopped listening and just concentrate on the screams. If they're cops, they fuck up your court case because their evidence isn't admissible.

Organizations that use torture lose their discipline. How the hell do you think we got to Abu Ghraib? How could those hillbilly cage-kickers NOT start tormenting their prisoners? Hell, the hard guys from the three-letter agencies were "doing it"? Why NOT do a little after-hours torture for fun? That's how that shit works its way into an organization's mindset.

That's how you "destroy the home front".

And, finally, there's no evidence that "a little" torture is 1) possible, or 2) acts as a preventive. First, torture breeds torture. Look at how quickly, and throughly, it ran through the CIA all over the world. Second, there's no evidence that the US gained any intel worth the crime of torture, or that the entire "war on terror" is worth our country joining the USSR and the PRC and North Korea and Nazi Germany as one of the torturers.

And if you think that a plea bargain is torture, well...let's see both of them work you over and see if you still buy that. Bet?

FDChief said...

And one final note. Frankly, I could care less whether torture works to gain Intel. Some gains are not worth the cost. It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the entire world. But for Wales..?

Tom Kratman said...

You kind of did, actually, when you said that "Torture is intended to gain confessions. Confessions that the torturers want to hear." You said, and actually just repeated, that it works only for that, hence impliedly doesn't work for intel gathering. If that's all it's used for (not saying it's never used for that because, of course, historically it has been), then it would tend to follow that it's not useful for anything else.

Sigh, no, that's not how it's properly (yeah, yeah, I know: never proper) done or how it works. Historically it has been used for other things, and effectively. There are a couple of examples in those cites I gave you, IIRC.

In the first place, it's not a panacea. If all you've got is torture then you've got little or nothing. In the second place, because of that, if you are going to use torture several things should be true. You need to keep your torture section (I'm not much for euphemism, really) small. Why? So that a) you prioritize who is subject to the full treatment and b) therefore don't become completely dependent on it. Also, c) you owe it to the prisoner and, now that you mention it, your own soul, to give him a chance to spill his guts early. This is usually and effectively done with a tour and explanation of the methods that will be used. Old technique. Works often enough, indeed, it seems to work surprisingly often. I would further suggest that it ought never be used for anyone you cannot legally put to death anyway. That's less of a restriction than it might appear since every member of, say, Al Qaeda and ISIS have voluntarily joined in a conspiracy to wage war in an illegal manner. The traditional penalty for that is...

Now think about c) for a bit. Imagine we are in that ticking time bomb scenario and you can save a lot of innocent lives with a mere threat. How much problem do you have with that? That tour is already legally torture.

As for you and your granny, no, a bright interrogator wouldn't be interested in that. You're just restricting yourself to your preconceptions there. Assume you were important enough for the small torture department to bother with; say, for example, you had planted a bomb somewhere. They only want to know where the bomb is. You can try to implicate granny if you like, but they don't care; they just want to know where the bomb is. The pain's going to last until they know where the bomb is. I would suggest that if you're willing to turn over granny by the time they get to your third knuckle, it's at least as true that you'll tell us where the bomb is by that time. (Probably wouldn't be a knuckle, by the way. There are better ways.)

As McCain said, and said truly, people will say anything under torture. It's true but it's a half truth, hence wholly misleading. If pain will make someone say anything, then the truth is in that infinite category of anything.

There are several ways to make them work. You have two people you think have the same info and the info is important enough to send them to your torture section? Separate them. (Don't worry overmuch about them concocting a story; it's harder than hell to keep a made up story straight when in agony.) Separate them. Give them the tour separately. Ask your questions. If the stories/answers don't match (and people aren't that hard to trick)...pain, pain until they do. Alternatively, you've got only one person.. You either know some important things he knows that he doesn't know you know, or you do not. If not, forget it; you have nothing to work with. If you do, however, you catch him in a lie. Pain. Then you catch him in another one. Pain. Just like you (or me, for that matter, but not, I think, Leila Khalid, qv) on that third knuckle, we'll tell the truth rather than endure more pain.

Tom Kratman said...

"Organizations lose their discipline." I would suggest that you have cause and effect mixed up. There was no obvious discipline among the shitheads at Abu Graib to begin with, no discipline for torture to overcome. They were rabble to begin with and never seem to have risen above that. Now, conversely, how does, say, the 3rd Infantry Division lose it's discipline when it never tortures anyone, but turns over certain high value prisoners who, as far as it knows, are only tried and hanged for war crimes? What's the actual mechanism whereby the wretched and miserable torture of Abdul Kalb ibn Kalb, out of sight, out of mind, and ultimately with a stretched neck, has any affect on the discipline for 3rd ID?

What I said was that the operating principles of a plea bargain or torture were the same. That principle is the offer of reduced or no pain for cooperation. That's the essence of them and they are not, in that, really any different than c), above.

Lack of evidence is kind of a specious objection, really. The CIA would be disinclined to tell us if it were true or false. Admittedly, it is entirely possible that we are the least effective torturers in human history so, unlike others, we never, never, never got any worthwhile intel from it. I consider the odds of this to be poor, by the way. We've been understudying some of the best for decades now. (Long conversation with Noam Chompsky about 18 or 20 years ago: "C'mon, Noam; we're not teaching torture at School of the Americas. Think about it for a bit; what the hell have _we_ got to teach Chileans and Argentinians about torture. We're the students there, not the masters.")

Note here, that interrogation and torture were never my job, a fact I am perfectly happy with. But one reads, one researches, one thinks, and one does not let euphemism or modern pieties interfere with fact and reason. One shouldn't, however, entirely discount emotion. I ask myself, honestly, "What would I be willing to do to protect my wife, my children or grandchildren from harm?" The honest answer is, "Whatever it takes." Yes, that would include torture under some conceptual circumstances. What would you be willing to do to protect yours? Are you absolutely certain that "whatever is takes" isn't on the list?

FDChief said...

A man's, or an army's, or a nation's soul shouldn't be a question of "modern piety" but founded on principle. If torturing helpless captives isn't barbarism, isn't criminal, isn't vile I cannot think of what is. It's really simple; either you're a torturer, or you're not. I know which I am, and it has nothing to do with "modern piety" but self-respect.

If that isn't enough, consider both history and current events. Historically Western armies that turn to torture lose their discipline and, eventually, their honor. The French in Algeria and Vietnam, the Portuguese in Africa, any number of South and Latin American armies in their "dirty wars". If you let the 3rd ID begin to treat local guerrillas - which is what the Iraqis, Afghan, and IS grunts they're fighting are - don't fall into that "terrorist" rhetorical trap the torture enthusiasts want you to - as war criminals where's the bright line that separates 3rd of the 5th Infantry from Sonderkommando Dirlewanger?

And let's put this whole nonsense in perspective. Can you believe that we're debating - and you're defending - torture, a certifiable war crime we hanged German and Japanese officers for in the Forties over shitty little cabinet wars with raggedy-ass Central Asian guerrillas? And here we saw off the Soviets with their tens of thousands of nukes and hordes of tanks and aircraft with nothing more than Levis and rock n roll? The pants-wetting hysteria that insists that we MUST become the New Romans to turn back these sad Saladin wannabes would be ludicrous if it wasn't so vile.

FDChief said...

No. We'll tell ANYthing. Truth, lies, fantasies, whatever we think will make the pain stop.

It's instructive that the MI guys I served with during the Cold War had nothing but contempt for torture.

FDChief said...

The more I think about it the more ridiculous the whole business is. Like I said; the US did for Nazis and Japanese imperialism without systematic torture. We restored the intraKorean border. We outlasted the Soviets and the Red Chinese. Those were actual wars where losing (except to the Norks) could have meant the end of the US. And here we are, freaking out over a bunch of overambitious Koran-wallopers? Seriously?

In fact, the only way these gomers can "destroy" us is if we panic and destroy ourselves by becoming the monsters the jihadis claim we already are.

The very best reason for passing on the waterboarding and stress positions is that they're what the fanatics want us to do. And as a privvit the first lesson about tactics I learned was "don't do what your enemy wants you to do."

Tom Kratman said...

You're characterizing as defending what I characterize as analyzing honestly. As you said, you don't care if it works so long as we don't do it. So why should you care if I've shown how it works as long as we don't do it? Is the palatable falsehood preferable to the unpleasant reality? If that's your position...

Well, at this point it would seem I cannot overcome an unwillingness to both read and think or, at least, to do so in any way that might threaten your preconceptions. No problem; the world will not collapse, nor even our part of it, by what you or I believe.

I will note, however, that if torture (and a whole lot of other war crimes) destroyed the general battle discipline of the Japanese Army or the German Army it's tolerably hard to see where or when it did so. You wouldn't happen to have a cite or two for the proposition, would you?

FDChief said...

When "analyzing honestly" produces the conclusion that "torture works" without immediately proceeding to "but who gives a shit, because it's a despicable, cowardly war crime that taints everyone associated with it" you're in "defending" territory, pal. It's kinda lame not to be willing to own it after that.

And, no, your "analysis" won't change my opinion. It's a moral issue as much or more than a practical one. Morals aren't fungible.

And the German Army lost to the Soviets largely due to their inability to restrain their loathsome tendency to torture and kill. The inhabitants of what is today Ukraine were ready to welcome the people who lifted the Soviet oppression. But the atrocities the German units committed turned 99% of their potential allies against them.

Without, you'll note, any intelligence of value being elected from their crimes.

And the Japanese? Read my series on the IJA. The Japanese Army was the crudest, least competent organization of any of the powers, and a LOT of that had to do with the sort of "warrior" callous brutality that infused the officer corps. The same boneheaded bushido that produced pointless bayonet charges produced torture and the Death March.

Tom Kratman said...

That's because, a) as mentioned, if it were my wife, children, or grandchildren at risk, my answer is "whatever it takes," so b) I cannot in good conscience criticize those who are doing or would do the same for similar reasons, while c) however much someone may bury their head in the sand and insist it doesn't work for anything but extracting confessions - and wouldn't the French who cleared out Algiers, largely through intel gained via torture, be most surprised by this news? - it does work. Because it does work, or, rather, can work, competently done, it is always there as an option and will be used by us - massively, not "torture light" - if we ever take a more serious hit than 9/11.

That's honest. What's dishonest - you said it, so "own it" - is claiming that torture only works to extract confessions.

You keep mixing things up. You said "discipline" and I asked where the Germans or the Japs battlefield discipline failed because they used torture. You cannot produce any evidence that it did because their battlefield DISCIPLINE was pretty damned good, better than ours as a general rule. That's because, ya know, discipline and competence are not the same things. Similarly, with the Germans. You claimed it became a discipline problem, but that's just nonsense. they didn't lose to that. Their battlefield discipline remained extremely high right to the end. And they lost largely to numbers. Any other belief is the love child of a fantasy and a myth.

FDChief said...

First let me apologize for sitting on the previous comment for so long. As with the rest of my blogging, real life intervened, and I just finally got around to this when I got a break from IRL...

Anyway, since I took so long, I wanted to take some time to address the points here.


"...as mentioned, if it were my wife, children, or grandchildren at risk, my answer is "whatever it takes,"

This is a common theme amongst torture lovers. "What about the ticking bomb!" "But what if it was YOU or your family in danger!". And if the threat were real, it might have some validity.

Not that it would make torture either 1) less of a crime, or 2) more effective. But the patrie en danger has been an effective summons to atrocity since, well...forever.


"You and yours" are in terrible danger...of cancer, or of reckless drivers, or of slips, trips, and falls in the bathroom, and yet I don't hear you advocating torturing doctors, drivers, or tile manufacturers. The "danger" you're getting spun up enough about to commit a crime that our nation hung our opponents for after WW2 is right up there with being struck by lightning or clawed to death by rabid feral cats.

It's a ridiculously bad reason to be a criminal, like fighting for slavery or Nazism.

And, second, like I keep trying to pound into your forehead; it's VERY unlikely to work, and specially not the way you want it to.

The CIA torture program was a mess - as I said in the post, torture makes you sloppy and undisciplined. What little we know about it - and the executive summary of the Congressional investigation is here - https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/7/c/7c85429a-ec38-4bb5-968f-289799bf6d0e/D87288C34A6D9FF736F9459ABCF83210.sscistudy1.pdf - suggests that almost no actionable intelligence was obtained from the program. Which, when you think about it, makes sense given the historical record. The French torture in Algeria you mention? Ummm...remember how it helped France put down the rebellion?

Yeah, me neither.

The Axis powers used torture during WW2; can you cite any instance where that torture helped the Axis, either strategically or tactically? Both we, our South Vietnamese ally, and the North used torture sporadically or systematically. Any evidence of that gaining practical intelligence there? No agonized COSVN prisoner gasping out the details of Tet 1968? No?

Yeah, me neither.


FDChief said...

"Their battlefield discipline remained extremely high right to the end."

And this is the sort of tactical wanking that used to drive me crazy back in the old Intel Dump days. "Battlefield discipline"? You mean the sort of battlefield discipline that characterized the 2SS Panzer's march to Normandy? Or the general conduct of the German Heer in western Russia that ensured the population would not rally to fight the Soviets? Or the French torture in Algeria that lost them the war AND created a massive mutiny in the French Army? Or the Portuguese torture in the colonial war in Angola that also led to a mutiny and coup?

Individual line units are one thing; the soul of an Army, the effectiveness of that army as an instrument of national policy, is another. As Sun Tzu pointed out, if you don't know yourself and you don't know your enemy you can win a hundred battles and still lose.

What I see as the problematic part of American torture and our failure to deal with it - beyond the simple criminality of it, which is, of course, neither "simple" nor merely "criminal" - is that it shows the degree to which we don't know ourselves. We have ginned up this ridiculous boogeyman in "terrorism" and convinced ourselves that we need to toss away every shred of honor to "fight" it, while still clinging to the notion that we're some sort of shining city on the hill, a bastion of civilization holding back the dark Islamic hordes. We try to portray ourselves as such to the world, all the while trying to elide the darkness they can see perfectly well.

In trying to avoid looking at ourselves in the harsh light of truth, of pretending that we're protecting our "wives, children, and grandchildren" by torturing the husbands, wives, children, and grandchildren of those we have feared ourselves up over, we have made ourselves foolish, sloppy, deluded fools.

THAT's the sort of collective indiscipline that can win a hundred battles and - as it is now and has been since 2001 - lose wars.

FDChief said...

One other thing that occurred to me after writing the comments above - what if you're wrong?

You admit that to have any hope of "working" you have to commit crimes in job lots. You have to torture a bunch of peoples to get corroborating statements. So you've obligated yourself to be a monster wholesale and not just retail.

And so some predictable number of your victims will be completely guiltless; poor dumb bastards picked up by mistake, or because some informant had a grudge, or as part of a local power struggle you have no clue is even going on (your intel is so bad you're having to torture people, right?).

So not only have you voluntarily made yourself a criminal and an object of hate and fear amongst the locals you're trying to "win over"...in a reliable number of cases you're a REAL monster, torturing complete innocents who can't confess what you want them to because they genuinely don't know anything.

This whole discussion is really pretty sickening. Who would have thought that we, the "land of the free", would ever even have to debate this?