FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How Torture Works

by PETER LEE

Everybody breaks under torture. From Winston Smith to Jason Bourne.

Torture would work on me, for example.

If somebody starts crushing my fingertips with a pair of pliers, I’m going to tell them my ATM PIN, Batman’s secret identity, whatever.

But if you asked me where Bin Laden was, then I’m not the only person who has a problem.

Because I don’t know where Bin Laden is, but if you think I do, and keep torturing me, you’re going to get a lot of disinformation.

“Ticking time bombs” do exist, I suppose, and perhaps once in a blue moon timely torture saves the day.

But “ticking time bombs” are disproportionately invoked by torture apologists to justify quotidian torture a.k.a. “enhanced interrogation techniques” a.k.a. “coercive interrogation” a.k.a. “the third degree” as an instrument of law enforcement/national security practice.  And it’s pretty clear that routine torture doesn’t yield good data, certainly not the “actionable intelligence unavailable by other means” that is torture’s holy grail.

That’s because the martyrs and no-goodniks who expect to be tortured develop countermeasures.

And because torturers usually go too far, out of stupidity, sadism, or failing to make a careful plan to retrieve a discrete piece of information.  The weak signal—truthful information—is often overwhelmed, almost instantaneously, by the noise generated by the torturers’ poorly formulated questions and the victims’ disoriented responses.  The response to this disappointing state of affairs is often more torture, more bad data, more torture ad infinitum.

Somewhere, I know, there is a generously funded program applying Claude Shannon’s information theory to optimize torture processes.

Of course, another reason to invoke the efficacy of torture is to jazz up TV and movie depictions of counter-terrorism operations. “24” and “Zero Dark Thirty” might get pretty draggy if they showed that successful interrogation usually involves endless cups of coffee and hours of tedious chitchat about some dirtbag’s boring family until the guy’s past loyalties are so far in the rearview mirror that he feels comfortable switching his allegiance to his captors.

When one views the fictionalized torture scene in Zero Dark Thirty, it should be recalled that the “torture gave us the intel” argument has been largely debunked.

Also remember that KSM was waterboarded 183 times during the real life hunt for Bin Laden…

…while he was interrogated as to the location of Bin Laden…

…and he gave wildly conflicting replies…

…just like I would.

KSM testified:

…be under questioning so many statement which been some of them I make up stories just location UBL. Where is he? I don’t know. Then he torture me. Then I said yes, he is in this area …

An alternate depiction of the Bin Laden hunt–call it 183-Zero–might show the lovely and fragile Jessica Chastain determinedly and repeatedly waterboarding KSM, then spending a few dusty months in Kandahar chasing down false leads.  Finally, she gets her hands on the guy she knows is the link to Bin Laden, she knows if she doesn’t get this guy to spill his guts pronto OBL will slip through her fingers, so she gives him the third degree with mustard on it at Bagram and he tells her…

…he tells her she’s got to talk to KSM at Guantanamo.

I see Terry Gilliam directing.

Peter Lee edits China Matters. He can be reached at: chinamatters (at) prlee. org.

Peter Lee edits China Matters and writes about Asia for CounterPunch.  

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

December 07, 2016
Michael Schwalbe
What We Talk About When We Talk About Class
Karl Grossman
The Next Frontier: Trump and Space Weapons
Kenneth Surin
On Being Caught Speeding in Rural America
Chris Floyd
In Like Flynn: Blowback for Filth-Peddling Fascists
Serge Halimi
Trump, the Know-Nothing Victor
Paul DeRienzo
Flynn Flam: Neocon Ex-General to Be Trump’s National Security Advisor
Binoy Kampmark
Troubled Waters: Trump, Taiwan and Beijing
Tom Clifford
Trump and China: a Note From Beijing
Arnold August
Fidel’s Legacy to the World on Theory and Practice
Dave Lindorff
Is Trump’s Idea To Fix a ‘Rigged System’ by Appointing Crooks Who’ve Played It?
John Kirk
Cuba After Fidel
Jess Guh
Repeal of Affordable Care Act is Politics Playing with the Wellbeing of Americans
Eric Sommer
Team Trump: a Government of Generals and Billionaires
Lawrence Davidson
U.S. Reactions to the Death of Fidel Castro
John Garvey - Noel Ignatiev
Abolitionism: a Study Guide
Clancy Sigal
Caution: Conspiracy Theory Ahead!
December 06, 2016
Anthony DiMaggio
Post-Fact Politics: Reviewing the History of Fake News and Propaganda
Richard Moser
Standing Rock: Challenge to the Establishment, School for the Social Movements
Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi
Warmongering 99 – Common Sense 0: the Senate’s Unanimous Renewable of Iran Sanctions Act
Norman Solomon
Media Complicity is Key to Blacklisting Websites
Michael J. Sainato
Elizabeth Warren’s Shameful Exploitation of Standing Rock Victory
David Rosen
State Power and Terror: From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock
Kim Ives
Deconstructing Another Right-Wing Victory in Haiti
Nile Bowie
South Korea’s Presidency On A Knife-Edge
Mateo Pimentel
Some Notes and a Song for Standing Rock
CJ Hopkins
Manufacturing Normality
Bill Fletcher Jr – Bob Wing
Fighting Back Against the White Revolt of 2016
Peter Lee
Is America Ready for a War on White Privilege?
Pepe Escobar
The Rules of the (Trump) Game
W. T. Whitney
No Peace Yet in Colombia Despite War’s End
Mark Weisbrot
Castro Was Right About US Policy in Latin America
David Swanson
New Rogue Anti-Russia Committee Created in “Intelligence” Act
George Ochenski
Forests of the Future: Local or National Control?
December 05, 2016
Bill Martin
Stalingrad at Standing Rock?
Mark A. Lause
Recounting a Presidential Election: the Backstory
Mel Goodman
Mad Dog Mattis and Trump’s “Seven Days in May”
Matthew Hannah
Standing Rock and the Ideology of Oppressors: Conversations with a Morton County Commissioner
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
#NoDAPL Scores Major Victory: No Final Permit For Pipeline
Fran Shor
The End of the Indispensable Nation
Michael Yates
Vietnam: the War That Won’t Go Away
Michael Uhl
Notes on a Trip to Cuba
Robert Hunziker
Huge Antarctica Glacier in Serious Trouble
John Steppling
Screen Life
David Macaray
Trump vs. America’s Labor Unions
Yoav Litvin
Break Free and Lead, or Resign: a Letter to Bernie Sanders
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail