January 05, 2010

RATIONALITY UNDER INTERROGATION

Jonah Goldberg wonders if terrorists, even if they know Americans cannot kill them in custody, would still break under the stress of interrogation.  (Read the whole thing for a complete understanding of the post.)

All I can add on this matter is what I know secondhand from my husband.  After a week of "interrogation" at SERE school, he said he probably could've murdered one of the guards without hesitation if he thought it meant escape.  The same guards he rationally knew were paid employees there to train him.  And that if he ever saw one of them out at Walmart, he's not sure he could see them as normal human beings.  He barely wanted to speak to them once the training was over.

So I think that letting terrorists read our playbook is a bad thing, but weeks or months of interrogation probably destroys whatever rationality one may have towards the situation.

Posted by: Sarah at 10:07 AM | Comments (6) | Add Comment
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1 One could argue that one should never write about topics one hasn't experienced firsthand. That hasn't stopped me from writing about war, but for some reason I am particularly reluctant to write about torture. I feel like I'm guessing in the dark. I don't even know how effective it is. Here is an objection I've never seen before:

Whenever a person who knows military secrets is captured by the enemy, the colleagues of the person who was captured instantly take action to render what he knows obsolete. For example, if we ever lost a monthly code book when I was in the Army, they would immediately issue new ones to everyone and order the prior code books be destroyed and the prior codes never be used again.

Any future actions that were known by the captured person would be canceled or greatly modified. Hidden assets or persons would immediately be moved to new locations unknown to the captured person.

If you were an enemy secret spy or saboteur, the moment you heard a colleague who knew your identity or location was captured by the enemy, you would hightail it and most likely get completely out of the undercover business. During World War II, Allied personnel who escaped from behind German lines were not allowed to be on the front any more for fear they might be recaptured and give up the identities of those who helped them escape.

This has always been true of all militaries and spy services. It does not matter whether the country that captured the person has a policy for or against torture. Mere incarceration causes many to talk.

So not only is information obtained by torture usually useless because a tortured person will tell you whatever you want to hear even if he knows nothing about it. [This is a problem with surveys in general. -A] Americans in World War II who were tortured to reveal the secrets of the Norden Bomb Sight drew many diagrams of how it worked even though they never knew how it worked. But even the good information that a captured enemy knows is generally useless because the mere fact that the person has been captured means that the enemy will make immediate changes that renders the information obsolete.

Two questions come to mind:

First, is it possible that some information a captured enemy knows is less subject to change than other information?

Second, does it make sense to ask for relatively static information first, particularly during the time lag (if any) between the capture of a prisoner and the enemy's knowledge of the capture?

Notice I wrote "ask for" instead of "torture to obtain". I am interested in the effectiveness of interrogation in general.

Posted by: Amritas at January 05, 2010 11:22 AM (+nV09)

2 I read this on my phone last night and was kinda in agreement with you about it.  I think it is incredibly stupid to allow things to make the light of day that will give aide and comfort to the enemy.  But I would like to think the self assured-ness will be worn down by the actual interrogation (TORTURE!) 'process'. 

And that is on Mark's summer school checklist before he leaves.  Then he goes directly to another something or other.  Not sure when I will see him after he is done with that, so I am interested in how he will do.


Posted by: wifeunit at January 05, 2010 01:01 PM (4B1kO)

3 wifeunit,

I read this on my phone last night and was kinda in agreement with you about it.

Do you find yourself reading more on a phone than an actual computer? I think I might be reaching that point.

I think it is incredibly stupid to allow things to make the light of day that will give aide and comfort to the enemy.

I agree. Has anyone argued that this is a good thing for national defense (as opposed to ... other agendas)?

But I would like to think the self assured-ness will be worn down by the actual interrogation (TORTURE!) 'process'.

As the article I linked to says,

Mere incarceration causes many to talk.

Is that true?

And that is on Mark's summer school checklist before he leaves.  Then he goes directly to another something or other.  Not sure when I will see him after he is done with that, so I am interested in how he will do.

He's going to SERE, or something like it? As a reader of Sarah's blog, you have some idea of what to expect ... shudder ...

Posted by: Amritas at January 05, 2010 04:51 PM (+nV09)

4

Sincerely, if I recognized an individual as being paid to do [things I don't even know the smallest part of], I'd have trouble looking at them like human beings if I saw them at Walmart, too.  

I understand the earnest purpose in theory, but I don't even think that how a lot of TI/DIs behave is right.  I'm sure that's ungrateful heresy for a milspouse, but there it is.  Hubby has considerably more forbearance, which serves him well.

As to the "real issue," it's an interesting question.  I tend to agree with your thought that the incarceration might do just fine, if anything must "do" to aid interrogation.  I'm sure that Cabin Fever gets more acute in those situations.

Posted by: Krista at January 05, 2010 05:35 PM (sUTgZ)

5 I have never been, and never expect to be, interrogated in any manner, but I read a lot of these theories about how we should waterboard the panty bomber (I like Mark Steyn's name for him) and I just think, "why do they think a man who would blow off his own genitals would break with waterboarding."  In his case it is possible he would think it would get him into the afterlife in a way he was not able to do on his own.  Also, they may have trained him in being able to withstand it in the same way we train our people to withstand it.  I do believe in intense interrogations, there are some things we need to know.

Posted by: Ruth H at January 05, 2010 08:03 PM (WPw5a)

6 MacGyver felt pretty much the same way about his SERE experience (though it was nothing like your husband's as it was "SERE light" for flight school). He purposely avoided his guards and interrogators for that reason. He was so close to graduation and didn't want to ruin it by not being able to control himself if he were to encounter one of them.

I've been interrogated once and can honestly say that I should never be trusted with state secrets - I folded like a house of cards. Granted, they pulled a hard-core "good cop/bad cop" routine on me but you'd think, after years of watching "Law and Order", I'd know how to resist.

Nope.

I never, in my entire life, want to go through that again. Ever.

Posted by: HomefrontSix at January 05, 2010 09:02 PM (umhCJ)

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