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A problem with torture: It doesn't work

June 21, 2008|By RUSSELL WILLIAMS

The argument for intensive interrogation is that there are times in which people's lives are in immediate danger and their lives can only be saved by using forceful methods to extract information out of terrorists or criminals.

The difficulty is, "What happens when the authorities using forceful means of interrogation obtain information about something that does not exist or about which the person being intensively interrogated knows nothing?"

This is apparently what happened with the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The United States government and the United States military knew that the government of Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that the government of Iraq was willing to use them against both American soldiers and, if they could get them to the United States, against American civilians.

The way to save American lives was to find and destroy these weapons of mass destruction.

One way to find them was to intensively interrogate Iraqi prisoners to get them to tell what kinds of weapons of mass destruction existed and where they were located. The interrogators of the Iraqi prisoners were probably told and certainly knew that the faster they got information out of the Iraqi prisoners, the fewer American soldiers would be killed by these weapons of mass destruction.

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Under such circumstances, what interrogator would say, "Rather than use these methods I would rather use slower, less painful, methods even though, because of my slowness, American soldiers might die?"

The only problem with using forceful methods of interrogation to save American lives by collecting information about weapons of mass destruction is that in Iraq there were no weapons of mass destruction.

The prisoners knew that they knew nothing about weapons of mass destruction but that their interrogators did not believe them.

The prisoners probably quickly figured out that the way to stop their suffering was to make up a believable and uncheckable story about having seen or worked on weapons of mass destruction.

The results of the interrogations are probably classified and if released would probably be very embarrassing to the United States government. How many prisoners, under intensive interrogation, told of having a friend, now dead, who had told of working on weapons of mass destruction at some undisclosed location?

How many prisoners, under intensive interrogation, told of working on weapons of mass destruction in a laboratory in a building now totally destroyed by American bombings? How many prisoners, under intensive interrogation, told of being in a tractor-trailer that moved once every three or four days and where chemical weapons were produced?

This is one of the basic problems with intensive interrogation. Suffering people will produce answers but it is very difficult to determine whether or not the answers the interrogators want to get are in any way related to reality.

Apparently most of the American police have learned that intensive interrogation can produce a lot more confessions, but also a lot more confessions to crimes that were committed by someone other than the person that a confession was forced out of. The American legal system seems to have largely decided that it is preferable to send the guilty person to jail rather than simply send somebody to jail.

In summary, while intensive interrogation may occasionally produce valuable information that must be obtained immediately, it is also going to produce an awful lot of inaccurate information. Intensive interrogations starts from the premise of guilty until proven innocent, which is in direct contradiction to the American legal system's principles of innocent until proven guilty.

Russell Williams is a Hagerstown resident.

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