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Two scientists quietly revolutionising the study and practice of interrogation (theguardian.com)
290 points by snthd 40 days ago | hide | past | web | 231 comments | favorite



If you look at a presidential election as a negotiation between the political class and the electorate, or at the most recent one as an election that became a negotiation or interrogation, then the Trump voters who went for him as a “fuck you” to the system are better understood in this framework. So are the Clinton voters who reportedly stayed home. They felt victimized by the system, like their vote was a bargaining chip that the political class wanted to manipulate them into casting, and not a token to use to communicate their needs to their supposed representatives.

Clinton’s and her supporters’ hectoring about being the lesser of two evils (voter-blaming, the Bernie Bro smear, and not-really-a-progressive who gets things done come to mind) suddenly seem especially inept. The bad news is that the parties seem to want to continue in their disdain for voters, which will continue to be reciprocated. The good news is that even Bernie could come up with a message that resonated enough to get as far as he did with as few connections as he had. Someone else could do the same.


Do we really need to turn this article into a hot take on the 2016 election? This isn't useful and the responses amount to bickering over talking points/political messaging and signaling.

Concocting "Us" Vs "the political class wanting to manipulate us"/"the system"/"Clinton's hectoring"/"the parties and their disdain for voters" narratives does not advance political discussion in any way.

It may not be easy or convenient, but people need to step up and start participating in politics (at all levels, not just national) instead of viewing it this way. Why don't we call out charismatic political figures for casting politics this way? It advances individual politicians, with their own flawed views, over democracy as a method of solving problems that everyone must participate in.


The comment wasn't politically charged though, it was a neutral analogy and a nuanced opinion about the election, not supporting one side. But the risk in using politics in your analogies is that it triggers tribal instincts:

> If you want to make a point about science, or rationality, then my advice is to not choose a domain from contemporary politics if you can possibly avoid it. If your point is inherently about politics, then talk about Louis XVI during the French Revolution. Politics is an important domain to which we should individually apply our rationality—but it's a terrible domain in which to learn rationality, or discuss rationality, unless all the discussants are already rational.

http://lesswrong.com/lw/gw/politics_is_the_mindkiller/

It's makes it more likely replies will overlook the neutral nature of the comment and petty protectiveness of party or ideology will kick in.


I don’t think the comment was neutral at all. Especially:

> The bad news is that the parties seem to want to continue in their disdain for voters, which will continue to be reciprocated.

The view that both parties (the “political class” mentioned earlier in the comment, or the “establishment”) disdain voters is popular among Bernie fans and Trump fans, but not so much Clinton fans, given how much she was (reasonably) equated with the establishment, despite her being full of policy ideas meant to benefit the working class. The comment also implies that future candidates like Bernie would be “good news” who could overcome the elite/ordinary rift, presumably by blowing up the existing establishment as Bernie meant to (and to some extent did).

And yet. As a Clinton fan myself, as soon as I started reading the comment I had a eureka moment. It makes a lot of sense to me to analogous the election as an interrogation. But I‘d characterize the analogy differently - less objective, more based in perception and emotion.

For example, take voters who were pre-inclined to empathize with Trump, for any of a variety of reasons - economic anxiety, racism, a sense that Washington doesn’t care (-> empathy for the outsider), the natural tendency to empathize with the underdog, etc. Note that I said empathize, not just support. I think most voters are drawn to candidates they can empathize and identify with; by contrast, they’re very reluctant to support a candidate they dislike even if they think the candidate’s policies would be better for them. And once a voter is drawn to a candidate, being an “X supporter” starts to become a part of their own identity - and the larger a part it becomes, the more they invest their emotions and time in that identity, the more cognitive dissonance is created by questioning their views (since it would invalidate that investment), and the more biased and illogical the voter’s reasoning becomes.

So whenever Clinton attacked or belittled Trump, proto-Trump supporters had a choice:

- Feel personally attacked, respond wjth anger, end up hating Clinton more.

...or…

- Take the criticism in stride, separate the identities and realize they don’t need to defend Trump on every point, end up cooling on him a little.

Different people will make different choices, but if your goal as Clinton is to win them over, you really need to go out of your way to portray empathy for them and sympathy for their previous attraction to Trump. You need to stop it from being “us versus them”. Which is hard enough to start with; then consider that if you want to energize people on the other side of the political spectrum, those who are near you and (especially) those who are even further left, the best way is with harsh attacks, by making it as “us versus them” as possible, to strengthen their political identity. There are variations on the approach but it’s always needed to some extent, and sadly, it’s probably a better way to increase your vote total, since it’s easier to motivate someone to (vote, maybe even campaign for you) who already supported you than to get someone to change their mind.

But wait, you might say, Clinton didn’t just attack Trump himself. What about the comment where she said half of Trump supporters fit into a basket of deplorables? Well, I think it was a blunder. But it, along with the many other claims of Trump being x-ist, presents a similar choice for Trump supporters of how to react. One option might be “sure there are lots of deplorables but I’m in the unaffected 50%” - but that’s a fundamentally uncomfortable position, for many reasons including: how can you be sure you’re unaffected if most of the other supporters seem to be saying the same things you are? (FWIW, I’m not saying there aren’t some people who really had zero sympathy for Trump’s racist proposals but supported him anyway; but those are probably mostly reluctant supporters who ended up voting more against Clinton than for Trump. That’s a different case.)

More realistically, I think the choice is:

- See no evil: decide that you’re not racist, your fellow supporters aren’t racist, Trump’s not racist, and the whole thing is just “identity politics” and “political correctness” run amok.

...or…

- Look inward: realize that just about everyone has implicit biases, even if they try to avoid it - biases based deeply in the environments they’ve lived in and the experiences they’ve had. Confront the fact that you are imperfect and will never truly be rid of them - not to mention the fact that as a Trump supporter you probably started with more than average. Work towards self-improvement.

(By the way, the right does not have a monopoly on implicit - or even explicit - bias. But that’s a long story of its own.)

Anyway, both scenarios are similar to the choice of an interrogatee, especially a terrorist:

- View any poor treatment or belittlement during captivity as an extension of the same evil you were fighting. See no evil on your side, and confirm your belief that the other side really is just plain evil. Further solidify your identify as a Member of the Resistance and act as ‘bravely’ and protectively as possible (i.e. by refusing to divulge information).

...or...

- Accept that the interrogator thinks they’re doing the right thing in opposing you and has a reason for thinking that (e.g. from the example in the article, “we want to prevent killings”). Separate your identity from the resistance’s; accept that parts of the interrogator’s motivation may be valid, that even if your cause is just, the resistance has caused a lot of pain to people. End up cooling on your cause a little (if only due to the instinctual desire to compromise when in a debate).

Clearly, the more the interrogator respects you, empathizes with you, and avoids belittling you or your cause, the more you’re probably motivated to compromise. And politics isn’t so different.

One important difference between an interrogation and politics: For an interrogator to win, you don’t need to actually be turned to their side; you only need to cool on your side enough to decide to act in self-interest rather than in the cause’s interest. And only briefly, long enough to start talking: once you’ve started talking, you probably won’t suddenly change your mind and stop, partly due to diminishing returns of not talking, partly because that would be embarrassing. With politics, self-interest is less of a factor and the persuasion has to last until Election Day. Also, in an election, no human witnesses your final choice of candidate: on one hand, that makes it easier to change your mind without feeling embarrassed; on the other hand, it makes it easier to change your mind back after being persuaded, and to act selfishly (which in this case is a bad thing) rather than in the interest of everyone.

There’s also a pride/showing off factor in interrogations, where the interrogatee wants to talk/brag about what they did. I don’t see as much of a parallel in politics, since there are fewer secret plans there, but... maybe just having your would-be persuader praise the success of your old political organization, and/or get you to recount that success to them.

Anyway, I’m running out of time to write this comment, so I’ll leave it at that, even though I’d like to expand the analogy and maybe talk about the primary contest. If there’s a takeaway, though, it’s to reinforce: in elections, perceptions, emotion, and narrative are supreme. Compared to that, objective truth matters very little.


There are so many problems with this response. Mostly related to your inexplicable efforts to ascribe meaning that was not conveyed in the OP comment. I won't go through your entire wall of text, because it is an emotional response to a salient and accurate neutral analysis. But I do want to point out that your post seems to place an inordinate amount of trust in our current set of elected officials. For example, your assertion that candidates do not hide behind secret plans. What a silly, and frankly incorrect, assertion. Many of our current president's policies, foreign and domestic, were opaque and largely summarized by his now-infamous regurgitation, "you'll find out - after I'm elected."


Regarding secret plans, I apologize for writing unclearly. I did not mean to imply that candidates lack secret plans, but that voters lack them. I was pointing out that in a criminal interrogation, the interrogatee (if guilty) likely made secret plans for the crime that they’re now being interrogated about, and may have some primal urge to show off by explaining how good those plans were. However, there’s no directly equivalent motivation for a voter to switch to a different faction, since the voter likely doesn’t have any secrets to show off to the new group. There may be exceptions.

(There are also other motivations to reveal one’s secrets in an interrogation besides showing off, and perhaps I should have been more general. In the first example in the article, for instance, it seems less about showing off and more about finding a willing recipient for Diola’s political diatribe - premised on explaining why he did it, but apparently including enough of what he did and planned to satisfy the interrogator. But anyway.)

Regarding othermkn’s comment, I’m not sure what meaning you think I incorrectly read into it. The first paragraph is pretty neutral, as it talks only about what voters perceive - and it’s inarguable that many voters in 2016 felt ignored by the ‘political class’ or elites. However, the second paragraph states outright that “the parties seem to want to continue in their disdain for voters”, which implies that the parties objectively did disdain voters, something I question (at least when it comes to the Democratic Party). I further stated:

> The comment also implies that future candidates like Bernie would be “good news” who could overcome the elite/ordinary rift

The comment makes explicit that continued disdain is “bad news”, implying that overcoming it would be good. It technically doesn’t state outright that Bernie’s message itself was “good news”, as opposed to the fact that his candidacy showed that outsiders can get “as far as he did”. But I thought it could be reasonably inferred, given the resonance between the rest of the comment and the message of Bernie and many of his fans.

I went on to be slightly more speculative:

> presumably by blowing up the existing establishment as Bernie meant to (and to some extent did).

But I don’t think it’s a reach to say that if (a) you think the elites disdain voters and (b) you praise outsider candidacies, then your goal is indeed to get the elites out of power (not just change their minds or something).


Personally I thought it was an interesting perspective, which is exactly what I come to HN for.

>Concocting "Us" Vs "the political class wanting to manipulate us"/"the system"/"Clinton's hectoring"/"the parties and their disdain for voters" narratives does not advance political discussion in any way.

You are completely right in the short term, but in the long term, we need to get over the hurdle if we are (collectively) to advance at all.

And if we don't get over that step, why should people become interested in joining politics in the first place? As opposed to something more effective like protesting and, well, stay home (which I honestly also consider a political act).


Your analysis is on point. Both Bernie and our the President gave the impression of putting everything on the table. However true or false the reality of that was didn't seem matter nearly as much as making people "feel" as though they were being completely frank with people. Which seems to fit quite well with what the article is talking about.


>suddenly seem especially inept

As long we we're clear that the thing being labeled as inept is a particular persuasion strategy. It was nevertheless rational from the perspective of a person's political interests to go out and vote, even if they felt confronted, manipulated and taken for granted and any number of other things.

I certainly felt that way by a number of political conversations I had, but tried not to substitute those feelings for the reality of competing policy agendas and their effect on the world, which were the real thing I was voting on.

The tricky part of interrogation and perhaps all forms of persuasion, is connecting human nature on one end, to the need to fix problems in the outside world with some meaningful policy agenda, without losing perspective and letting one substitute for the other.


> It was nevertheless rational from the perspective of a person's political interests to go out and vote, even if they felt confronted, manipulated and taken for granted and any number of other things.

Unless they had no faith in either candidate; either the content of their proposed program, or their actual intention of carrying it out. I don't think that the contempt for voters inspires that faith.


I think the key in your scenario is that a person already has settled substantive beliefs that aren't tilted toward any particular candidate. As long as someone really feels like they can justify their pox-on-both-houses apathy on nuanced policy grounds, that's perfectly fine.

I'm talking about something slightly but importantly different. I'm talking about someone who isn't already settled on those questions, but nevertheless feels that their sense of indignation at having their dinner interrupted by a phone call is more important than who the next supreme court justice is.

There's two failures there- one in the chosen form of interaction, which has no possibility of creating a real connection to a person and doesn't seem to come from a place of caring what they think. That's real and needs to be taken seriously.

But then you have the second failure: of letting this personal desire for validation of one's autonomy become the whole of one's political perspective, at the expense of any consideration of policy outcomes that will affect hundreds of millions of other people.


Thank you for these posts. I have struggled to make this point many times and have never seen it communicated so clearly and neutrally.


Voting for a 3/4th party candidate is still better than staying home. Voting Libertarian / Green / whatever is not going to change the results, but it is taken into consideration as 'available' voters in a way staying at home does not.


Considering the insignificance of the vote, if the other party leader doesn't deserve my vote I don't care if they fit my ideology better than the rest, I'm not going to give them or the larger political system any validation. It's about integrity and indifference in the entire system.

The 'everyone should vote' activists so often operate on the assumption that this is the system, it's the only option, and if they can just convince people of the right strategy to work the system they'll be motivated to vote. Without considering a rejection of the system itself and the options the system produced, where discussing individual strategy is a meaningless exercise.

Do better next time, offer better people, and maybe I'll be motivated, or better year propose fixes to the electoral system as part of their campaign. But I've already been burned in Canada where Trudeau made promises to update the electoral system...then he completely backed out of it after being elected. Which does nothing to convince me the utility in taking an active interest. Even if they are offering things I care about, if that comes with zero integrity about following through then again the individual strategy is meaningless.


Votes are not insignificant as winners and losers consider the actual votes not just who won. (ex: When drawing district maps.) Further, even if you dislike all the options for president, congress, local election, etc there are still generally referendums where obtaining is meaningless as they are direct Y/N questions.

Not voting on the other hand accomplishes nothing and convinces the system that you don't matter.

PS: I don't necessarily mind you conceding all your power to other people. I simply object to flawed logic.


The act of voting, from an individual perspective, is objectively irrational. Since the chance of your particular vote affecting the outcome of an election is 0 your time and effort is wasted.

The lesser of two (or few) evils argument only applies on a collective level but you are an individual making ab atomized decision, not a collective.

Since your particular vote has no effect on the outcome if you are going to do so anyway you might as well vote for someone you believe in. And if no candidate exists that fits that criteria you are not just wasting your time, you are willingly participating in your own delusion.

Voting is like praying. Both have zero effect on the world, but there are huge structures that rely on maintaining the illusion to the contrary.


> Not voting on the other hand accomplishes nothing and convinces the system that you don't matter.

Once again, these embedded assumptions about the 'system' and my responsibility to it, all under the pretext that it is a system which is capable of significance if only more people, or the right people, took part in it. Reminds me of the cliche definition of 'crazy', expecting different results.

There's plenty of more useful ways to affect the world than that. But by all means, if you think things will be different next time...

And there's a difference between active vs passive involvement. By staying home and not voting I'm not actively negatively affecting the system. My involvement is entirely passive.


I am not trying to convince you to vote. Please feel free to stay home as that's probably better for me than you going out and voting.

Still, to give a specific example: Republicans want to replace the affordable care act. They also want to get elected.

So, let's figure out what explains their actions. People who vote, political donors, or everything else such as people send out angry tweets etc.

PS: It's possible for the 3rd option to be important, but frankly your actions not going to be.


> Republicans want to replace the affordable care act.

And that got rejected in congress unsurprisingly, just like all of his more extreme policies which everyone freaked out about (how's that wall coming?).

The latest executive orders will make a difference but a minor one in the long run. The US government's involvement in the healthcare system is still a super expensive mess.

Despite the intense discourse, billions of dollars spent, countless hours of us vs them, the US isn't much different than a year ago. I'm not saying it all doesn't matter but I'm struggling to see the utility in caring in my short life.


So far trump signed 53 or more bills into law. Now, yes they might not make headlines, but they are very much different laws than if he had lost.

The US does not change quickly. But, just because you stop paying attention does not mean you are not impacted.


But the election wasn't just about Clinton and Trump; it was just as much about Merrick Garland and Neil Gorsuch. Even if you still don't see a difference between the former two, surely you would recognize a difference between the latter two.


Do you think politicians pander and offer concessions to people that are motivated to vote?

Or do you think they spend a majority of their time trying to please non-voters and suss out the particular reason they aren't voting?


I depends, if they follow political consultant focus-group research they'll probably just be hitting up the same voters as last time, with the usual safe party topics.

Which is why I believe Trump (and Sanders) was able to hit up a very cynical voter base, and cross typical party lines, by going totally off the mainstream script. Which may have played a big role in why all of the standard projection models missed their mark so badly. While Clinton was the polar opposite. Which also attracted the 'fuck you' votes against Clinton, even from people indifferent to Trump.

As someone totally disinterested in voting I saw appeal in that, although I'm too much of a logic/rational person to toy with stuff like that.

But there's definitely something deeper there, a deep seated dissatisfaction with the entire system and a voter base not being addressed by standard messaging. Sadly, we're all back to ignoring that fact, blaming Nazis and obsessing over the daily Trump gossip, like celebrity Entertainment Tonight.


Trump got no extra votes, Hillary simply drummed up less support. Voter turnout actually declined signficantly.

"he got fewer votes than Mitt Romney in 2012, fewer votes than John McCain in 2008, and fewer votes than George W. Bush in 2004." This despite the growing US population.

Republican candidate got: 2004 62 million votes, 2008 60.0 million votes, 2012 60.9 million votes, 2016 59.7 million votes.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2016/11/10...

"She got 6 million fewer votes than Barack Obama did in 2012, and nearly 10 million fewer than he did in 2008"


I was referring to a poll I read showing a notable portion of Trump voters either didn't vote last time or if they did vote it was for Obama in 2012 or 2008. That's all I meant by my comment... not that he had some new big number of voters?

It's been well covered in the press Trump got less votes than a number of presidents in the past, which only contributes to my general point.


I think that's a bit of a stretch.


It is a little bit of a stretch, but not so much of one that it is not a useful mental model. I talked to 1000s of people from many different walks of life about that election from 2014-2016 - top comment accurately describes how most middle and lower class people (i.e. the vast majority of America) felt about that election and their choices.


"All models are false. Some of them are useful."


> So are the Clinton voters who reportedly stayed home

You mean nonvoter. Someone who stayed home is by definition someone who did not care enough to go vote, so there's no evidence they supported clinton over any other candidate.

> the Bernie Bro smear

As far as I'm concerned anyone who considers this a 'smear' (implying any credibility) just feels or felt entitled to votes because they made the mistake of trying their own 'lesser of two evils' fearmongering koolaid.

Neither party convinced me to vote for their candidate, and adding my support to third party candidates would just have provided them to another statistic to blame.

> The good news is that even Bernie could come up with a message that resonated enough to get as far as he did with as few connections as he had. Someone else could do the same.

I'd be amazed if anyone wanted to at this point. Most politically interested people I know've left for greener pastures.


>adding my support to third party candidates would just have provided them to another statistic to blame.

So? They're still blaming you for not going out to vote for Clinton. Provide the evidence that you say is missing, show that the electoral system is broken by voting anyone else or intentionally not marking a candidate. People will see through the "spoiler" narrative if it happens every election.

There are only two options for change, get enough people to try and game the broken system to fix it or hope for a revolution.


> he later became the first military officer to speak out against such practices. He did so not just because he thought they were wrong, but because he thought they were stupid.

You know, just in case you were tempted to think he was a morally decent human being. I still can't believe how casually people talk about one of the shameful human rights abuses in recent history as if torturing a person would still be okay if worked.


I mean, there can be a valid debate on the moral cost of torturing X people to to (potentially) save Y lives with the information extracted.

But torturing someone is stupid and doesn't work, so we don't even need to have that debate. I'd probably be in the same camp. I'm against torture because it's stupid. I haven't bothered to think through the moral implications because why bother?


I do think we need to think through the moral implications of torture, because it's not as simple as "torture doesn't work."

Yes, torture might not work on average. And not even in the great majority of police and anti-terror investigations. But that doesn't mean it never does.

We know torture can work in very specific circumstances. If you have a person's phone that you want them to unlock, torture can get them to do it. It works because you can verify what the person tells you immediately, so there is a direct link between them telling you the truth and the torture stopping. If you are willing to go to any length to get them to unlock the phone, eventually almost anyone would break.

Of course the issue is that such situations are rare - usually you don't have such a direct link. The person will say anything to get the torture to stop, true or false - more likely false. It may be impossible to verify what they say, or it may take months or years. So it's pointless, and much more productive to use a non-torture approach in those cases.


It is possible to train people to provide misleading information under torture. What if that phone has two passwords, one which unlocks secrets and one which leads you on a wild goose chase. Which one will you get by torture?


Personally, whenever I find that I don't have to solve a moral dilemma (or any dilemma) because it's clear-cut either way (one way has all upsides), I tend to be nervous that I'm missing something. Humans are really really good at cognitive dissonance.

I'm not saying I know whether torture works or not, I'm just saying, it's awfully convenient that most people harp on the "it doesn't work" idea, and that means the burden of proof IMO should be much higher to show it doesn't work (assuming your default belief is that it does work, which is most people's default prior).


Wait, so you think we should be torturing people by default, and that the burden of proof should lie on the people who think we shouldn't be torturing people to show it doesn't work?

You don't think that maybe the burden of proof should lie on people to prove that torture does work before we even have a discussion about whether letting go of basic human rights is worth it in certain instances?


I wasn't talking either way about the morality of torture (in that comment), or whether we should be torturing anyone.

I was simply saying that I find the "common knowledge" that torture doesn't work, to be unlikely. It just seems very convenient that things we find morally wrong end up also being bad for other reasons, making it unnecessary to deal with the morals. That sounds like motivated reasoning, not actual truth seeking.

"You don't think that maybe the burden of proof should lie on people to prove that torture does work before we even have a discussion about whether letting go of basic human rights is worth it in certain instances?"

That's a complicated question, and to be honest I have no idea. I actually think that practically speaking, no one should be routinely torturing anyone else. I just don't think it's a moral (or practical) slam-dunk - I think there are situations where it is morally justified, and that it would probably work.


> I was simply saying that I find the "common knowledge" that torture doesn't work, to be unlikely

Torture works exceptionally well at getting people to say whatever they think will satisfy the torturer in the short term. Which is actually why it's bad at getting actionable intelligence, but very good at getting confessions.

> It just seems very convenient that things we find morally wrong end up also being bad for other reasons

It's not really “for other reasons”, the morally repugnant thing about torture (the infliction of severe suffering) is why it doesn't work to get actionable intelligence.

> That sounds like motivated reasoning, not actual truth seeking

Entities for which torture would be acceptable even if morally repugnant (including military and Intelligence agencies who practiced it in the belief that it was effective) are foremost among those that have studied it and found it ineffective for gathering actionable ibtelkigence, compared to means which do not involve torture.

> I think there are situations where it is morally justified, and that it would probably work.

You are free to provide evidence supporting your conclusions about it's effectiveness; but without it you seem to just be providing what you'd like to be true, not what you rationally and justifiably believe to be true. And, conveniently, it seems to align with your moral preference...


> I was simply saying that I find the "common knowledge" that torture doesn't work, to be unlikely. It just seems very convenient that things we find morally wrong end up also being bad for other reasons, making it unnecessary to deal with the morals. That sounds like motivated reasoning, not actual truth seeking.

There are plenty of well-researched examples of the ineffectiveness of systems of torture for getting reliable information out of the victims of that torture.

Off the top of my head:

The U.S. Senate report on torture[1]. In addition to laying out details of corruption surrounding the U.S.'s torture regime following 911, the 525-page report also concludes that the torture regime was not effective in achieving its stated goal of gaining actionable intelligence.

And that's just a recent U.S. report. There are many more by reputable human rights groups, historians, and reporters from a vast swath of modern human atrocities.

That is to say-- I don't think the concept of likelihood makes sense given that you are speculating seemingly without regard to the easily accessible written record on the subject. Even if your point is that the "common knowledge" could be right but for the wrong reasons (e.g., people trying to bolster their pre-existing moral position), the extant examples in your favor that I know ironically come mainly (solely?) from people who either participated directly in the Bush era torture regime or have a vested professional and/or legal interest in confirming torture to be effective. (E.g., Dick Cheney, the CIA consultants for Zero Dark Thirty, the Whitehouse spokespeople for Obama after the bin Laden raid, etc.)

[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20141209165504/http://www.intell...


> It just seems very convenient that things we find morally wrong end up also being bad for other reasons

An evolutionary argument can explain this, and is the standard way to explain large chunks of traditional morality. (e.g. incest taboos.)

As applied to the modern torture debate, I agree with you that this is more of a case of "when neither the law nor the facts are on your side, pound the table".


He was just using that as an example where we should question our assumptions. Particularly when the subject comes with many 'common sense' automatic assumptions it's good to give extra scrutiny to the subject.

You don't have to be doing something "by default" in order to prove or disprove an hypothesis.

There is more the enough historical evidence that any type of violence or extreme pressure creates false confessions. Nor do you have to rip off someone's fingernails to find out humans will tell you anything to make it stop. You can always extrapolate from more humane experiments, if data from a previous era is not available.


Nobody mentioned burden of proof until you, and it’s a weird ass straw man. OP was pointing out how he felt in a specific situation.


To be fair, I did mention burden of proof.


If we're thinking about this purely scientifically (ignoring the ethics for a moment) then you're asking the wrong question.

The question is not "does torture work". The question is "which techniques get the interviewee to honestly reveal what they do (or don't) know". Or to put it another way, the relative results should be your focus.


That's a good point.

One of the reasons that I semi-assume that torture works, is that there are security agencies that continue to use it. That also means they choose to use torture versus other means, although there, you could argue that they're doing it as a time/cost-saving measure, and that you could theoretically get similar results with more work. That's actually a pretty strong argument against my "I assume it works because it's used" argument.


Maybe it "works" on some other metric that is being selected for. Masturbation "works", but not if you're trying to have a kid.


Generally the people saying it doesn't work all claim that a person will say anything under duress. While this is true, interrogation is generally not done in a complete vacuum.

The interrogator will know things that can help determine whether the target is lying or not. If he confirms things you know but he doesn't know you know, you're probably on the right track. It's never like in the movies where they just ask, "Who's in charge?" and ratchet up the torture until the guy answers. That would have near zero intel value.

We also talk about torture as a binary. There is really a whole range from mild discomfort to extreme pain, injury and threat of death. There is a whole range of activities to debate whether they are torture. Is threat alone torture? Some have committed suicide while facing legal threats alone. Others shrug off mere threats as just talk -- demonstrative torture could make those threats real to some and thus work.

On the flip side, the consensus (30 years ago anyway) was that if you're captured, you're going to give up everything when faced with torture, so go ahead and do so, just try to hold on for 24 hours before you do.


If a reasonably person has to ask is this torture its probably torture.


What is a reasonably person?


That ought to have been reasonable thanks.


A common ethical standard.


Assuming its worked because its used is circular reasoning that could be used to justify ANYTHING. Its also amazingly pretending our government is remotely competent.


There are a thousand and one reasons why organizations do things that don't work.


Agreed. We have a good historical example. Torture worked wonderfully well for the Gestapo in France and nearby countries (they actually rolled up and crushed the whole resistance network) until something like 1942 but after that point it didn't work and was pointless. A new resistance movement grew and remained strong. Torture couldn't dent it. The reason for the change was that the Allies (British spymasters really) responded by adopting "cell networks" and properly limited information to a need-to-know basis - something pioneered by the Soviets. Torture works vs a naive opponent network. It doesn't work vs a sophisticated opponent.


I don't believe the burden of proof shifts based on what you personally think or what you suppose most people think.

In fact the burden of proof ought to lie with those who suppose we commit egregious acts of immorality in the name of a nebulous greater good to prove that this is morally acceptable and that said greater good actually exists.

Back on the topic of if torture works. Nobody is arguing that you can't coerce someone into giving true testimony if you know you have a bad party and you can verify what he tells you immediately but in such cases you almost wouldn't have to anyway.

The problem is the world is rarely cut and dry and we are all much much safer if the powers that be aren't allowed to pull out our fingernails.

Terrorism kills less people than bathtubs and far less than cars imagining that we ought to eliminate basic protections to keep a relative handful from dying is insane.


> Nobody is arguing that you can't coerce someone into giving true testimony if you know you have a bad party and you can verify what he tells you immediately

That's not accurate; that argument is very common.

You can see someone making this exact stupid argument here in this very thread at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15465836 .


Most interviewers who use torture do that because the believe that the evil criminal deserves a punishment, and the interviewer derives great satisfaction from doing the torture.

But you have to admit that criminals are not normal people. They are in fact, insane, in a specific way that our laws will not give them diminished responsibility. It is dangerous to think that the criminal is not a sadist. You have to maintain control over the criminal and over the interview. And you must maintain full control over your own psyche and emotions. Never be bored or frustrated. Have infinite patience. Map out the criminal's psyche to learn what makes them tick. Listen to your own intuitions because as you learn more about criminal psychology, your subconcious becomes a more powerful tool.


> But torturing someone is stupid and doesn't work,

I'm pretty sure if someone waterboarded me to get my phone password I would eventually lose the mental will necessary to keep getting waterboarded and give up the password. But I'm just one point of data.

However, torturing me for information I don't have... now that's stupid and won't work.


What if revealing that information would ensure your permanent imprisonment and the immediate death of your family and friends? Because this is almost always the case. Interrogators are not trying to find things out because they are curious, they are looking for your allies in order to kill them or capture and torture them.


If you had something on your phone that you would die for, would that change the equation at all?


Should we have a valid debate on the moral cost of enslaving X people to serve Y people? Would this be moral if the gain to Y is greater then the suffering inflicted upon X?

If this is debatable, I've, ah, got lists for X and Y.


>I mean, there can be a valid debate on the moral cost of torturing X people to to (potentially) save Y lives with the information extracted.

Germans tortured USSR guerillas (who Germans technically pretty rightfully - from their point of view - classified as terrorists) during WWII, and that saved some German lives. So are you saying there can be a valid debate about that torture? Or closer to home - say Taliban would torture a US soldier and get info which would save some Taliban lives - valid debate here? Or do you mean that the debate is valid only when "good" guys (USSR and US) would do the torture?

>But torturing someone ... doesn't work.

Sometimes works, sometimes doesn't. So people get tortured as it always can happen to be the case when it works. When politicians/society talk about torture efficiency or lack of it to me it sounds just like a shop talk of professional torturers, i.e. people lacking any empathy and morals.


You never know X and Y and there's no known physical process which you can use to determine Y (and, often, X) before you start torture.

However, there's definitely a legal process in place once you accept the possibility of torture.


> You never know X and Y and there's no known physical process which you can use to determine Y (and, often, X) before you start torture.

This isn't true for all cases. It can be pretty cut and dry if a single person knows the location of a bomb set to go off on a plane or something. X is 1 and Y is the number of passengers.


How would you know that the person knows about the bomb? How would you know they'll not bullshit you while letting the real bomb detonate?

I second that life is not TV show.


Sure, if life is a TV show. Which it isn't.


There's something to be said to applying a formula to a torture debate.


That's like an extreme anti-tax person saying they haven't thought through the moral implications of (not) preventing an asteroid strike with a tax-funded program, "since an asteroid strike is never going to happen, so why bother?"


This analogy is so weird and vague, I'm going to use it from this day on to illustrate basically anything.


It really isn't like the thing you've mentioned at all. Perhaps a different analogy?


It very much is, and I'd be happy to spell out the analogy.

"It will never be necessary to torture for life-saving information, because I have perfect certainty that no information can be obtained that way, so I don't need a moral philosophy that appropriately weighs torture against loss of life."

"It will never be necessary to levy taxes to pay for public goods, because I have perfect certainty that no asteroid will ever head toward the earth, so I don't need a moral philosophy that weights taxation against unprotected asteroid strikes."


I think you meant:

> It will never be necessary to levy taxes to pay for asteroid defense, because I have perfect certainty that no asteroid will ever head toward the earth, so I don't need a moral philosophy that weights taxation against unprotected asteroid strikes.

You can't generalize to an argument against all public spending.


That's the point: the anti-taxer's error is to so tenuously double down on believing they can explain away any public goods problem by saying it doesn't happen in practice. Asteroid defense is just the most extreme example.

It is a similar error to double down so hard on torture never being able to elicit truthful, reliable information.


> tenuously

strenuously? (they're almost opposites)


No, I mean that he doubles down despite the position being tenuous. (May not be the clearest usage of the term.)


You are conveniently overlooking the fact that it clearly means he thought it was wrong. Additionally, he thought it was stupid, ineffectual and counterproductive.

Given that the military is an organization that deals death to accomplish its goals, this is the stronger argument to make if you want to change how things get done. Moral people who have a serious commitment to improving things are wise to save their tears and ranting for private moments with people who care about them. Then set that aside, put on their public face and do what works best to move their agenda forward, knowing that no matter what they do, some people will drag their name through the mud.


I've attended a talk he gave about torture at my university, and in that, he attacked torture from both the effectiveness and moral angle. There are apparently a LOT of people who push back even after accepting torture is worthless at getting information because they think the person being tortured deserves it / has earned it.

EDIT: grammar.


I oppose torture because:

1. We lose the moral high ground.

2. We give the enemy recruitment material.

3. We justify the enemy torturing our guys.

4. The enemy will fight much harder if they know that they'll get tortured if captured. They will be far less likely to surrender / capitulate.

5. Winning the peace after victory will be much harder.

6. The intelligence you get is likely to be crap anyway.


That is thinking out of the box, something that military forces have great difficulty doing. Number 2, 4 and 5 quite publicly caused a collapse in the victory of the first Gulf War.

It is too bad that there are not more Soviet and Russian WWII movies overdubbed in English, because the NKVD and the KGB really mastered this stuff back in the 40s and 50s. Not in all departments of the organization but in enough of them to become the masters of the Cold War.


> just in case you were tempted to think he was a morally decent human being

He is only practicing what he preaches: he knows you won't convince anyone by confronting them and telling they are human rights violators. They probably see themselves as patriots, and simply don't care.

You might, however, convince them by telling them your method will get them better results, understanding that saving their soul is just a by-product to them.


I still can't believe how casually people talk about one of the shameful human rights abuses in recent history as if torturing a person would still be okay if worked.

The point is that this guy took some actual risk (even if it's "just" career risk) to at least make a noticeable dent in the problem. While you and I just sit here and type about it.

Meanwhile, your imputation above is simply illogical, and doesn't exactly do very much to help to solve the underlying problem, either.


I don't think it's that it would be OK if it worked. It's just that when you're trying to convince people who think it's a good idea, "it doesn't work" is a lot more persuasive than "it's morally wrong."


This statement implies that effectiveness is more important than moral implications.


If your goal is to get people to stop torturing, I would personally value effectiveness at getting them to stop above all else.


To someone who is morally OK with torture, it is much easier to convince them to stop by saying it is ineffective than by trying to change their morals.


Yes, but then they can pull out the ticking time bomb scenario and confuse plausible justification with efficacy.


If the effectiveness is high enough, then for some people it could be as, or more, important. To create a overly ideal example as a counterpoint:

There is a WMD of some sort hidden in a major city center. We have captured and are 100% sure that the head people who did the planning and planting of the WMD are in our custody. We have a morally reprehensible, but 100% effective torture method.

1. It is guaranteed that these people know the exact information.

2. Tens of thousands or more will be harmed or killed if it is not disarmed.

3. These people are the reason why the WMD is there to begin with.

In this case I think that taking more drastic measures would be justified.


This is a 1 in a million special case that will almost certainly never happen. We can't embed such cases in our law without drastically undermining our laws, our justice, and our morality.

If this ever does come to pass and the lives of 10's of thousands are at stake I suppose you do it anyway in violation of the law and take the punishment knowing that your sacrifice prevents greater injustice and evil.


If this ever does come to pass and the lives of 10's of thousands are at stake I suppose you do it anyway in violation of the law and take the punishment knowing that your sacrifice prevents greater injustice and evil.

Yes, exactly. Legislating torture as a practice is not necessary or desirable.

If such a perfect "pro-torture" situation does occur, Any True Patriot (TM) should be glad to face a lifetime of imprisonment (for torturing the totally-for-sure-did-it-bad-guy) as a tradeoff for saving thousands of lives.

In the real world, with much more common situations, we do not want people being tortured on a routine basis.


By definition it is, to people who advocate torture.


I'm flabbergasted by how some western societies have become willing to debate torture during the last decade.

> as if torturing a person would still be okay if worked

Spot on. "I was trying to save million of lives" is not a valid excuse for committing atrocities.

Especially given how easy it is to construct such narrative and use it to justify anything.


> "I was trying to save million of lives" is not a valid excuse for committing atrocities

Why not? If good men forfeit their lives to fight evil, why can't evil men be forced to forfeit their lives for the same?

> use it to justify anything

Then the issue is the "narrative" is false. We just have to improve standards of proof - if there is legitimate reason to believe lives would be saved, why not?


by committing atrocities, you become the evil, even if you have an utilitarian excuse. saving more lives is ultimately meaningless as evil will always exist and people will always die as a result of it but the one thing we have complete agency in is our own actions and that will ultimately be what we will be held accountable for


I'm not religious, I only care about concepts such as "evil" so far as they are semantically useful lingual constructs.

> we have complete agency in is our own actions and that will ultimately be what we will be held accountable for

By who, and for what; consequence or intention? A utilitarian justification seems to me as good as any.


Was my comment religious in any way? There's multiple ways that one could be held accountable for crimes against humanity, either by your government and laws or by the international community. There's really no point considering the issue from a nakedly utilitarian justification - why would you care about how many people you save then? If it's for their economic output or because of economic damage, why not just kill the poor or enslave the populace? Your stance is pure sociopathy and as such we obviously have no room for a reasoned discussion.


“We had to destroy the village in order to save it,” is a justification that rings hollow.


Depends what that means, it sounds like it's meant to sound hollow.


Well, it depends on your moral framework. If torturing someone could potentially save hundreds of lives then it could quite easily be argued for.


Only if you live in a moral vacuum.

EDIT: Most of the moral decisions western society has taken about how we show act are on the principles of first doing no harm and respecting the rights of the individual. This ranges from medicine to the principle of innocent until proven guilty and using the legal standard of beyond reasonable doubt.

By torturing someone you are defying almost every moral decision societies have ever made.

EDIT AGAIN: Wow just wow. Heavy heavy downvoting for speaking against normalization of torture. Please explain yourselves?


Or you're one of many varieties of utilitarian.


> By torturing someone you are defying almost every moral decision societies have ever made.

This is obviously not true; torture has been accepted by most societies.


As I understand your comment, you're saying that there is no "morally justifiable" moral framework under which torture would be acceptable. Other people here obviously disagree, using e.g. the trolley problem as an example scenario - would you torture 1 person to save X people from death? This is a legitimate moral question, and I don't think it's anywhere near "decided" at this point.

Also, you write: "Most of the moral decisions western society has taken about how we show act are on the principles of first doing no harm and respecting the rights of the individual."

Well, much as I would love to live in that world, I don't think it's the one we live in. I mean yes, theoretically this might be true, but practically speaking, there have been plenty of wars involving the west where I don't think many people will say that the West was 100% in the right. There are plenty of situations where we don't care about individual rights that much. E.g. most libertarians will say that basically the entire rise of the welfare state is explicitly against individual liberty. I'm not even sure most socialists will disagree with that!

Most importantly, even if the general principle is to try not to do harm, it still doesn't really solve the torture "dilemma". There certainly are some pacifists who cling to "do no harm" as a founding principle, but they're not considered to be the standard view (nor do they claim they are).


Since you bring up the "Trolley Problem" I'd like to share a recent Radiolab piece on the subject[0]. There are apparently competing parts of our brain, and whichever is the "loudest" (most active) is what determines our actions. The tagline of the episode is

>Most of us would sacrifice one person to save five. It’s a pretty straightforward bit of moral math. But if we have to actually kill that person ourselves, the math gets fuzzy.

Basically, a more primal part of our brain is likely to scream "NO" when faced with a decision of being the one to directly end another human's life. When there is distance between the decision and the action, more "rational" parts of our brain have the upper hand.

[0]https://www.radiolab.org/story/driverless-dilemma/?utm_sourc...


Maybe I did make a small error which would clarify things. s/Most of the moral decisions western society/Most of the decisions that stand the test of hindsight as having a moral basis that societies have taken/

Whereas your position seems to be - things are a little bit shit anyway so what is the harm in making some more bad decisions.

> As I understand your comment, you're saying that there is no "morally justifiable" moral framework under which torture would be acceptable. Other people here obviously disagree, using e.g. the trolley problem as an example scenario - would you torture 1 person to save X people from death? This is a legitimate moral question, and I don't think it's anywhere near "decided" at this point.

This is not a relevant question. There is a simple question - are you prepared to hurt the person tied down in front of you in cold blood?


> Only if you live in a moral vacuum.

Utilitarianism is a perfectly valid moral theory. Not all ethics are deontological.


The utilitarian case isn't as clear-cut as you seem to think it is.


Deontological ethics aren't clear-cut either. That's why ethics is still philosophy and not science.


... or if your child is among these hundreds.


The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. It's only logical.

The think about morality is that everyone can have their own, or none at all. Not everyone is bound to value the welfare and freedoms of others as highly as they value their own. And the same goes on the tribal level--not everyone values Them as highly as Us.

You can create any number of moral structures that would allow for torture that still do not allow for indiscriminate violence.


All the structures you describe are what I what define as living in a moral vacuum...


So your moral system requires that its adherents view incompatible or competing moral structures as inferior. So what? They can do the same to yours.

You can say that people with other types of morality have no morals, but that does not make it true. The reality is that they may actually have morals, and you just don't like the ones they have.


If you hold to one system of ethics doesn't that mean by definition you hold competing standards to be inferior because you selected your system over theirs?


Only if you establish a single metric by which all moralities may be judged. I may judge one morality as good for keeping poor people from consuming productive capital, and another as good for advancing the arts and sciences, and yet another as good for ecological sustainability. No single value system is universally superior, because there are always tradeoffs.

It's like asking "what is the best alignment in D&D?" Paladins will say lawful good is the best because their god likes it, but sneak thieves are more likely to espouse chaotic neutral, because it means they can pay their taxes with money cut from the collector's purse, then steal it again after the ledger is dry.

Or it's like asking "what martial art is best?" That depends on what you use it for. Exercise? Military? Police? Organized crime? Bar fights? Action films? MMA competition? Wushu exhibitions? Selling colored belts to suburban kids? A military system like Krav Maga is not going to work well in competition, because nobody can voluntarily fight if everyone in the league is currently dead, permanently disabled, or recovering from severe injuries. Likewise, a movie style like "Gymkata" or "Gunkata" is useless for any real-world application.

Besides that, people do adopt other moralities. It's where many of the cult followers and disciples come from. Does that mean it's superior, or just better for that specific person, at that time?


> You can create any number of moral structures that would allow for torture that still do not allow for indiscriminate violence.

They do however allow for someone to sit down and decide in a quiet methodical way they they are about to deliberately injure another defenseless human being.

> So your moral system requires that its adherents view incompatible or competing moral structures as inferior. So what? They can do the same to yours.

In some cases yes. For example anyone that justifies torture or slavery.


So now your tribe and this hypothetical torturing tribe view each other as inferiors. You're "weak", and they're "cruel". Now what? Do you boycott and embargo trade with them? Do you go to war preemptively, or only after one of yours gets tortured by one of theirs? Perhaps you launch a propaganda campaign to depict them as mindless savages that revel in the pain of innocents? Maybe you single them out at the border, and loudly demand that they publicly pledge to not torture anybody while they are visiting your territory? That isn't likely to make them stop torturing.

I'm not seeing your point. An argument from morality only works for people who share your morals, a group that necessarily excludes those people who engage in torture. People who share your morality already don't torture. An argument regarding the efficacy of the technique is more likely to get a torturer to stop, whereas the moral argument only reinforces a pre-existing aversion. And thanks to cognitive dissonance, the longer someone has been torturing, the less likely they are to listen to anyone telling them that torture is wrong. If you reframe it as an evolution in effective interviewing technique based on recent scientific research, they have a psychological "out" that allows them to stop torturing without having to reframe themselves as a bad guy.


I'm going to give an analogy in response to your EDIT AGAIN.

I claim that it's morally indefensible to torture a fish. Even if thousands of humans are to die unless I torture this fish (for some reason), you must refuse. It's torture. To advocate otherwise is to normalise torture, and to go against every moral decision societies have ever made. (Let's ignore the fact that factory farms exist, a moral abhorrence on a gigantic scale if you care about the welfare of animals; whether or not that abhorrence is balanced by an even greater moral benefit from the wide-scale eating of meat they enable. To be clear, I'm explicitly not giving an opinion on whether factory farms are a net benefit; to discuss that aspect further would be to miss the point of the argument entirely.)

If I took your moral system and also assigned worth to the well-being of fish, it's quite possible that I could end up with that. But I hope you agree that the views of my second paragraph are at best ridiculous, and at worst abhorrent. So something must be wrong either with the generalisation of your argument, or with the assumption that the well-being of fish is worth defending.

So either caring even a little about the well-being of fish makes me a moral vacuum, or some part of your argument doesn't generalise away from "torture of humans". Do you at least see that your argument doesn't have overwhelming force? I'd hope that a worthy moral framework would generalise more easily than this facet of yours that you've presented.


Once you bring in animals, the morals really change. We humans draw a very strong boundary on super precious human life vs everything else. Not here to debate why we do it, but that's how we've done it for ages.


> not just because he thought they were wrong..

Not /just/, so yes he is a moral person who knows it’s wrong. And wise enough to add an argument that even an amoral person can understand. Because it’s clear that amoral people have been making the decisions.


> as if torturing a person would still be okay if worked.

It's an interesting thought experiment in ethics, analogous to the Trolley Problem (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem).

Assume a nuclear bomb will be detonated in the city, killing and horribly injuring millions of innocent people. The individual who is responsible is known, with no doubt, and there exists some level of pain you can inflict upon him which will, without doubt, prevent the explosion.

What degree of pain is acceptable to inflict on that person?

Make him sit in the comfy chair?

Give him terrible squinty looks?

Give him a paper cut?

Paper cut with lemon juice?

...

If you choose not to take that action, are you responsible for or complicit in the deaths and injury to those people?

What if you were one of the co-conspirators, and having second thoughts, could compel the other individual to stop it?


What is the benefit of spending time on such a contrived scenario? This is the ethicist's version of "assume a spherical cow".

In actual reality you will never have any certainty about the outcomes of interactions like these. All you have control over is whether or not you hurt the person in front of you.


> What is the benefit of spending time on such a contrived scenario? This is the ethicist's version of "assume a spherical cow".

Because it reveals how you implicitly value human life and whether values can be traded or weighed against each other. There are moral theories that take various different positions on each permutation to the possible answers on these questions.

Thought experiments are about illuminating implicit values and thought processes.


> All you have control over is whether or not you hurt the person in front of you.

I tend towards believing that people who bring up the "WHAT IF NOOK BOMB" type scenarios are really just looking for justification that their existing belief in torture is A-OK.


It's more nuanced. They are trying to make the claim that there might be some situations where it's justifiable. Not that it's "A-OK" all the time.


It's a psychologic trick - appeal to extreme [1]. By constantly discussing a scenario which is so completely unlikely to occur, it warps the discussion into thinking that that extreme is somehow representative of reality.

It's a fallacy because it's like a DOS attack on the argument - burning up most of the time on a absurdly small probability. Participants and viewers tricked by thinking "what's discussed most is what's most important".

[1] https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFalla...


By repeated invocation in debate, contrived scenarios nudge audiences' intuitions in favor of torture in the real world, even when the real world scenario bears only the faintest resemblance to "ticking nuclear time bomb." It means that repeated debates about torture that feature ticking-time-bomb scenarios tend to worsen rather than improve lay audiences' ethical decision-making with regard to torture.

To see how debate can backfire, consider a currently-near-universal ethical proposition: it is unacceptable to torture innocent children. The contrived scenario for debate: there's a ticking nuclear time bomb hidden in an American city. The man who has the critical information can hold out against physical torture for the next few hours until it detonates. But he can be compelled to confess in time if you force him to witness the torture of his 5 year old niece. Imagine that the scenario has both options debated, repeatedly, in lecture halls, on op-ed pages. It's even depicted in fiction like 24 to persuade by storytelling rather than logic.

It doesn't matter that the world's actual torturers have never encountered a ticking nuclear time bomb, much less the improbable other circumstances that led to this dilemma. Just witnessing sober, respectable persons arguing the "in favor" position for innocent-child-torture -- no matter how dryly or laden with caveats -- is going to tend to weaken norms against innocent-child-torture. So will seeing the tactic succeed in fiction. (It doesn't really matter if excellent arguments against innocent-child-torture are also aired in the same venues. Practically everyone started out against it, even if their reasons were visceral rather than logical.) Some percentage of people, hopefully small, is going to come to "see the light" in favor of this contrived scenario's utilitarian calculus.

The really pernicious part: as with the vanilla ticking time bomb scenario, many of the persuaded will misapply the contrived scenario to justify real world torture. "The torturers know that an attack is imminent, and torturing this man will save a million lives" will get watered down by homeopathic magnitudes to "the torturers suspect that an attack is going to happen at some indefinite time, and torturing a child related to this man might save 20 lives if the torturers' guesses are correct." The effect on the body public of debating contrived scenarios that could justify atrocities is not to improve the public's reasoning or shore up their pre-existing intuitions. It's to erode their actual ethical judgment, to make them more open-minded regarding atrocities against children.


This is simply an unbelievable position to take. We can't create a perfect model, so it's not worth the time to think about simpler but more tractable ones? Great, I'll let the vast majority of scientists and philosophers know that centuries of work is worthless.

There is obvious value in these "contrived scenarios," as has been proven innumerable times in human history. You do realize that simplifying assumptions like "assume a spherical cow" have worked to produce an accurate model of the physical world, right?


"In actual reality you will never have any certainty about the outcomes of interactions like these. All you have control over is whether or not you hurt the person in front of you."

Errr I think you're "proving too much" so to speak. Having someone in front of you who you know has details about a terrorist plot that could stop it, and you think finding those details is something you can't reason morally about? By your definition of certainty, you basically can't do anything with any degree of certainty unless its actions are immediate.

Call up an assassin and tell them to murder someone? Well who knows if she'll even go through with it, so that's morally fine.


But it's well known that torture doesn't get people to tell you the actual truth - in which case even if there is a nuclear bomb about to go off, what good does it do to torture the person? Wasn't it the case that there wasn't a single accurate piece of information that came out of the CIA torture regime?

And if you're in the same city as the bomb, whatever you can possibly do to them has a finite timespan and is therefore much more tolerable and resistable.


You can't change the context of a statement without changing its meaning.


Well I didn't mean to do that, I apologize if I'm misunderstanding/mischaracterizing your statement.

(I'd also be grateful if you want to tell me what I'm getting wrong.)


> In actual reality you will never have any certainty about the outcomes of interactions like these. All you have control over is whether or not you hurt the person in front of you.

There's a shooter actively killing people.

Is it OK to shoot the shooter?

---

What's the benefit of doing physics problems "in a vacuum", etc? It lets you get to the essence of the question.

Similarly, a philosophical thought experiment lets you analyze your beliefs - rather than just a knee jerk ("No, I would never harm someone and anyone who harmed someone is not a morally decent human being"), you can come up with a more complete ethical framework for your decisions and judgments.

By identifying extremes, you can identify your priorities and understand the tradeoffs you will actually be faced with - what degree of harm are you willing to cause, and at what distance from "in front of me", to what benefit?


Your scenario is just as contrived as the first one. It assumes a complete and accurate knowledge of the situation as well as a perfect ability to execute on your decision to harm the shooter.

If your only means for investigating the nature of human relationships is via intellectual contrivances then you will always produce results which reaffirm your preexisting beliefs.

The first point to understand is that violence is a dicey business and never produces as tidy of outcomes as the intellectual justification for it expects. The second point to understand is that the pursuit of morality via intellectualization is counter-productive at best.


That feels like you're working really hard to avoid the ethical question. You have to choose whether to try to shoot the shooter. Police officers face this question far too often, and sometimes as an armchair judge, I disagree with the choice.

Do you have a better framework for pursuing morality? It seems like telling stories, asking questions, and thinking about them are the basis of all moral and ethical teaching, from religion to law school.


I don't disagree with you, but human society exists because of our ability to control violence via intellectual rules.


Torturing someone with the hope of getting information they may or may not have is in no way analogous to shooting someone who is actively killing people right now.


So we've established that sometimes it's OK to harm or kill someone.

Now we're trying to establish the boundaries of that.


Killing someone is different than torturing them. You're arguing a point nobody is making.


Not if they suffer a torturous death. They might even not die if shot, but be captured instead.


This was probably the main motivation behind the black sites / Guantanamo / "enhanced interrogation" techniques and the okaying of those (in blatant violation of Geneva conventions, I might add - did the US ever get called to justice for that?) - 5000+ people died in the 9/11 attacks by the instantly dehumanized muslim terrorists, everything is now morally justified to prevent something like that happening again, including enhanced interrogation, sending more people that died in the attacks to die in an eventually pointless war, etc.


Technically torture of suspected terrorists wasn't a violation of the Geneva conventions because they aren't covered by the Third Geneva Convention and the USA never ratified Additional Protocol I.

(Personally I think torture is always wrong, I just want to make sure the legal issue is clear.)


I've been thinking about that since a comment I made a while back. It was made here in response to an article about the CIA black sites.

In that comment, I said torture was unacceptable and more so when it was done in my name.

I have since wavered on this as I've considered some proposed hypotheticals. I've decided, at least for now, that it may not always be wrong but that it is always abhorrent.

Hypothetically, such a situation could exist where it is the right choice but it is still reprehensible. The whole WMD thing and saving a city? Yeah, I guess it's the right choice but it's still abhorrent. If I had every reason to believe the information could be extracted, I'd do the torturing myself.

In the end, I'd hope that I'd be more unhappy that I was forced to do so than I was unhappy that I did so. I imagine it would bother me for the rest of my life, but I'd accept that burden.


Indeed.

Two other points.

1. Our moral behaviour should be much better than the Geneva convention.

2. You are not bound by the Geneva convention if your opponent is not.


It is not analogous to the Trolley problem.

In the case of torture, the question is whether pain may be inflicted on a person to extract information, and in recent public discussion, esp. where known terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) are concerned.

In the Trolley problem, you are put in a situation out of your control and in which you may influence the nature and degree of casualties by flipping a switch. The concerns here are about whether one choice (flip, don't flip) is morally preferable to another, whether one is morally obligated to make one choice over another, etc.

In your nuclear bomb thought experiment, the question is somewhat artificial and vague where potentially relevant distinctions could be made. Are we inflicting pain because we wish to extract information that will enable us to prevent the bomb from going off? Is there some device inside the guilty party that measures pain and disarms the bomb at appropriately high level?

Utilitarians, and broadly consequentialists, like to frame everything in terms of a moral calculus of maximizing good while reducing evils, but it leads to clearly perverse conclusions like the justification of committing morally evil acts so that some other good may come. Whether torture as a method of extracting information from people like KSM is immoral is not a question of whether we can justify torture because the good of the information we may gain exceeds the evil of torture, but whether torture is intrinsically evil, and if not, whether it is ever justifiable as a method of extracting information, esp. from guilty parties.


I don't see how the questions you raise make the bomb/trolley problems not analogous. You're choosing whether to cause harm to one individual in order to prevent harm to others - the rest are just details/framing.

> whether torture is intrinsically evil, and if not, whether it is ever justifiable

That is exactly the question.

We often make absolute statements ("Killing people is instrinsically evil", "Torture is intrinsically evil") but may find cases where it is justifiable:

- shoot the active shooter (most people agree killing is justified)

- bone marrow donation (causes excruciating pain, willingly accepted by the individual, to save the life/health of another. Most people find this justified, even though it violates "first, do no harm")

- voluntary euthanasia (to involve both torture and killing) - Constant excruciating pain, no hope of a cure. Do you kill the person? Or force them to continue to endure? (People are divided on this one)


The similarities are only superficial. You have to make careful distinctions.

In the trolley example, you aren't choosing to actively cause harm to someone for the sake of the benefit of others. The trolley is going to kill someone. You may, at best, act to reduce the harm done by a process out of your control.

Where the torture example is concerned, one choice involves the active, intentional infliction of pain on someone for the purpose of extracting information that can be used to save lives.

In general, a fairly important principle in ethics is the principle of double effect. I.e.,

1. the action must be in itself good or neutral

2. the action's good effect must be intended, not its evil effect

3. the action's good effect must not be produced by means of the evil effect

4. the action's evil effect must not exceed the good effect in degree


All those exist on a continuum and usually not well known anyway.

The Trolley is at one end of an extreme. The point of such a hypothetical is that you can adjust any parameter to find peoples' limits.

It could be the case that you don't actually disagree with one another much at all! But if you never address the Trolley problem or similar you will never know.


See "the fat villain" variant in the trolley problem wiki page above.

Kill the villain by pushing him onto the track in front of the train to save the innocents, or not.

It is explicitly asking if you would harm the villain (evil action, evil effect produces good effect).


The fat man version is indeed similar. Of course, the fat man version is not analogous to the first version of the trolley problem for reasons I gave above.


Ah but what if, by torturing that person, you annoy the aliens who are just about to visit the planet and they decide to wipe out the entire human race and turn the planet to molten slag?

Now you, by "saving" a city, have condemned the entire human race to extinction.


I can totally see how that would play out.

"Nuke it from orbit. It's the only way to be sure."


Can we please retire this vapid caricature, the ticking bomb argument already. Defunct tropes like these need to die.


So the moral human will not torture a man who planted a bomb somewhere in a city, which will cause hundreds of deaths if it goes off before being found?


In war we regularly maim and kill teenagers, using bullets and explosives. This is entirely intentional and done to save our troops and our people and to win the conflict.

If it's necessary to win a fight that matters, and it works, it is okay.

See: allied bombing campaigns in WW2 wherein we intentionally roasted thousands of babies and grandmas.

The self-indulgent alternative is a recipe for extinction. And you can't have much influence over the world if you're not there.

If you're not brutal enough, you just end up handing the future to someone more brutal, which is itself a wrong. Just like it'd be wrong to let the Nazis take Europe because you didn't want to roast babies and grandmas.


We're not fighting an army on the battlefield (the bombings is a particularly bad example because it's a frequent example of atrocities committed on the allied side), we're talking about arresting loosely organized criminals who are deprived of the right to a trial and detained indefinitely. This isn't an episode of 24 where there's a bomb that will go off and rough a guy up for the passcode. This is waterboarding people for 16 hours a day for months on end in secret prisons unaccountable to the rule of law. And no, even if it helped save lives, the moral repugnance of what we've been doing does not absolve us of moral responsibility for our actions and policies.


See: allied bombing campaigns in WW2 wherein we intentionally roasted thousands of babies and grandmas.

See: War Crimes

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_crime


You might not like it, but the GP has a point in that this is how war is usually conducted.

Trying to sweep it under the rug is, IMO, morally wrong all by itself. If you're doing something, at least admit it. Not all of the things GP is talking about are considered warcrimes, and it's sometimes a word thrown around to make it look like we care about something after the fact, but we still do it.


It is how war is usually conducted, and perhaps there is a justification for total war if something poses an existential threat.

But you need to consider this in the context of actual reality, where nearly all "war" is really a police action taken extrajudicially by ultrapowerful states against guerilla groups or civilian populations in order to ensure the dominance and power of wealthy global interests. Every war in the cold war was like this.

The doctrine of the acceptability of mass slaughter of innocents is how the people with weapons have chosen to use them in these non-existential "wars" but that isn't a justification for that choice.


Horrifyingly enough, extracting the truth isn't always the point of these interrogations. In conversations with my friends about this (when I can hold my composure well enough), the main objective of "enhanced interrogation" is to terrify the target population into compliance, or failing that extract bloody satisfaction on the victim.

Not like this is without precedent, Vlad the Impaler is named for his negotiation tactics, and the Roman Empire would on occasion react to a lawbreaker by murdering the city, crucifying the entire population. Modern Westerners (to our credit) don't have the stomach for such shocking brutality anymore, but I don't believe this vicious urge has completely gone away.


Or you know, throwing people into prison for manslaughter or drug possession. The thing is, that only works in fairly narrow circumstances, but is a common strategy regardless.


> “The last time the US government invested in studying interrogation was 1956,” Steven Kleinman, who works with the HIG, told me. “Great leaps forward in behaviour science have just passed us by,” he said. “Imagine using 1956 technology for signals intelligence!”

Seems odd the article doesn't mention the nazi interrogator Hanns Scharff[h], who was invited to talk in the US after ww2, at all - as the scientist seem to be rediscovering his approach.

Although doing some actual research to document what works is good, obviously....

[h] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanns_Scharff


Before you debate torture, consider what has been done in your name already. Torture is wrong. We should not do it. If you wouldn't want it done to an innocent person, because eventually our faulty systems will scoop up an innocent.

"In November 2002, a detainee who had been held partially nude and chained to the floor died, apparently from hypothermia."

https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-most-gruesome-moments-in-t...


I don't want innocent people to be imprisoned. Should I oppose all imprisonment, since it will eventually happen?

(I think a better standard for categorically ruling out a tactic/punishment/procedure is "would I want this on my worst enemy/Adolf Hitler?")


Why would you think a good standard would be a situation which would be the hardest imaginable for you to make a clear headed rational choice. The situation where you would be most tempted to choose petty emotions over real justice.

This is about the worst standard I can imagine.


The standard wasn't "if I would want to do this to Hitler, let's do this in the general case".

The standard was "If I wouldn't be willing to use it, even against Hitler, it should be categorically disallowed."[1]

That is, if you consider it so brutal that you'd feel queasy about using it even against someone really bad, i.e. a case where you would most favor casting morals aside, then you know it's beyond the pale.

It may not make sense if you've never experienced something so bad that you said, "wow, I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy", but I'm sure at least some fraction of the population has had that thought.

[1] If necessary, replace "categorically disallowed" with "off the table".


Thanks for the clarification but its still a bad standard. The majority seemingly don't mind doing terrible things to people just because their skins the wrong color let alone their worst enemy. It only seems like a decent standard to you because you are relatively a better person.


I think a better metric is would I wish my grandma be treated this way? A society should be judged by how it treats those that are the weakest.


That doesn't work for the reason above: I don't want my grandma imprisoned, but zero imprisonment is also impractical. [1]

"A society is judged by how it treats its weakest", "would I want $GOOD_PERSON to fall victim to this" -- those sound nice, but don't translate into a practical metric for appropriately navigating real moral dilemmas.

[1] I know the lectures about the evils of mass incarceration; those don't prove that no one should be imprisoned.


Perhaps an extension, then: "Would I want this to happen to $LOVED_ONE, if they were convicted of $HEINOUS_CRIME?"

This may permit consideration of the relative social value of the punishment, alloyed with the emotional bias provided by the context.


The interviewer, who has remained heroically calm in the face of Diola’s verbal barrage, is not able to move the encounter out of stalemate, and eventually his bosses replace him. When the new interviewer takes a seat, Diola repeats his promise to talk “openly and honestly” to the right person, and resumes his inquisitorial stance. “Why are you asking me these questions?” he says. “Think carefully about your reasons.”

The new interviewer does not answer directly, but something about his opening speech triggers a change in Diola’s demeanour. “On the day we arrested you,” he began, “I believe that you had the intention of killing a British soldier or police officer. I don’t know the details of what happened, why you may have felt it needed to happen, or what you wanted to achieve by doing this. Only you know these things Diola. If you are willing, you’ll tell me, and if you’re not, you won’t. I can’t force you to tell me – I don’t want to force you. I’d like you to help me understand. Would you tell me about what happened?” The interviewer opens up his notebook, and shows Diola the empty pages. “You see? I don’t even have a list of questions.”

“That is beautiful,” Diola says. “Because you have treated me with consideration and respect, yes I will tell you now. But only to help you understand what is really happening in this country.”

This reinforces my belief that there is a sincere, rational (whether you agree or not) reasoned motivation for terrorist attacks, at least in some cases. We in the West just aren't interested in listening to those who we don't agree with.


Couldn't the same be said for every mass murderer? Columbine to Vegas. They all have some grievance, real or made up, I don't think understanding those grievances get us closer to understanding them on order to head of such reactions.

Columbine, tons of kids get bullied, very few decide to take maximum revenge.


There was a study of abused wives who finally resorted to murdering their husband's in self defense. They were expecting to find that women who killed their husband's had certain personality traits or something like that. What they found was that the ones who did so were basically the most severely abused who had been painted into a corner and had no other way out. That was the only thing they all had in common.

Tons of kids get bullied, but the extent and severity varies tremendously. The ones who get bullied the worst typically also have shite home lives and no one at all really looking out for their interests.

Your position amounts to "Meh, bullying happens. Can't be arsed to care. The victims need to not go ballistic about it though." And I find this monstrous. We need to create social environments where, no, bullying is not tolerated.


Totally agree. And this social environment needs to extend to international relationships as well.


> They all have some grievance, real or made up

Well sure, which was my point. Well, the point is that (I believe) a lot of Islamic terrorists share the same grievances, and it is an educated, correct grievance, whereas the vast majority of Westerners, due to their government's mainstream media propaganda machines, believe their grievance is some sort of a made up delusion.

> Columbine, tons of kids get bullied, very few decide to take maximum revenge.

No different than Islamic people in my mind.


Columbine: so you do something to prevent kids from getting bullied and have fewer mass-murdering students as a result? Seems like a good example to me.

In general, how can you fix something you don't understand?

I've never understood the "let's just punish people and forget about it" attitude (not saying that's what you're saying, just that it seem like a fairly typical attitude). It seems really dangerous to me.


I of course agree with decreasing bullying. However, bullying itself is not a reason ever to go on a rampage. There is no guarantee that had they not been bullied that they would not have engaged in psychopathic behavior.


Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but based on those words I got a distinct impression that this person was fairly intelligent and well spoken, which cannot be said about all mass murderers.


Not all but some are. Ted Kaczynski, while not a mass murderer, had the potential to be if his devices had been more powerful, or everyone's favorite mass murderer, the Che.

They're not usually dumb.


Che is accused of killing dozens. The guy he helped remove from power - and which was backed by the US - killed thousands. Maybe he actually had a point?


Ted Kaczynski is kind of in his own category.


Kissinger would certainly qualify.


Interesting how the parent is being downvoted for writing "This reinforces my belief that there is a sincere, rational (whether you agree or not) reasoned motivation for terrorist attacks, at least in some cases".

Those downvotes prove the point.


Well, I always get at least one free downvote from someone who seems to follow me around.


It's not hard to construct a reasoned motivation for anything you might want to do. That doesn't mean it's worth listening to.


Whether you genuinely want it to stop determines whether it's worth listening to, and there's a lot of people whose income depends on it not stopping.


Modern "rational" terrorists for example the IRA deliberately chose bombing targets mainly for economic reasons as mass killings of "civilians" turned off their supporters not least those in the USA.

I am not sure that ISIS et all are rational by mainstream muslim belief


I'm sure there is, in their eyes. But if the price of compliance with it is unacceptable, that doesn't move us any further forward.


Understanding someone's motivation has nothing to do with compliance, unless you've already made up your mind that the other side is a comic book villain and their motivation is to be evil for evil's sake.

In reality, understanding someone's motivation can lead you to discover factors that influence it which you can change without doing anything unacceptable or even detrimental to you.


Hear hear. Meanwhile a lot of people are really reductionist due their lack of critical thinking. "They're evil because of the book they believe in, we should ban that religion!" (as if that will fix all the problems...).

I find the work of Scott Atran in explaining the motivations of Islamic extremists (so we can also reduce/end it) really good: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/15/terror...


Making an effort to understand in no way implies moving in the direction of compliance.


The Atlantic had a good article on this back in 2003:

The Dark Art of Interrogation

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2003/10/the-dar...


OK... How did they measure "rapport"?

The most important relationship he measured was between “yield” – information elicited from the suspect – and “rapport” – the quality of the relationship between interviewer and interviewee. For the first time, a secure, empirical basis was established for what had, until then, been something between a hypothesis and an insider secret: rapport is the closest thing interrogators have to a truth serum.

Above all, rapport, in the sense used by the Alisons, describes an authentic human connection. “You’ve got to mean it,” is one of Laurence’s refrains.


"The interviewer, who has remained heroically calm in the face of Diola’s verbal barrage, is not able to move the encounter out of stalemate, and eventually his bosses replace him."

For all we know, the first interviewer was key in setting up Diola's mood such that the second interviewer would be a relief to him, leading to him opening up.


The very old tatic of "good cop"/"bad cop"


> The suspect, who had a criminal history, had posted messages on social media in support of violent jihad. In a search of his residence, the police had found a bag containing a hammer, a kitchen knife and a map with the location of a nearby army barracks.

I'll be honest, I kind of wish the police hadn't stopped him, because I would love to read a report of how this Mister Bean plan would have worked out for him.


You're assuming that he intended to invade the camp. But all he could do was to wait a safe distant outside and just stab an unsuspected soldier who was off duty. It's not like every person serving in the army is a special forces officer who's in alarm 24/7.


It's also important to note that, unlike the movies, most bases don't actually have a lot of people walking around armed. Combat gear is stowed and firearms are in the armory under lock and key. Most jobs don't actually require carrying a weapon while on duty. Even those that do need some sort of weapon don't require such at all times.

The only time I regularly carried a weapon was when I was a transportation officer/chaser. I carried a .45 and a 12ga and only when I was performing duties that required such, namely while actively participating in the transfer of detainees.

Keep in mind that my first four years was in the infantry and included combat. I probably carried a weapon a smaller percentage of the time with that MOS than I did while working at the brig.


Well, soldiers aren't super human so I'm glad they did. (Echoes of Lee Rigby...)



What a hopelessly uninformative title. It's not even taken from the article, which has a far better title.

All scientists are in the business of extracting truth, no?


I have noticed a change in the interview techniques portrayed in some police shows. Gibb's team in NCIS is one of those but the British TV series Scott and Bailey really comes closest to what is discussed in this Guardian article. Sometimes Soren in Law and Order comes close as well.

Any police officer who wants to try this could get started by learning some basic psychology and watching a few episodes of these TV series. And also, you need to fix your own psychological issues because these techniques work best when you are not choked up with hate or other emotions. They require empathy for the criminal and to do that, you need to have firm control of your psyche otherwise it will break you to try it.

I am reminded of one of those Sales empowerment books of the 60s and 70s written by a luxury car salesman. He said that you could not be successful unless you genuinely liked your customer, and only then could you help him to spend his money on what you are selling. Part of the book was exercises on how to turn on that "genuine like" within your own psyche.

Let's face it, it takes years of daily practice to become a skilled musician, or a skilled skateboarder or a skilled parcour athlete or... Humans can do amazing things if only they apply themselves with a few years of daily practice. Stage magic is even more so because those folks never stop practicing the most impossible actions.


Well, what was Diola's reasons? I would have loved to be his interrogator! I would have let it take days of him explaining his views to me, if that's what it would have taken. I want to know!


Actually good article, especially with the disgusting reports about the torturer pseudoscientists that the CIA contracted for their walling and sensory deprecation torture techniques


The truly sad thing is that all these interviews actually go to waste. Their only point is to prove the interviewee guilty, try and then punish them.

I imagine that they have something to tell, time to time, about the reasons why they did what they did and comment on the state of the society. And I don't believe that we gather the findings and then communicate them back to the policy makers so that we are actually able to heal the society.


You mean they might be committing acts of violence in the pursuit of political aims? You mean 'terrorism'? Should we really validate terrorism as a means of political protest?

I mean, there is an argument to be made there. If people are lashing out violently, they've probably run out of non-violent options and that's something that should be addressed. But I think it sets a horrible precedent to allow violence to shape political discussion.


Violence always shapes political discussion. When someone commits a terrorist act, there must always be a decision made on how to respond to it.

Understanding what drives a terrorist does not necessarily negate any punishment for the act of terror. It does give you the opportunity to decide whether the grievance that led them to act is one that you agree is legitimate, or if not, perhaps it is one that you want to address anyway in the interest of lowering the risk of other terrorist acts. All of this can be done without excusing in any way the act itself.


First, a key reason for police interviews is to find people's associates, roll up terrorist networks and prevent future crimes.

Second, I find it odd that you think putting killers in jail is "a waste". Should we just let them go and have another try?

Last, you assume that these individuals murder innocent people because they have some valid point about society, which policy-makers need to learn and act upon. What point would that be?


Oddly enough, while reading this I had a thought about how interrogations are like poking at non newtonian fluids.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-Newtonian_fluid

If you push too hard, too fast the particles resist the most. Pushing slowly and gently through yields likes hot butter.


To me - and this is completely anecdotal - is that there usually seems to be 3 criteria that strangers look for before they open up. They are somewhat overlapping, at least in the way that you can use these them to your advantage: Empathy; being impressionable; appearing weak/ignorant in one or more aspects relating to the topic.

So, you don't ask what they did or why they did it. You ask about topics that they may have led them to doing something that they did. Better still, don't ask. Lead the conversation in a way that will make the question will seem more natural.

Then you respond with something like:

"Wow! How on Earth did you handle that? (Impressionable) If that were me (Empathy) I would have [something outlandish]!!! (Weakness/Ignorance)". So now you seem relateable, and somewhat flawed, even moreso than they themselves. Often, they will try to "teach" you about why your reaction is bad, and what a better reaction would be - often with a "real life" scenario as an example.

"Aaah! That's pretty smart! (Impressionable) But I'm not sure I'd be able to handle it as well as that (Weakness)"

From here they feel they are in a position of power. Especially if you seem more impressed by some more arbitrary aspect, than concerned about the more obvious implications (Weakness/Ignorance). They often open up more about other things they've done, which may or not be related to the original question. But you're still gaining their trust. Eventually you subtly stopped being impressed by what they are saying. And this is just by body language, not words. Your eyes don't light up when they are "expected" to (Impressionable). You don't smile wryly before they end their sentences as if to say you know you know where it's heading (Empathy).

The other person starts thinking:

"Why is he/she impressed any more? Is it because they're really that ignorant? Or maybe what I'm saying isn't really that impressive to them? Perhaps I should fill in more details, and maybe I'll tell about some other thing I did"

Now I'm not saying this will work interviewing terrorists/criminals. But this has been my own experience for as long as I can remember. People tend to tell me their darkest secrets (even without me asking) within about 30 minutes of meeting me for the first time, especially when alcohol is involved. I rarely ask directly. People just end up telling me things.


There's no mention in the article of how likely or unlikely this technique is to produce false confessions when innocent people are interviewed. People do like to talk, and if you make them relaxed an innocent person might be more apt to say something stupid.


> and if you make them relaxed an innocent person might be more apt to say something stupid.

Huh? That's the exact opposite of what the article was conveying. Trying to intimidate or force people to talk gets them to just say whatever to make the intimidation stop.


The parallels with interviewing engineers are pretty clear to me, there is so much more information exchanged when interviewer and candidate work together than when the interviewer is confrontational and has a “prove that you’re good enough” approach.


My problem with torture is the same I have with death penalty: how would you live with yourself if you later find you got an innocent by mistake?

I don't think you can just apologize and say you had the best of intentions.


I was very glad to read that has finally been scientifically proven that a non-coercive style of interviewing that focuses on establishing rapport works better than a coercive style.


It's definetly interesting, but if this was the secret behind something as important, would it be published ? Why ? '


So a good cop. After this article was published I am sure this is going to work well in the future...


I've heard many times that "torture doesn't work" but I never understood how or why. In my naive mind, if someone pulls out my fingernail and threatens to pull out more if I don't talk, I doubt I would have the courage or resilience to stay silent and take the torture.


Part of the problem is not that you would hide the truth, but that you would make up lies just to appease your interrogator.

You want the torture to stop; the torturer doesn't know when to stop. They'll keep hurting you until they think you've told them everything, even if you already have.


Torture works at hurting people. That is what it is for, that is what is always has been for, that is what it always will be for. Everything else is just a way people try to justify things. "Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power." - George Orwell


It depends what your goal is. If you're trying to get a specific person to say a certain thing, then it works well. If I wanted you to confess to a conspiracy with my political enemies so I could execute them, the fingernail removal strategy works fine.

If you're trying to figure out the truth in a fluid and confusing environment, then it doesn't work well because it motivates the victim to do whatever they can do to end the conversation as quickly as possible.


> I've heard many times that "torture doesn't work" but I never understood how or why

Imagine you're suspected of a crime or terrorist act, but you are innocent.

Your captors however are sure of your guilt and determined to find out what you know by torture.

The more you insist you know nothing and that you are innocent, they more they believe you are resistant to their torture methods and so they keep upping the ante.

Eventually you will reach a breaking point where you can't go on, and you will start making up stories and saying anything just to get them to stop.

And that's why torture doesn't work, because you can't trust the information that you gain from it.


The problem is that someone will tell you anything to stop you from pulling out their nails, so you can get a lot of really incorrect information.


And if you didn't know anything, would you sit there and keep losing fingernails, or tell them what they want to hear?


Exactly! If someone pulls off my fingernails one by one, and I know the answer to the question they are asking, I will absolutely divulge the answer... Torture obviously works. It just also creates a lot of false information from people who don't know the answer and will say anything to make the torture stop. But that's much more nuanced and quite different from the refrain we constantly hear that "torture doesn't work."


> Torture obviously works. It just also creates a lot of false information from people who don't know the answer and will say anything to make the torture stop. But that's much more nuanced and quite different from the refrain we constantly hear that "torture doesn't work."

How do you determine, ahead of time, when torture will work and when it will produced false information?


> Torture obviously works. It just also creates a lot of false information

Which means it doesn't work.


Torture worked the first time. The other 182 times that month were just for the fun of it.

https://shadowproof.com/2009/04/18/khalid-sheikh-mohammed-wa...


> Torture obviously works.

Can you cite some cases where torture has got correct, verifiable, and timely information that couldn't have been got by other means?


That's probably because you don't (yet) have a cause you value higher than your own life. Are you married? Would you give up the location of your wife, knowing she'd be murdered if you told it to your interrogators while they're pulling out your fingernails?


Torture is a form of terror and generally used for its side effect on a target population. Terror as a form of psychological deterrent.

Guardian kindly reframes it as a quest for "truth" complete with cartoon plot of knife and map in kitchen.

"Extracting truth" ?

http://images.gawker.com/18k1yee5hy13mjpg/c_scale,fl_progres...


The article dismisses torture almost immediately, and talks extensively about how being curious and open produces vastly better results than any other style of interrogation.


It's where we conveniently ignore the fact that we torture people who we have no reason to suspect know anything.




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