It is a long time since I saw that TNG episode, but I remember it as a respectful treatment of the subject.
Any television series in a modern setting in which characters that are portrayed as "good guys" use torture to achieve their goals is despicable propaganda.
There has been more of that lately.
I think I know the reason for this. Gene Roddenberry was a WW2 veteran i.e. the Geneva Conventions had a personal relevance to him. In the wars of the past you had to assume that many of your own guys would be captured by the enemy.. and that you might end up being one of them. In that scenario a strong international condemnation of torture suddenly looks way more appealing. In contrast, America's modern "wars" (I do not think these one-sided affairs deserve that name) do not lead to a noticeable number of American POWs. And you no longer have to worry about being drafted yourself either.
I think the foundation of the acceptance of torture in contemporary America is the firm conviction of the supporters that they will never be at the receiving end.
This type of thinking is unfortunately widespread among humans everywhere. It is never moral and often unwise to support a system you would not support if you did not have a favorable position within it.
One of the empirically observable facts is that faith in public institutions is a lot lower today than it was back then. I think this phenomenon cuts in the opposite direction compared to what a lot of people on HN would suppose. When people have less faith in the system, they have less faith that the system will protect them, and are more willing to embrace characters that will act outside the system to get the job done. Hence the popularity of the Jack Bauer character: the guy who ignores taboos against torture or procedural limitations like warrants in order to get the job done and save the day.
That's starkly different to the world conceived of in Star Trek. Star Trek is a world where government (the Federation) is morally virtuous, and institutional rules like the "Prime Directive" are to be followed rather than broken.
And, provided someone previously broke the Prime Directive, inadvertently or not, Starfleet personnel are permitted to directly intervene and ignore the Prime Directive to minimize the harm caused. And most cases where Kirk "violates" the Prime Directive, someone else already interfered, meaning no violation occurred.
I wonder if Gene Roddenberry would have had different opinions of public institutions if he grew up after the collapse of the USSR.
Is this an intentional reference to John Rawls' concept of the 'veil of ignorance' laid out in Theory of Justice? If not, you would definitely enjoy the ideas in the book.
For example, "In this house, you always clean up": The categorical imperative only works to argue against this if you try to find a way to apply it to every household; the veil of ignorance works simply by forcing the members of the household to be ignorant about who 'you' refers to.
That's a great point. America doesn't do wars anymore. They do conquests. And the American public at large seems perfectly fine with it (or they wouldn't allow it).
After all these years, I think the American public has largely given up on their votes making any difference whatsoever; President, Senate, House of Representatives, they mostly all do whatever their financiers want once they're elected, public opinion be damned.
Anyone want to come in and liberate us from our corrupt government? (I was going to say tyrannical, but I don't want to devalue that word; we're not there yet.)
Please note it's important you American citizen communicate on your opinion as much as you can, beyond your borders. Even if you see no immediate effect, it will benefit you.
"many" really just means "more than one", but okay: if 50 nations invaded and split up the US, would that be conquest?
How quickly morality fades ....
By contrast, what's the purpose of Fringe's torture? Am I actually supposed to find this entertaining? Honest, if leading, question.
I remember a security guard near the finale, but that's about it. Was it more common than my memory tells? What does that say about how little it impacted upon me?
The main scene I remember where one of the protagonists resorts to torture is in the final season where Peter tortures a captured Observer to figure out how to put together a time portal stabilizer the Observers are using for transport. But if I remember the scene correctly, Peter doesn't even want information - he's just really pissed off at the Observers for killing his daughter. Even though this scene shows one of the protagonists doing something wrong, I question whether it was really trying to get the watcher's approval for the his actions. If anything, it was trying to show disapproval for his actions by depicting him as mentally unstable. I'm not saying that there aren't more scenes where the protagonists resort to torture, just that I can't remember them.
A further question that I have is what exactly torture is in a sci-fi show. There are at least two episodes where the Fringe gang uses a device that reanimates a recently deceased enemy so they can get the necessary information to stop an impending attack. Is a scenario like this torture? And what about when one of the Observers attempts to read Walter's mind causing him a great deal of pain? This seems to be torture, but would the shows viewers think that governments should torture because Fringe depicted a character reading another character's mind?
Finally, Ntrails makes a fantastic point. Typically, torture is not depicted as a critical story piece in Fringe. Torture occasionally makes appearances, but many of the shows fans can't even remember when and how often they were used. What does that say about the "legitimizing" force of depiction of torture in Fringe?
What an odd view.
Whenever anyone uses torture to successfully extract information - bad guy or good guy - we are getting the not-so-subtle message that "torture works".
Torture doesn't work. And if you're so habituated to the message that "torture is effective" to the point that you don't even notice torture, well...
But if the bad guy gets good information from torturing the good guy, the viewer thinks "hey, he's an asshole, but torture sure is a thing that works! Maybe the good guy should use it on him!"
>you have a great case for torture being legitimized IF the good guys are using it and are portrayed as heroes for doing so.
You're applying too strict a standard. The article isn't talking about legitimizing torture. It's talking about normalizing it.
In other words, TV isn't necessarily telling us that torture is good. It tells us that it works, and leaves us to fill in the gaps (if it WORKS, we should use it on BAD PEOPLE!)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Same_Old_Story - Victims are paralysed with a muscle relaxant and then have their faces peeled off.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Arrival_(Fringe) - Multiple victims are strapped to tables and tortured. Three scenes in all I believe.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cure_(Fringe) - Woman strapped to a table, she's a test patient being tortured with painful drugs, begging them to stop.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bound_(Fringe) - Olivia strapped to a table and tortured.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inner_Child_(Fringe) - Woman are paralysed and then slowly killed.
Well that's the first season. I'm off for dinner now. If you want to try something similar for the first season of the X-Files please do!
(Sorry couldn't reply to your reply, I think it's too deeply nested or something)
Fringe, especially in its earlier "monster of the week" seasons, has a very clear distinction between the "good guys" and the "bad guys". Since only the bad guys are committing torture, it seems more plausible that the writers of Fringe think that the audience will view torture as something bad people do. However, it does not support your point that torture is a tool used by everyone.
There's one plot line in season 5 where Peter tortures an Observer. But it was depicted as a moral failing of Peter to commit torture, opposite what you suggest in your OP ("In fact it’s often portrayed as a moral failing to not do anything it takes to get the results you need.").
The entire plot line is very dark as Peter's grief over his daughter takes him down a bad path. It is supposed to be (and was for me) uncomfortable to watch.
* Apart from dear Astrid of course, statement may contain some hyperbole.
You're the one that made a claim, it is not unreasonable to expect that you can back this up with examples. So far the examples you've provided don't show that everyone resorts to torture. And instances in your examples come from the bad guys doing something clearly, well, bad. Again, if the image of torture is a bad thing in your mind then all violence should be absent from every media because it normalizes all violence.
> If you really want to disprove this do your own research. Go through and categorise every instance of pain inflicted on a person in a helpless situation. Are there more or less of these scenes than in the X-Files?
And here you're extending the definition of torture to contain every act of violence against a helpless person. Given it's duration, I suspect that X-Files would have more instances of this. Using your model, disprove me.
Hand-wavy grandstands are fine, but don't pass something off as deeper than that if it isn't.
In your article you specifically state,
"Torture is used by all parties. Everyone resorts to torture, whether they are the good guys or the bad guys."
You then use X-Files and Fringe as the main points of contrast. This is blatantly wrong. All of the examples you have pointed out above, as well as all of the instances of torture I recall from the show, were from the "bad guys".
I would disagree with this being a form of normalization of torture, but rather a statement against torture. The bad guys use torture because they are bad; ergo this is a quiet form of protest from the shows producers against things going on today; Guantanamo, water boarding, etc...
The final act, him cutting open and killing the observer is still shocking, and it isn't glorified or seen as right. It's clearly the first steps down a darker path.
Any television series in a modern setting in
which characters that are portrayed as "good guys"
use torture to achieve their goals is despicable
I must admit, though... when compared to the cartoonish patriotic jingo-fied violence of the 1980s, where Rambo and the A-Team defeated countless enemies in settings that always felt like a walk in the park... perhaps the torture thing is the lesser of the two evils?
The 1980s seemed to want to tell us that war was a melodramatic, often bloodless struggle between the white-hatted good guys and the black-hatted bad guys.
If there's a small silver lining to today's torture-promoting crap, at least it's that war is portrayed a bit closer to being the horrible, bloody, morally-confused hell where the "good guys" often look and act an awful lot like the "bad guys."
Doesn't take away from your point at all. Totally agree that when torture is portrayed as anything less than evil, there is a very serious problem.
At least the heroes in those implausible stories behaved like heroes, rather than villains who you only identify with out of some jingoistic team spirit.
I think the root of the problem is more about torture being portrayed at all.
Even if you portray it a the evilest thing, you are still playing with the spectator's bowels and disgust thresholds in ways that cannot bring anything good.
There is room for torture depiction is some niche genres, like horror or sadism (e.g. Salo) but I can't understand how it should come to mainstream media as TV series and take such a big room.
Just like sex and pron: it is ok, but please let it be marginal.
Art (and I'm including popular entertainment) plays a very important role in how we think about and understand topics.
Entertainment is to art what a tabloid is to Iliad.
Torture is not a topic. Examples of topics: war, love, jealousy, courage, friendship, etc.
Torture is not uncomfortable per se, it is hot in US because of recent events and revelations. Inflicting pain to someone in order to get what one want is just the most common thing in the world. What is weird is to make a show with this pain, it reminds me of witch burning: you'd bring kids and would get angry if a good guy killed her already.
However I agree that it is stupid to expect art to stay away from anything: this beast has its own reasons and goes were it pleases.
I'm stunned by how torture has became common in TV shows, at least since "24". But is it propaganda? to me, it was more a way to please the audience.
That, or it's purely coincidental that "24" debuted following disclosure of Bush's torture programs, and "Person of Interest" debuted ahead of common knowledge of the extent of mass surveillance.
It may not be propaganda officially ordered and authored by some Ministry of Information, but it's the same thing no matter how many layers of abstraction it goes through: a way to shape the narrative and facts that inform the common person and allow them to form an understanding of an issue.
The interpretation that better reconciles the timeline is that both the show and the torture program are attempts to capitalize on the same public sentiment that led to this song: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Courtesy_of_the_Red,_White_and_... (select lyrics: "Cause we'll put a boot in your ass; It's the American way"), peaking at #1 on Billboard's list of Hot Country Songs.
Remember also that producers of these shows often do have contact with members of the intelligence and defense communities who serve as official or unofficial advisors, at least so long as the depictions are acceptable to the establishment. Through these advisors, entertainment producers learn about secret programs long before the public. Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty is a particularly prominent recent example of how this works, and why it is a bad thing that results in "entertainment" which is very much a form of propaganda.
I'm not sure what point you're trying to make. Are you saying that the producers were rewarded after the fact, for the pro-torture message? And that encouraged them to make Season 4 even more torture filled? What sort of "insider information" did they get?
Portraying torture as merely "morally ambiguous" is arguably fairly strong pro-torture propaganda by the standards of anything but later editions of 24.
I don't know how many people here really remember the mood back then. I was just starting college at Georgia Tech when Season 2 of "24" came on. It was hugely popular in my dorm. And the overall sentiment was pretty violent. In the run-up to the Iraq war the next year, it was less controversial to say that we should turn the middle east into a "glass parking lot" than to argue against going to war. And this is of course among people who were relatively liberal compared to the region as a whole.
And an amputation page:
(but a couple of those incidents don't involve torture; I remember being extremely put off by the scene in day 8 (I guess I switched it off before the scene was complete).
Now I wonder how mainstream 24 really is, given how over the top it seems.
By the way, I've got to hand it to Person of Interest for creating a show about technology and the singularity that isn't completely ridiculous with its use of computers and jargon. They're also not really pro-surveillance. To quote Finch:
"...the machine is... wonderful and terrible..."
It's also a show where bad guys (the government) are using torture, and it's horrific. On last night's episode they mutilated a main character just to make a point.
In a sense, I think PoI is somehow the spiritual successor of the X Files in a sense that it alternates between "monster of the week" (in this case: criminal of the week) and the big storyline which is about a corrupt and power-hungry government at every level from local city politicians all the way up to vast and limitless government agencies, and about everyone's love-hate-and-exploitation relationship with a superior intelligence (which was the aliens in X-Files).
It's a show that makes some powerful and ballsy statements, while at the same time keeping up the light entertainment of what's ostensibly a vigilante show.
As often in real life. There's this report from late 2006 (though I haven't checked any other sources)...
"Last week Omar Nasiri, a Moroccan who spent seven years infiltrating al-Qaeda as a double agent working for the French and British intelligence services, told the BBC’s Newsnight programme that al-Qaeda deliberately fed false information to the US government in order to encourage it to invade Iraq. According to Nasiri (a pseudonym), Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, who ran al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and was captured in the US invasion of that country five years ago, told his US interrogators that Saddam Hussein was cooperating with the terrorist organisation to plan attacks with chemical and biological weapons. [...] American forces had scooped up Ibn Sheikh al-Libi in Afghanistan in November, 2001, and sent him off to Egypt to be tortured (because the US itself doesn’t do torture) in the presence of American interrogators. And Libi told his lie about Saddam Hussein’s complicity with al-Qaeda, which Colin Powell seized on as justification for the US attack on Iraq."
Cop shows are all about flailing around for a few minutes, followed by a hacker/database identifying the subject and dispatch of the SWAT team. If the computers are down, the good guy beats up the suspect. If the show is on CBS, they do some sort of amazing thing using their MS Surface while driving a Chevy-something. (Bad guys like Fords and Chryslers)
Talk to a real cop. Whiz bang technology is the exception, not the rule. Successful detectives usually use their connections with the community to put two and two together.
I never suspected that I'm bad to the bone.
Violence in its ultimate form. A viewer who associates him/herself with the protagonist gets the feeling of being a righteous God exerting the punishment. An irresistible catnip for "good people with values".
In "24" it was some scene where Jack Bauer had to shoot and kill one of his own guys in order to not blow his cover. I tapped out.
In "Boardwalk" I lasted all the way to some scene where some poor sap got buried up to his neck on a beach and then they took a shovel to his head. That was it for me, no thanks.
It makes me think of something I recently read:
No torture in this one, but... well.
This in turn seems to be directly inspired by Nineteen Eighty-Four. When Winston is being tortured, O'Brien puts up four fingers and insists (under torture) that Winston sees five.
In most accounts, the distress caused by endless indoctrination, public denunciation, and self-criticism was worse than physical torture. Physical pain still allows the victim to retreat into himself. After days, months, years of mental torture there is no longer a self to retreat into. Besides self-abasement, victims were made to show their sincerity by persecuting others, sometimes friends or relatives. In many cases, suicide was the only way out. But ideally, if a person had finally reached the stage when his confessions were totally convincing, there was no longer any gap between acting and natural behavior, between faked and true thoughts. The process ended, in the phrase of a Chinese former victim, with “the physical and mental liquidation of oneself by oneself.”
I was utterly baffled by the top comment's focus on Star Trek (I figured out what "TNG" meant) when there was no mention whatsoever in the article.
Slate's got a good discussion of the piece:
I say that because its not just the episodes its self, which is brilliant, its the fact that by the time you get to that episode it really means something. There is a hell of a lot riding on the torture of Sheridan. The TNG episode, while in itself brilliant, sort comes out of no where.
(Yes, Babylon 5 is my Linux/Mac. Of course there is opinion to the contrary, but Im openly deaf to them.)
You just have to say "no, I won't" one more time than they can say "yes, you will".
It's hardly news that watching that kind of stuff gives you opinions that make you a worse person.
The way I see it, fiction has a dark side and a light side. The dark side normalizes and revels in darkness, to shock and allure the audience. The light side is shocked at the darkness and stands against it, to educate and enlighten the audience.
The average American male has access to all the porn he wants, UFC fights, FPSs, and so on. How is a network broadcaster going to shock and allure him in a way that will clear the censors? The list of options is short and torture is on it.
Fiction can only reflect or distort truth, because reality is neither positive and negative nor dark and light, the audience can only choose truth vs. fiction. Objective vs. subjective.
But really we're talking about memory. Lasting effects either conscious or below. The way to remember things is elaboration and repetition. In that way, distortion of truth can only exist when there's limited information, but far more effective is repetition over time AND limited information. You'll only remember the fake stuff.
Moral values are useless to us if we can't use them to decide things about hypothetical situations. In fact, the only way to build and solidify morality (which is memory) is elaboration, more novel experiences and information.
So with that context: Fiction isn't the problem, a stagnant homogenous diet of it is.
This is clear if you look at how television lags society as a whole when it comes to other social trends. By the time CBS aired a show with two major gay characters (Will & Grace in 1998), more than a third of Americans already supported gay marriage. This year, "Modern Family" will feature a gay marriage proposal, now that 55% of Americans support marriage equality. Going back further, the networks didn't air an interracial kiss until Star Trek in 1968, a year after the Supreme Court (itself an extremely reactive institution), struck down bans on interracial marriage. As of 2010, more than 1 in 6 new marriages was interracial, but you'd hardly perceive that watching network TV, where interracial relationships are still highly unusual. The Brady Bunch, which ran from 1969-1974, pioneered portraying a blended family on TV, with two previously-divorced parents, but by 1969 divorce was already mainstream and divorce rates were comparable to what they are today (they peaked ~1980). In 1960, when TV was still idealizing stay-at-home mom June Cleaver on Leave it to Beaver, a third of the labor force was women.
Given the track-record of television when it comes to other social trends, I think it's incorrect to say that television is "changing attitudes" towards torture. More likely is that it's reflecting attitudes in society more condoning of torture than they have been in the past.
CSI is set in Las Vegas. They show multiple murders on a typical night shift, yet in reality there is "only" a murder every 2 or 3 days. Of course it makes sense that they would actually show things happening, but I wonder how that feeds into people's perceptions of the world (The "CSI effect" is apparently a real thing, so people have taken some lessons from it, right?).
Influence goes both ways. Viewers influence decissions about tv content but that content influences viewers. If the loop is not broken somewhere it will spiral outof control.
Also, it could be depicting instances of torture more explicitly, without necessarily condoning them. At least in the "24" case, the "good guy" isn't a boy scout but a morally-ambiguous, gritty, hardened "any means necessary" warrior. As such, it's perhaps more realistic to depict him doing "bad guy" stuff to get things done.
"Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?" Judge Scalia challenged his fellow judges. "Say that criminal law is against him? 'You have the right to a jury trial?' Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer? I don't think so.
In the movies, the good guys know with near-perfect certainty that the bad guy knows where the bomb is, and there is only just enough time to get the information - thus, torture. If real-world torture worked under similar certainty, few people would be against it.
If one person tortures one other person and as a result found the bomb, he probably wouldn't get a very hard sentence. But in reality (as I understand it, I'm not exactly a subject matter expert), you'd be trying a guy who tortured 50 guys, 49 of which didn't know anything (or didn't break) or fed you disinformation, and then one guy who told you something actionable, that you plausibly could (but perhaps not) have learnt through other channels.
Fringe, like 24, is a work of fiction. The problem is not the series' content. The real problem is letting politicians and media use a work of fiction as an actual situation. Using "Jack Bauer" in the debate about torture is like using Planet of the Apes in the debate about space exploration.
But the rest of your comment is completely correct.
Basically, it's portrayed as a horrific, shocking action, made all the more horrible because of who's doing it. It's the first steps down a darker road for Peter.
So, yeah, not at all propaganda supporting torture.
A line like Doctor Who's "everyone lives!" is very difficult to find in an american show.
(It's not that I have a problem with american fiction, I just find it curious)
“Heroes are important. Heroes tell us who we want to be but when they made this particular hero they didn’t give him a gun, they gave him a screwdriver to fix things. They didn’t give him a tank or a warship or an X-Wing, they gave him a call box from which you can call for help and they didn’t give him a superpower or a heat-ray, they gave him an extra heart. And that’s extraordinary. There will never come a time when we don’t need a hero like The Doctor.”
The Doctor is a wonderful call back to a science fiction time when humans could be rational. Sometimes violence was needed, but always when all other options have been exhausted. Since then, science fiction tends to dwell in the darker and dystopian aspects of humanity.
This idea that violence can be used to solve stuff is not limited to fiction, people use it in their everyday lives in America.
I'm always fascinated by how quickly situations in America will degrade to physical violence, or the threat thereof.
England's are sex and drugs.
I think that taking that as a "lesson" is a mistake. Its true that American fiction is pretty prone to relying on physical violence as the central form of conflict, but I don't think that's so much a lesson as a lack of creativity.
(Again, I don't think is a huge deal and I am not implying that people can't distinguish fiction of real life or something)
Action/adventure stuff definitely reaches for the gun pretty quickly.
Because it's clear (and you may be acknowledging) that violence is the best option in at least some circumstances. Otherwise, prisons, soldiers, and police officers wouldn't be necessary.
For example, if you want to stop a meteorite hitting Earth, do not use rockets attached to its surface, explode a huge nuclear bomb!
If you have to start the nucleus rotation, do not make any chemical reaction or engineering project, just explode a huge nuclear bomb!
If you are a multibillionaire that wants to solve crime, just personally punch criminals in the face!
And we're talking about fiction, not real life. I'm ok with spectacular, but I can't help noticing it :-P
Blowing inanimate things up is just physics.
See, how do you know you dont think that because of decades of the media tell you to think that? Not just that but American culture is gun culture rooted in the Wild West way of things. Look at how the gun nuts can even consider life without guns. Something weird, amusing and scary to many civilized countries.
Another inconvenient fact is sometimes it does work, and is an alternative to actual harm.
ETA: I'm surprised at how many here adhere to the notion "you can't ever know if the subject knows". We justifiably incarcerate people in peacetime, and kill people in war, on less information. As another poster noted: if the subject possesses a computer clearly connected with the issue, admits it's his, admits he knows the password, refuses to give the password, reveals the password under enhanced interrogation (with no physical harm done), and the password decrypts life-saving information, far better that than letting innocents die (or killing him putatively after the fact) because "torture isn't nice". Unwavering equalization of torture with crime (and invariant punishment thereof) is just as absurd as invariably criminalizing use of deadly force in defense of self or others. I get that sometimes/often/usually it doesn't work, but this broad insistence it is always criminal is absurd.
Firstly, the most likely outcome of torture is false information and multiple sources from the CIA to the FBI and various levels of rank have said that one of the most problematic issues with torture based intel is the extreme amount of time it takes to verify anything because most of it is made up. So in a ticking time bomb scenario, torturing someone you think has information may make you FEEL better, but it is a waste of time (which, by default, is in short supply).
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly amongst this crowd, the logic doesn't work. Statistically speaking, ticking time bomb situations do not actually occur in real life and basing institutionalized acceptance of torture on a fantasy what if scenario is intellectual fraud. Georgetown law's David Luban has an excellent 2005 essay "Liberalism Torture and the Ticking Bomb" that takes a deep dive into the psychology behind this argument as well as the real-world applications. It's linked further down in these comments by @elipsey.
For the sake of argument: if it turns out that slicing off a man's left hand will always yield 100% verifiable information, should we still be doing it? My answer to that is still going to be no. The effectiveness of torture is besides the point.
I, on the other hand, favor it because it sidesteps the moral issue and presents what is, in fact, a strong and compelling argument against torture that does not rely on first principles that are demonstrably not held by those who would advocate for torture in the first place.
The fact that torture is wasteful even if you ignore any moral considerations is a lot more powerful of an argument against it than one which requires the audience to accept that "torture is wrong" is true as a matter of moral first principles, no matter how much one might wish that the rest of the population would accept that moral principle.
The problem with these tradeoffs is that there's no clear cut moral high ground on which choice is correct -- it's a murky area. So it's a much more compelling argument if you can make the case that the tradeoff doesn't exist at all b/c torture is ineffective.
Except it's not. Those that are willing to turn to torture don't have a moral issue with it, it would not be just another tool if they did. The effectiveness of the tool is an argument people like that are interested in. In just the same way as those that do have moral issues with torture don't care if it was very effective, your arguments need to be tailored to the audience. Given a varied audience, you hit all the points.
Torture doesn't work for extracting information, it's effectiveness is basically useless. That is, if you are torturing to get information in the first place.
Intense pain is quite likely to produce false
confessions, concocted as a means of escaping
from distress. A time-consuming delay results,
while investigation is conducted and the admissions
are proven untrue. During this respite the interrogatee
can pull himself together. He may even use the time to
think up new, more complex ‘admissions’ that take still
longer to disprove.
I think there is a chance there may be a window where torture works reasonably well. You start out where it doesn't work well, for the reason given in the 1963 CIA manual.
Then, as technology gets better, so that you have the databases and data mining applications and communications technology to check out the interrogatee's story in close to real time, torture becomes effective.
Later, as the technology gets even better, and the databases get bigger (ironically, partly due to things like the NSA surveillance), you reach a point where the interrogations are pointless because you aren't getting anything from the interrogatee that you couldn't have gotten quicker with clever queries to the databases you already have.
This assumes that being able to prove the torture victims story quicker increases the chance of getting a truthful admission.
For starters that presumes that the torture victim knows what you want, which is not a given.
Secondly it presumes that the torture victim will give up the information if only you can keep the pressure up long enough. If it was "that simple" a solution to the problem in the CIA manual would be to simply recommend to continue the torture regardless of admissions, until one of them is proven true, while insisting to the victim that you believe he is lying.
"He asked them where the bomb was. The terrorists-highly
dedicated and steeled to resist interrogation-remained silent. [He] asked the question again, advising them that if they did not tell him what he wanted to know, he would kill them. They were unmoved. So [he] took his pistol from his gun belt, pointed it at the forehead of one of them, and shot him dead. The other two, he said, talked immediately; the bomb, which had been placed in a crowded railway station and set to explode during the evening rush hour, was found and defused, and countless lives were saved."
The article again, is purely anecdotal. The interrogator's name of "Thomas" is just an alias, ostensibly used for "safety reasons".
What made torture "work" in 24 is that Jack Bauer can't trust anybody else and never has more than one lead to follow at a time. Even though he talks to dozens of people who know parts of the big conspiracy, these people all magically disappear but only do so moments after they tell him one key bit of info that will lead him to the next clue. Sometimes they disappear by escaping custody, sometimes they disappear by being killed by the bad guys (or a traitor among the good guys), and sometimes they kill themselves. Through repetition of this pattern, we come to expect that each person who becomes the focus of Jack's attention will have some key bit of info he just has to get out of them. And he has to get that info from them now because he if he doesn't he'll never see them again.
Real life doesn't work that way.
In real life you have dozens, hundreds, or thousands of possible leads at any given time. Because the bad guys aren't supernaturally good at their job, you can go back and ask followup questions. You can check one guy's testimony against the next guy's. And some of the people you think seem like pretty good leads don't know anything useful. Torturing those people will generate false leads which lead you to torture more people who generate more false leads until your entire organization is in the business of serially torturing innocent people until they tell you whatever you seem to want to hear rather than the business of finding out the actual truth.
Each person you torture into generating false leads makes it more likely people will die because it ties up your organizational resources. It also is likely to generate massive blowback - some of the people you torture become or inspire new enemies, whereas people you are nice to might become friends and voluntarily help the investigation.
They have a general mistrust of cops, the more cop they see the less safe they feel. On the other hand, my wife and I, coming from other European countries are very happy to see cops around.
That said, since Tony Blair's "we can hold you in custody for a month without rights", or the we just shoot random people in the back after 7/7 bombing, our attitude is slowly changing. I'm not sure I would volunteer information to the police related to any hot topic without studying the risks first.
Again. Your ideas about real life are entirely wrong.
Why would it matter that the info they give is "something you know and something new"? How would that stop the "something new" part from being something that was invented to get you to stop torturing them? Of course the most realistic lies will include elements of truth and reference other stuff you think you already know.
And why would merely being "linked to the case in question" mean you can KNOW they have info they aren't willing to volunteer that would help at all, much less that would crack the case? (Sometimes a taxi driver is just a taxi driver.)
Not everyone "linked to the case" is a criminal, terrorist, despicable sub-human scum, or what-have-you.
That is not a popular idea in many areas of the military or law enforcement.
A poem by Erich Fried comes to mind... "don't doubt those who say they're afraid, but be afraid of those who say they know no doubt" -- I guess doubly so if they put torture in quotes.
The only interesting source arguing for the effectiveness of torture was this: http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Torture%2C_interrogation_and_intel...
It seems like torture would work, not in a "ticking time-bomb: scenario, but in a situation where you had a long time to corroborate intelligence gathered from torture with other sources. Interrogate the captive on stuff you already know about, and if they lie, punish them with worse forms of torture. And if people are prone to losing their minds under torture - you can merely submit them to one session of brutal torture, then leave them for a few weeks or months before resuming normal interrogation - with the threat of more torture if they don't comply.
ETA: Downvote demonstrates the point.
You say I'm not leaving room for good faith discourse. I asked for an example of torture saying a life. I asked because, time after time, in all forums, no such example has ever come up.
The real problem is that torture has been allowed to approach too close to where it's considered OK to use.
The problem with torture (from a point of view of information) is that the information is NOT reliable AT ALL. Someone under torture will often not only imagine facts, it will actually believe that they are true, and will confess false crimes, especially if presented by the torturer. There is a famous case in Spain in 1910 (a movie was made about it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Crime_of_Cuenca) that two men were charged for a murder and tortured until they confess. 12 years later, the "murdered man" reappeared, having spent the time on a nearby town. There are more real life examples showing that people under torture says mainly what the torturer wants, not real life facts.
Even in the presented case (the tortured subject truly has some critical information, which is somehow a "tricky case", real life is not that simple), the resulting information can be fake or inaccurate.
Information is more easily obtained in more reliable ways. Aborted terrorist attacks typically aborted in real life because someone will alert the authorities, or someone is being watched, not catching a "bad guy" and torturing it.
If you withholding a password, a torture would likely reveal it. It can be checked on the spot. There's even a relevant xkcd strip.
If you're a merchant hiding gold assets somewhere, a torture might just convince you to point the stash. And on and on, there were countless cases in human history when torture worked, propagating it's ubiquitous use as investigation method.
One of the fundamentals of the german law systems was broken, by a well-meaning person for practically no gain. The kidnapper later sued the police for the torture and won.
Now germany doesn't have a fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine so the conviction for the kidnapping later was based partially on the information gained in that one interrogation, but what if the kidnapper would walk free because of such a breach of law?
 http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entf%C3%BChrung_von_Jakob_von_M... (sorry, german only)
In the U.S., a kidnapper walking free for something like this would result in a nationwide popular movement to insulate police departments from being sued for torturing suspects.
The confession would never be allowed, however if there were other evidence to implicate him, such as blood in his house, that would certainly still be admissible in court and enough to convict him. If however, there was no other evidence AT ALL, than he walks free, and he gets to sue to police.
There wouldn't ever be a movement to stop police from torturing suspects. This is generally frowned upon, even if they are guilty.
But I bite. Let's say that thing you describe happens. People who torture should still get hard sentences, say 20 to 25 years. If they are not willing to sacrifice their own life and break the law to get the information, the torture is not justified.
In other words: torture should always be big personal sacrifice for the torturer.
You're going to subscribe to the idea mental torture is somehow less than physical torture? Nope, wrong. Ask anyone who has suffered from a mental illness and ask if their illness was less than a physical illness.
Number 1 - Mock Executions
It's against international law and The U.S. Army Field Manual expressly prohibits soldiers from staging mock executions.
>and the interrogator knows the subject has it
Oh really? How does this interrogator know? With 100% probability?
I'm not familiar with interrogation techniques, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say we study them like we study most things, with DATA and FACTS, not just some comment on the internet saying "they say Tell me! or I'll say 'Tell me!' again!'" because there is a good incentive to get the technique right, and people know more than me.
The following pdf "http://www.cgu.edu/pdffiles/sbos/costanzo_effects_of_interro... makes the case much more eloquently than I can in this comment section. Reading the "Conclusion: Consequences and Alternatives" section is very instructive.
Also the guardian article "http://www.theguardian.com/science/the-lay-scientist/2010/no... is very instructive.
Furthermore, I feel using torture is inherently immoral and we should strive to achieve a better world even when we know that our adversaries are not playing by the rules.
As far as I know this has never been the case in the history of the use of torture in US interrogations. Before you make statements in favor of torture, you should probably have a specific case in mind or it's just being gratuitously in favor of torture.
And even then, it is not the most effective method of extracting it.
> Another inconvenient fact is sometimes it does work
Sometimes it might, but there is no set of observable circumstances from which it can be concluded that torture will be expected to work better than other methods, so it is never a reasonable choice even excluding any negative moral considerations (or negative impact of more indirect effects of adopting such methods as policy) applicable to the method.
> and is an alternative to actual harm.
"Enhanced interrogation" is a euphemism for methods that involve actual harm, not an alternative to them.
Did you read all the research presented in the article and here in the comments and come up with that conclusion, or are you just talking out of your ass?
What if they didn't have the password? This is a real life example. I'm going to use an example. This lady was stopped on an airplane because she was carrying explosives. Her husband packed her bags and she didn't know she was carrying them. What if it was a really important laptop? Would you torture her? Would you risk giving her a lifetime of mental and physical scars because you thought she had a password she didn't even have?
>In that situation, it will work.
You sure about that? Some people would rather be a martyr and die. Examples are all around.
Waterboarding can cause death by the way.
Please note: I am not arguing for the use of torture! You're right that in many cases the victim will not have the sought information. That doesn't mean torture doesn't work.
Given that professional interrogators have come out and said that the 'ticking time bomb' situation does not happen in real life, this argument is pointless. Argue about the kind of tortures that actually happen, don't construct a fantasy scenario to prove a philosophical ideal and then assume that covers the ordinary case.