It Cuts Both Ways


One of the problems with torture as an intelligence technique is that a tortured person will tell you whatever you want to hear.  Torture advocates are, in that sense, curiously credulous; downright naive.

Credulity cuts both ways, though.  So when “Matthew Alexander” (not his real name) says:

As a senior interrogator in Iraq, I conducted more than three hundred interrogations and monitored more than one thousand. I heard numerous foreign fighters state that the reason they came to Iraq to fight was because of the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay.

it would help if he’d show the appropriate skepticism.  Of course they say they became terrorists because of Gitmo or Abu Ghraib.  Let’s not be naive about the interests and incentives at play for them.

I’m not saying it’s not true that Gitmo and Abu Ghraib are top recruiting tools for our enemies; even torture advocates admit it’s true.  I’m just saying if you want to make an effective argument against torture, you can’t just say, “Hey, I’ve talked to a lot of terrorists and, gee, a lot of them say they were nice guys until they saw those Abu Ghraib photos.”

Alexander is a skilled, experienced interrogator.  Presumably, when he reports that’s what detainees told him, he means they said it in the context of a wide-ranging, skillful interrogation, and in his judgment as a professional interrogator, many of them weren’t lying — or weren’t entirely lying.

If torture opponents don’t want to be vulnerable to accusations of naivete and being “soft,” though, it would help if he’d make that a bit more explicit, rather than leaving it sounding like he took what they said as prima facie true.  As it is, he just makes himself easy to lampoon.

h/t Sullivan



3 Responses to “It Cuts Both Ways”

  1. jazzbumpa Says:

    In 1307 King Philip of France had the Nights Templar tortured until they admitted to all manner of heresy, including devil worship and desecration of the cross. He got the information he wanted to hear, never mind the truth.

    This is the real value of torture. Certainly, other valid criticisms are possible, but none are mnecessary.

    I assume Matthew Alexander did not torture those foreign fighters to got whatever information he wanted out of them.

    But, while we’re being curiously credulous, we might ask: why would they lie?

    Generally, people lie because the truth doesn’t serve their purposes very well. What would these foreign fighters have to gain by lying?

  2. urbino Says:

    I can think of several. Sticking a thumb in the eye of their enemy. Protecting the friend or relative who recruited them. Trying to persuade us to reform Gitmo before they arrive there, or at least be less harsh with them in particular. The tried and true human desire to avoid responsibility for your actions by blaming someone else.

  3. jazzbumpa Says:

    I like asking questions to people who have good answers.

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