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Torture, Does It Work?

By Matthew Yglesias on October 21, 2006 at 12:34 pm

"Torture, Does It Work?"

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Jim Henley tries to draw a distinction: “It’s not that you’ll never get good information via torture. It’s that you’ll never be sure, absent checking and rechecking, whether the information you got was any use. Perhaps I should say, ‘was true.’ Obviously al Libbi’s statements were ‘useful’ – they were used to sell a war that our rulers were set on having. None of this has anything to do with our old friend, the Ticking Bomb Scenario.”

I would put it slightly differently. The issue here is systems. Not, if we employ systematic torture will we learn some true things, but if we employ systematic torture will we improve our intelligence overall? I think the answer to the latter question, drawing on history and the recent American experience, is pretty clearly “no.” The bad information, and the problems caused by needing to weed it out, outweigh the former. As I’ve said before, the problem of intelligence isn’t that we need “more information” it’s that it’s hard to distinguish the accurate information from the garbage. What torture mostly does is increase the garbage/accurate ratio.

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