Tuesday, May 20, 2008

You can't make me talk

New Scientist published an interview with, Darius Rejali, a researcher who studies torture which got me thinking. The preview of the interview is on the New Scientist site, the full article is on a blog over here.

The bits which particularly grabbed me were:

Where do [methods for clean torture] come from?

The techniques migrate. Every time Americans have been involved in a war where there has been torture, those techniques have come back to local or private policing, since that is where military policemen get jobs. There is migration the other way too: techniques used by US military policemen in Iraq had been recorded in immigration and naturalisation prisons in Miami in the 1990s. Most often, torture techniques originate not in some deep vault in the CIA but in dark parts of our society where they are tolerated. They live in barracks and fraternities and university pranks and movies. Hence most torture is not sophisticated: electricity is about as sophisticated as it gets.


How often do interrogators obtain useful information or truthful confessions using torture?

The few statistical studies on this suggest the return is incredibly poor. There are several reasons. How do you know you have the right person? And even if you do, how do you know they're telling the truth? Third, torture can damage the brain, and anything that affects the brain's capacity to withhold information also affects its capacity to retrieve it.

If it doesn't work, why does it persist?

Myths and rumours. There is a perception that democracy makes us weak and only "real men" know how to do this stuff. People think torture worked for the Gestapo, for example. It didn't. What made the Gestapo so scarily efficient was its dependence on public cooperation. Informers betrayed the resistance repeatedly in Europe, and everyone knew this, but it was more convenient to say the Gestapo got the truth by beating it out of us. Public cooperation is the best way to gather information. After the failed bomb attacks in London in 2005, the British police found every one of the gang within a week. One was caught after his parents turned him in. They would not have done that if they'd thought he'd be tortured.

This left me thinking about how torture is portrayed and propagated by the movies and TV shows that I watch. 24, for example, actively propagates the myth that torture works. What can I do about that? Not much. I don't write movies, books or TV shows that propagate the myth that torture works but I do roleplay and I've been thinking what the implications of the article are for that. Maybe I should campaign for an effective torture free Kapcon. What do you think?


Alasdair said...

I don't actually think I've ever seen Torture in a KapCon game. So you're probably most of the way there. :)

house-monkey said...

I'm intending to run a game that involves 3 hours of elevator muzak, will that count?

Karen said...

WRT to the Gestapo and all, I wonder if the threat of torture can produce a culture of informants?

If sleep-deprivation at the hands of under-fives (who certainly use it as a tool to try to get their own way) count as torture... might have to ban my game too!