“We will not torture people…”

I disagree with John McCain on many policy points, though I continue to respect his service, both in the military and as a politician. On the point of torture we are in 100% agreement. The use of such techniques is impractical, illegal, and immoral.

I have previously written about torture, or otherwise coercive questioning techniques that arguably may not reach the legal threshold of torture, and its inefficacy and inconsistency with both US and international law. I realize that the George W. Bush administration wrote briefs detailing how they really didn’t think that waterboarding was torture, but those briefs amount to little more than wishful thinking in terms of legal top-cover. Please feel free to read “The Return to Torture” for a more detailed discussion.

I have also written about the impracticality from an intelligence perspective of gathering information through coercive means (torture). There simply is no evidence indicating that torture is effective for obtaining information of value. Making legal or moral exceptions to use techniques that are unlikely to produce usable results, that are likely to damage our international standing, and that will be used by our enemies as anti-American propaganda or recruitment tools makes no practical sense whatsoever. Please feel free to read “Torture and Moral Laziness” for additional information.

Though President-Elect Trump has made clear his affinity for the use of torture and is attempting to stack the deck with people sympathetic to torture, it is also the duty of those who might be ordered to carry out such activities to refuse to comply with an order to do so. Torture is illegal and inconsistent with our national values. It also simply doesn’t work.

What does work is a reasoned approach to an individual detainee, based on an assessment of the detainee’s personality and an understanding of what techniques are most likely to elicit a cooperative response. It is also important for a professional interrogator to know when to stop wasting time with a detainee that is unlikely to ever provide information of value. A single person is never the sole avenue for collecting information. Intelligence interrogation is but one tool of one collection discipline in the panoply of intelligence collection methods.

In light of the continued resurgence of torture and interrogation as topics of discussion, I think a detailed explanation of how to properly question is in order. This is a topic I am happy to tackle. It isn’t something that will be covered in a single post such as this. If you are interested, be on the lookout for a series of writings on the topics of effective questioning and deception detection.