Saturday, January 27, 2007

A post I emailed dealing with the ticking time bomb rationale for torture:

///start email
I came upon your "Once Upon a Time..." blog, and this article on torture; specifically the ticking-bomb scenario.

In Cornelius Ryan's book A Bridge Too Far, at the start of Operation Market Garden (which is what the book is about), the land invasion of the Netherlands from Belgium was instantly met with heavy anti-tank fire (taking out some 9 of 15 tanks of the tank platoon that spearheaded the operation). The way this was reportedly stopped is quite similar to a ticking-bomb scenario. The British troops captured some forward infantry (sentries or spotters for the anti-tank guns hidden somewhere in the woods firing on the tanks). The captured Germans were rushed over to a truck where they were aggressively interrogated: the interrogator pushed a pistol into one of the German's ribs and barked at him in German, asking him where the guns were hidden. I forget the exact details because I don't have the book in front of me, nonetheless, the a capture German revealed -well enough- the positions of the anti-tank guns, after which the guns were disable via counter-battery fire.

While ticking-bombs in cities with civilians are different then active fire on soldiers - the information they had are basically the same: they knew about the guns (obviously), and they had a good idea that one of the captured soldiers knew the location (although not necessarily true, I suppose - give the situation that rational was that it was "worth a try" - more on that in a second). The major difference being that they were already under attack - this would be like the bomb situation if a bomb had already gone off, and there was another with the potential to go off.

The multiple bomb situation was actually hit on with a British documentary (where London is hit by a dirty bomb), but interestingly enough they stopped the second bomb with good ol' fashioned police work. I wish I remembered the name of it...

As for the "worth a try" rational, it's dicey: in this situation they did not KNOW the soldiers knew the guns locations, just a good guess (at the very least to get a lead on the locations). But with this situation many questions come to mind? What happens if these Germans had no clue about the location? Would they have been shot? (or at least one of them to prove the seriousness of the interrogator). What if you shot them and still got no information? Unfortunately these situations are rarely told, probably for the reason that no one wants to be thought of as a murderer - even in so called "good" wars like World War II.

My own conclusions are unsure. There are other examples of on the spot interrogation yielding results, but with the failures rarely being reported (probably) it's hard to gauge how affective it is. In the example above, this scenario was a life-or-death struggle. If we don't stop these guns we are dead. But like you say KNOWing about the bomb is probably unlikely - the intelligence would probably be more general. The scary thing is if this is used as a substitute for actually investigative police work. As noted about the NKVD (the KGB prior to the KGB) was that they eventually degenerated into thugs that only knew how to torture, and thus useless in actual investigations. It got so bad Stalin (the main boss himself) had to disband them, because they became much worse than the enemy/criminals. It's just not a substitute for traditional police work. That and the main problem just keeps biting at you - how do you KNOW the person you are beating on or what-have-you knows the information? With the number of people released from Guantanamo cleared of being evil shows that KNOWing is rarely obvious. With that in mind, I think I would be right next to the interrogator poking at the German soldiers on their gun positions before the truck I'm in takes a round.

Unfortunately that's how this fear thing works so well, the proponents make you fear that you are in that truck, that it's them or us; even when it's a rare ... or impossible event. United 93 may be a good example.

I'd like to hear your thoughts. Thank you.
///end email

Btw, one of my own misunderstandings is the difference between torture and interrogation; which may explain some of my email. Google ticking time-bomb and you'll get a number of articles about this; 'tis interesting. And frankly I can't find the exact post I'm replying to here... just the blog:

No comments: