Andrew Majoran Cyber Security and Emerging Threats Defense Peace & Conflict Studies Rights Security Terrorism The Middle East and North Africa

You Could Have Just Asked Nicely: Analyzing the Effectiveness of Torture

For most human beings, the idea of physically or mentally harming an individual goes against their moral code, and even if this didn’t cross their moral boundaries, there are laws and limitations that protect people from being harmed. But what happens to these moral and legal limitations when harming an individual physically or mentally is the only employable method to extract information that may save innocent lives? Is society willing to make an exception to its morals and the law in emergency situations? The debate over whether or not torture is an acceptable or efficient means of extracting information from an individual has been a long-standing issue, especially in the west.

“Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was tortured by his CIA captives on March 1st 2003, and was waterboarded 183 times that month, which suggests that interrogators did not employ traditional means of interrogation before torturing Mohammed.”

The debate will continue to flourish, as torture still exists as a tool in the arsenal of major government bodies that employ this tactic at their discretion, regardless of society’s tolerance, or guaranteed human rights. The purpose of this article is not to determine the acceptability of torture, and what situations might warrant it. Instead, this article will attempt to place public opinion aside, and determine if torture really works, and to what degree it is reliable as a means of extracting information.

Former U.S President George W. Bush and U.S President Barack Obama

U.S President Barack Obama and most of his top aides have argued that extreme interrogation methods, like torture, not only betray American values, they also produce unreliable information. Other’s like former U.S President George W. Bush protected these methods, by claiming that information of great importance has been acquired by torturous interrogation methods. Based on these statements, it is clear that there is contention on whether or not torture is useful. The conflicting statements on whether advanced interrogation methods are useful clearly indicate that the issue must be explored outside of the realm of party politics in order to determine its validity.

Retired FBI director, Robert S. Mueller III (2001-2013) has gone on record to suggest that future terrorist attacks have not been prevented or disrupted as the result of intelligence obtained through torture. The FBI also chose to abstain from involvement in the CIA interrogation programme after being exposed to the CIA’s use of such advanced techniques in 2002 on terror suspects Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. The CIA claimed that these techniques yielded valuable information that saved thousands of lives and prevented exponential amounts of damage, but the validity of these reports is not verifiable, as much of the credited information was obtained through traditional techniques prior to the use of CIA enhanced interrogation methods.

(AP PhotoBrennan Linsley) gitmo
Guantanamo Bay Prison. Courtesy of CBC.

Other experts suggest that any information obtained through these torturous means is subject to false or inaccurate information.  Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was tortured by his CIA captives on March 1st 2003, and was waterboarded 183 times that month, which suggests that interrogators did not employ traditional means of interrogation before torturing Mohammed. In an interview following his torture and before his arrest, Mohammed told the International Committee of the Red Cross that he gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what he believed the interrogators wished to hear. If this is in fact the case, it would mean that torture is an unreliable means of extracting sensitive information from individuals. It is also a further threat to national security, as the production of unreliable and false information can easily result in misguided government resource allocation, ample amounts of misinformation and spoiled intelligence, and it also provides further reason for extremist groups to act out violently against the interrogating party.

Now that it has been determined that extraordinary measures such as torture are considered a questionable means of gaining intelligence, are there any possible situations that could require its employment? It appears that experts in the field who are morally opposed to torture believe that torture could be an effective tool in ‘ticking time bomb’ situations, however, cases of these situations appear to be non-existent in real life, and even then, the threatened use of physical force might not yield any results. Many believe that in extremely time sensitive situations, it is worth employing as a final option, however, historically these situations have not come about, and more traditional uses of torture in Algiers, Northern Ireland, and Israel did not, and have not produced the desired results according to CIA and FBI official reports.

Given the proven inconsistencies in intelligence gained through extraordinary interrogation methods, like torture, it is clear that the effectiveness of these means is questionable. This combined with testimonies from tortured individuals that suggest suspects are likely to give false or misleading information to satisfy the authorities is indicative of a major flaw in the method. Torture remains an extreme form of interrogation, and one that is typically regarded as illegal in the international community, as it is a gross violation of basic human rights, and the International Convention Against Torture (CAT). With all of the evidence mounting against the effectiveness of torture, its employment as a means of extracting information is curious, as more traditional rapport-building techniques have proven more effective, and subsequently more legal.

Andrew Majoran
Andrew Majoran is a recent Master of Science graduate from the Transnational Security Studies program at Royal Holloway, University of London in the United Kingdom. Before attending Graduate School abroad, he completed his Honours Bachelors Degree in Political Science at McMaster University. Andrew has a wide range of academic interests; however, his specialization lies in the fields of international security, counter-terrorism, multilateral defence, and maritime security. Andrew has presented his innovative multilateral counter-terrorism strategies to a multitude of groups, including a large group at the Royal Military College of Canada. While perusing his education, Andrew worked as a licensed Private Investigator in the Toronto area, working on an abundance of cases for a wide range of high profile clients.