This article is not going to discuss the morality of torture. Why? Because most of the people that support the use of torture in extracting humint (human intelligence) that even suspect someone of opposing torture on moral grounds reacts thusly:
Obviously it's [torture] horrible. But if you would rather see American cities bombed and thousands of Americans killed, then there is something wrong with you[me, the suspected morality geek]. If you care more about the enemy [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, though I doubt the poster knew his name or identity at the time of posting their comment] than the safety of your own country, then why don't you go move to the Middle East and see what it's like[Salute the flag or beat it, fag]. Those terrorists that you are defending are the same people who would cut your head off without hesitation. [As if I did not know that Islamists treat everyone that writes negatively about them the same, whether it is a lowly blogger like me or Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl]
Bracketed comments added by the author for clarity.
First, let's identify who I am because the hardcore "enhanced interrogation" crowd always makes it to the part where they ask "How do you know anything about national security? Are you in the military?" or the inevitable "Stop blaming America and/or the troops first!" I am Scott Isaacs. My great-grandfather six steps back was Colonel Elijah Isaacs of the southern half of the Continental Army that harassed, slowed and ultimately forced Lord Corwallis' surrender at Yorktown, Virginia. Colonel Isaacs had a widespread reputation for burning Loyalist towns that aided and abetted the British. My great-grandfather five steps back was Samuel Isaacs. Samuel Isaacs, whose rank I have not been able to verify, fought several 3-month hitches in the North and South Carolina militias alike which includes the Battle of Cowpens (in South Carolina) where he fought under Brigadier General Daniel Morgan who won a significant victory against the British. Records indicate further that Samuel Isaacs served as a spy for two years against both the British and the Native Americans for the equivalent at that point of the United States government. From that point to World War I, information on direct relatives is hard to come by because of several court house fires and floods that ruined property, birth and death records. WWI picks back up at the oral record that is still in the living memory of my grandpa. My great-grandfather, Charles Edward "Edd" Isaacs, fought in World War I. My great-uncle, Dorman Isaacs, fought in WWII with George Patton's Third Army. My grandpa, Rev. Bill Isaacs, fought in Korea. My uncle, Jack Isaacs (recently passed away), spent approximately two decades in the Army at different posts but spent significant time training recruits in the mechanics of close-quarters combat. One of his particular specialties was a method of silencing enemy sentries that he learned from the Apache Indians. My dad was too young for Vietnam and had already been hired in at General Electric working in the defense industry for thirteen years by the time that the next large conflict, Operation Desert Storm, got under way. My cousin Butch, however, was a Green Beret during Vietnam. My intention growing up, even though I am the last heir of my line, was always to join the military. At 16, I was experiencing severe pain that was similar to having my right side from the waist up doused in gasoline, set on fire and beaten with a sledgehammer. A neurosurgeon discovered that I had a congenital spinal problem called a Chiari I malformation and decompressed my spinal cord. I still live with chronic pain every day and I can no longer play contact sports (I had loved playing tackle football) and cannot take a job where hard hits are likely and that obviously precludes the military starting at boot camp. I did spend two semesters studying as a civilian with the Marines' ROTC at Miami University which I enjoyed very much. I still feel a kinship with the Marines and a fondness for their intellectual acceptance of me even though I couldn't take the physical rigors. My family has earned the right through its fighting to have a say in how this country runs and I intend to use that right to try to correct what I am convinced was a major setback to our war against the radical Islamists and I refuse to be dismissed as unpatriotic. If there be a flaw to find, find it in my argument because my forefathers took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic and I consider that to be a sacred oath that is passed down through my bloodline and not just swearing it out. It is one of the highest honors and traditions of the Isaacs family and it is one that I will continue until the end of my time.
Moving from my qualifications to make this argument to the argument itself, I submit that in far too many cases torture elicits information that is neither genuine nor useful. In some cases in which the interrogator's resources are abundant and the information sought is expected to result in casting a wide net of arrests that leads to more torture and, thus, more arrests, torture can be of use. Consider the Third Reich's use of torture on suspected members of the French underground. The Third Reich almost always collected a majority of prisoners that were not active members, indeed some were not members at all, of the French underground. Instead, if they were lucky, they would obtain perhaps a few and sometimes as little as one captive that was a member of the underground that had useful information to give them. They would torture their entire stable of captives and nearly all would admit to being members of the French underground. Occasionally the Nazis ended up killing some captives through the stress of interrogation and others kept their silence so long that their infuriated captors lost the cat-and-mouse game over information by giving the prisoner what he or she wanted: death. Those still alive that had admitted to being underground members would then start naming names and continue naming as many names as they felt was required by their interrogator to prevent further torture. Sometimes the Nazis obtained an intelligence bonanza, snagging a high leader in the French underground in the act and then, knowing who they had, they would torture mercilessly to wring absolutely every name possible out of the subject before sending him or her to a concentration camp or a summary execution. The cycle would repeat itself. However, much more often, the Nazis would round up another bunch of "spies" that were anything but and spend precious time using torture to extract information out of them that would turn out to be so many dead ends. After a while the Nazis' interrogations had a similar effect on French society that the Salem witch trials had on its own society: French citizens in fear of being named as underground spies would voluntarily go to the Gestapo, confess to being a member of the French underground and then proceed to indict other Frenchmen. Some would go as far to name anyone and everyone they knew, including family, with no regard for the consequences so long as they were not the focus of an interrogation by someone like Klaus Barbie, affectionately known by his alter ego "The Butcher of Lyon." So, while the Gestapo's raison d'etre was to apprehend and execute spies, torturing their prisoners to extract useful intelligence was successful in only the most convoluted manner. By inducing nearly everyone to turn on nearly everyone else they had laid out for themselves a massive suspect pool by which they had to navigate using torture. In reality, it is a near certainty that far more Allied spies and members of the French underground were caught by the Gestapo using different techniques along the lines of investigation rather than torture. The Gestapo operated radio cars that would prowl the area of operations looking for outbound radio signals that indicated an Allied spy or FUM (French underground member) was transmitting his or her intelligence back to London to be sorted out and used by MI-5 and, when it came along later in the war, the Office of Strategic Services. (the OSS, the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency that would be created by Harry Truman after the war in 1947) Yet another obstacle that the Gestapo would use to smoke out a non-local (and, hence, a FUM or Allied spy come from another part of France or outside the country altogether) would be to decree that anyone seen riding a bike on Monday, Wednesday and Friday would be picked up for questioning and that beer was not available on Tuesday, Thursday and the weekend. Anyone ordering a beer or riding their bicycle on the respective days would summarily be identified as an outsider, reported to the Gestapo by a French collaborator and that was the end of the spy capers. Even more advanced techniques had the Gestapo identifying an enemy agent, keeping surveillance on him and when he went to meet up with one of the Lysander aircraft that the British sent to drop off and retrieve agents the Gestapo would be able to hook themselves the two agents, the Lysander pilot and any FUM's that had to be on-hand to facilitate the plane's landing in the dark, abandoned pasture.
The same fundamental problem with intel extracted by torture is clearly on display as well in John McCain's time as a POW and victim of torture at the hands of his North Vietnamese captors in the Hanoi Hilton. From a purely objective standpoint, you simply cannot get around the fact that it is the person that you are interrogating that decides whether they will give you useful information or not. An interrogator that uses torture has no option but to treat each confession from the prisoner as a possible truth to be vetted unless the interrogator already knows that what has been said is wrong. Thus, the interrogator's team spends hours (sometimes days or months) running down leads that don't pan out because the torture elicited something different than the truth from the prisoner. It provoked a malicious intent to lie to the interrogator and abuse the only advantage that the detainee has: only he knows what the truth is. Therefore, the prisoner can lie with impunity to his captor and the captor is faced with three choices: 1) end the torture 2) continue spending time torturing the prisoner in the hopes that the torture will wear him down and he will eventually tell you the truth 3) kill the prisoner with torture. McCain began reciting the Green Bay Packers' offensive line as the names of his squadron mates and naming cities that had already been bombed as new targets in upcoming bombing runs. The further into the five and a half years of torture that McCain lived, the more outlandish the stories that he made up to satisfy his captors. As McCain learned his captors' prejudices, he would incorporate them into his increasingly embellished information. At one point he drew a swimming pool on the fantail of an aircraft carrier. On the whole, if the North Vietnamese truly acted on the information they obtained from McCain, they frantically hunted for professional football players among the downed pilots they collected and shifted anti-aircraft defenses to quiet sectors that had already been bombed and were not likely to be hit again for some time.
The Knights Templar are the third example that I will use to illustrate that torture is not conducive to the collection of accurate and desired information. Philip Le Bel (Philip The Fair, in French, ironically enough) targeted the Knights Templar, the monastic organization whose whole reason for being was to conduct war against the Muslims in the Levant who controlled Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. By the time that Philip targeted the Templars, the last outpost of Outremer, Acre, had been lost to the Muslims. The Templars were now left with accumulated property willed to them over more than 200 years to conduct war in the Holy Land that made a tidy annual profit. They were also left as the first international banking cartel, having collected vast sums of money and then acted as the first banker to Europe's kings. King Philip, it turned out, owed them a great deal of money and was currently (and for the foreseeable future) broke to compound his problems. Everyone knew that the Templars had the mother lode, the greatest accumulation of wealth by any non-royal entity in Europe. Thus, Philip decided to seize the wealth for himself and net a double profit: he would wipe out his debt to the Templars by wiping out the Templars as an organization and he would snatch their riches for himself to spend as he liked. Clement V was the Pope at the time and was a childhood friend of Philip's. However, Clement tried to offer opposition to Philip in his plan to eliminate the Templars. He had little leverage to work with, however, after the Papacy was moved to Avignon, France and he was under the thumb of the French king 24/7. Philip used the only card in his deck that was available against the Templars: heresy. Because they were under the Pope's sole dominion the only crime that could force the Pope to discontinue his attempts to protect them from Philip was to convince the public that the Templars were not the upstanding and chivalric Christian knights that they were believed to be but, rather, heretics and enemies of the Church. On Friday, October 13, 1307 (hence the "unlucky" reputation of Friday the 13th to this day) Philip struck, sending his royal forces to every Templar stronghold in France and arresting and charging every Templar they found on their raids. They were hauled off to prisons where they would be consistently tortured, most notably the prison at Chinon. With only the confessions of the Templars under the duress of torture, Philip muddied their public image and then happily obliged when the French public demanded that the Order be punished. Interestingly, 56 Templars (including the Grand Master Jacques de Molay) recanted their confessions and swore on pain of death that the confessions they gave were under torture. They all were executed for maintaining that they did nothing wrong but get tortured by the French king's allies. But what happened to all that money? This is the part where torture failed to produce reliable information for Philip. Though he was absolutely desperate to get his hands on the Templar treasure (especially the treasure from the Paris priory which he had first observed when the Templars had to protect him from a mob of Parisians that wanted to kill him for melting down all the currency, selling that metal and minting practically worthless replacement coinage) torture never managed to reveal to Philip where every Templar possession in France that wasn't nailed down disappeared to. On Thursday, October 12, 1307, the day before the raids, the Templar fleet at La Rochelle, France showed 18 Templar ships in port. The next day, nearly everything of value the Templars owned in France and those 18 ships were gone and no record ever surfaced of where they sailed for nor where they ended up. Philip was left jilted and apparently no matter how much torture he ordered his Templar prisoners to undergo (including thumbscrews and having their feet smeared with fat and roasted over a fire until they literally disintegrated and the bones fell out) he was never able to find the independent information he wanted: the location of Templar monies. All he ever got from them was confirmation (later discredited) of his false accusations against them, which was worthless since all he wanted was their riches in the first place.
In addition to these historical examples of torture not yielding results worthy of practicing it, there are inherent problems in the risk-benefit analysis for a prisoner that is undergoing torture. In our situation, the first problem is that when we tortured members of Al Qaeda our first question would invariably be "Is there another attack coming?" or "When is the next attack coming?". The reality is that even if the true answer is that there is not another attack coming, the prisoner has absolutely no incentive whatsoever to give this answer. First and foremost, if they tell the interrogator there's not an attack coming they are going to get waterboarded (or whatever method is being used) again and that is a standing rule. The interrogator's assumption is that there is another attack and until that is confirmed he will continue to use torture to force his prisoner to confirm that. So, right off the bat, a lie will gain relief from harsh interrogation. The second problem is that a dedicated member of Al Qaeda will want to steer us away from any operations they truly know about. If they are a gifted story teller they will spend their time in their cells spinning a false yarn about an attack nowhere near the true target. They then give over this information during interrogation and what has been accomplished? We are now diverting intelligence resources from intercepting actual intelligence to gathering information and verifying a threat that never existed in the first place. A few "high-value" prisoners lying to us can open the kind of hole in our defenses that allowed the 9/11 attack to proceed to fruition with practically no interference from law enforcement whatsoever. Then, what is the solution to dealing with a detainee that has lied to us? Threatening him with more torture or worse torture if he lies again? At that point he will tell us an even more elaborate lie that may be impossible to actually verify and will leave us chasing our tail. Even if that is proven false, he has no incentive to do anything but tell us lies that will buy him time because the gaps between interrogation sessions are going to be longer if we have to verify information after each one. Furthermore, he has good reason to suspect if he actually tells us everything that he knows and thus renders himself useless as a font of information we will throw him into a dark hole, feed the key into a shredder and he will rot for decades until he dies. There is literally no incentive for them to tell us much, if any, legitimate information.
There are further complications as well. Double agents, which were used extensively during WWII and the Cold War, have a real propensity to refuse your offer to work against their government or group when they are having simulated drowning conducted on them, are left mostly naked in a room to lower their core temperature just above what will kill them from hypothermia or when they're forced to stay in the same stress position for 24 hours. In fact, they tend to turn down offers from people that torture them. Even if they do agree to be a double agent for you after you've interrogated them, you have scrambled their mind to the point that their former comrades are likely to detect something is wrong with them and then they have the choice of using them to feed you bad intel or they just execute them and you lose your source.
The final problem with torture is that it erects the deadly "Chinese wall" between the FBI and CIA that bears so much blame for this nation's inability to detect and foil the original 9/11. FBI agents are not allowed to torture nor are they allowed to witness torture without reporting it to the Justice Department. Therefore, if the CIA is going to torture they have to do their interrogations by excluding FBI agents. Also, there is a push by some to torture every detainee that is a possible significant source of information. At that point, the FBI is being shut off from all humint because torture is de rigeur and they cannot participate in such interrogations. At that point you are facing the benching of FBI agents that have years of experience studying and investigating our enemies (sometimes the prisoners that we have in particular) and when they cannot be present at the interrogation nor watch a tape of it that means something our most experienced intelligence agents might pick up will go by unnoticed to the agents interrogating the prisoner.
The simple fact of the matter is that torture is not effective enough to become standard practice (or even anything more than an occasional resort in a tight situation) and it creates problems that are, by nature, almost exclusive to torture and can open the way for another successful attack on this country. I understand that there are a number of people who truly think that torture can make this country safer, but this is one of those situations where the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.