Not in MY name! A collection of quotes on the past, present, and future of the practice of torture / Selected and arranged by Ella Mazel


Detailed Table of Contents


1. What is torture?

2. The more things change ...

3. The purpose of torture

4. The "rules" of torture

5. The techniques of interrogation

6. Can torture ever be justified?

7. What about terrorism?

8. Secrecy and public relations

9. Does torture get results?

10. The torturers

11. The victims

12. Human rights

Index of sources

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9. Does torture get results?

History shows -- and I know a little about this -- that mistreatment of prisoners and torture is not productive. It's not productive. You don't get information that's usable from people under torture, because they just tell you what youwant to hear.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), quoted in Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "Prisoner Abuse Scandal Puts McCain in Spotlight Once Again," NY Times, 5/10/2004

Yes, no, and maybe

While the effectiveness of torture has been defended by many people, notably Aristotle and Sir Francis Bacon, it was attacked as early as Roman times by Cicero and Seneca, who claimed that "it forces even the innocent to lie." In the European Middle Ages, St. Augustine pointed out its moral perversity: "If the accused be innocent, he will undergo for an uncertain crime a certain punishment, and that . . . because it is unknown whether he committed it."

The New Encyclopædia Britannica, Micropædia, 15th edition, 2002

Even milder torture . . . can result in false confessions, that is, information that is flat-out inaccurate.

Steven Welsh, Center for Defense Information, quoted in Brad Knickerbocker, "Can torture be justified?" Christian Science Monitor, 5/19/2004

As for those who do have something to say, we know very well that they do not talk. All of them, or nearly all of them. . . . One of the officers commented . . . . "For ten years, fifteen years, they all have had the same idea: if taken they must not talk, There is nothing we can do about it." . . . These tortures bring a poor return: the Germans themselves ended by realising this in 1944; torture costs human lives but does not save them.

Jean-Paul Sartre, Introduction to Henri Alleg, The Question, 1958

Most of these prisoners have been warned to expect brutality. But if you say, "I'm your friend," they don't know how to react. Their orders don't cover this, so being humane is much more effective.

A U.S. paramilitary expert in Saigon, quoted in William Tuohy, "A Big 'Dirty Little War'," NY Times Magazine, 11/28/1965

I learned from my experiences in Vietnam from 1970 to 1972 that by treating prisoners humanely we frequently (though not always) gained valuable intelligence from them. This was particularly true of battered prisoners who had held out against prolonged South Vietnamese torture, but responded to being treated with compassion by Americans.

Donald P. Gregg, "Fight Fire With Compassion," NY Times Op Ed, 6/10/2004

There are better ways of getting information from prisoners than torture. Sure . . . the guy will talk. But you never know whether the information is accurate. If I were being tortured, I'd whip out so much stuff it would take them six months to check it.

A U.S. specialist in Saigon, quoted in William Touhy, "A Big 'Dirty Little War'," NY Times Magazine, 11/28/1965

Sanctioned abuse is deeply corrosive -- just ask the French, who are still seeking to eradicate the stain on their honor that resulted from the deliberate use of torture in Algeria. French soldiers had been tortured in Vietnam, in some cases revealing valuable information to their Vietminh captors. Senior French officers decided that the same tactics might work for them. As Alistair Horne put it in "A Savage War of Peace," use of torture may have won the battle of Algiers for the French, but it cost them Algeria.

Donald P. Gregg, "Fight Fire With Compassion," NY Times Op Ed, 6/10/2004

Experience indicates that the use of force is not necessary to gain the cooperation of sources for interrogation. Therefore, the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.

Department of the Army, FM 34-52, Chapter 1. INTERROGATION AND THE INTERROGATOR. Principles of Interrogation: Prohibition against use of force, May 8, 1987

U.S. intelligence and military officials believe that some of the repudiated tactics have elicited vital intelligence from detainees, from Iraq to Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay. Yet the scandal at Abu Ghraib, however revolting, may turn out to be a valuable corrective if it forces Americans to decide how far we are willing to go in the name of protecting ourselves.

Johanna McGeary et al., "Pointing Fingers," Time Magazine, 5/24/2004

American interrogators working in Iraq have obtained as much as 50 percent more high-value intelligence since a series of coercive practices . . . were banned [in May]. . . . Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the American commander in charge of detentions and interrogations, said that . . . "a rapport-based interrogation that recognizes respect and dignity, and having very well-trained interrogators, is the basis by which you develop intelligence rapidly and increase the validity of that intelligence."

Dexter Filkins, "General Says Less Coercion of Captives Yields Better Data," NY Times, 9/7/2004

It is . . . becoming increasingly clear that . . . extensive, random prisoner abuse is a wretched failure that does nothing to aid the war on terror. . . . Military doctrine says that interrogation becomes pointless after a few days, while torture produces false confessions. . . . What's going on . . . is not . . . an awful but necessary and skilled inquiry reserved for the worst terrorists, who hold secrets that could cost innocent lives. . . . This is about a system that was hastily conceived, ineptly formulated, incompetently administered and now out of control. It lowers the humanity of the people who practice it, and the citizens who condone it.

Editorial, "Self-Inflicted Wounds," NY Times, 2/15/2005

A new interrogation system established in April contains several layers of oversight and focuses on establishing a rapport between interrogators and prisoners, instead of employing coercive tactics. "You would be surprised at how far a can of orange soda would go," said Lt. Col. Mark Costello, who oversees interrogations at Abu Ghraib.

Norimitsu Onishi, "Transforming a Prison, With U.S. Image in Mind," NY Times, 9/16/2004

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