The pragmatic case against torture

Why should what is said under torture be believed?

It turns out that the false information about Iraq’s supposedly training al-Qaeda operatives in the use of chemical and biological weapons — information which the Administration continued to push after the Defense Intelligence Agency determined that the source of it was in no position to know — was extracted under torture. (Hat tip to Atrios for the pointer to this old Newsweek story.)

This illustrates the point that Hobbes made 350 years ago: even if you can stomach torture morally, the information it produces is generally worthless, since the person undergoing torture wants to say whatever will make the pain stop, regardless of its truth or falsity:

…what is in that case confessed tendeth to the ease of him that is tortured, not to the informing of the torturers, and therefore ought not to have the credit of a sufficient testimony.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: