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World & Current Events > Interrogation: how far would you go?

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message 1: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10709 comments This topic caught my attention while watching a TV program on the CIA, where a number of ex Directors were interviewed. The questions that arose for discussion here are twofold. You capture some bad guys that are intent on killing our fellow citizens and you need to know what is planned next. What would be your approach. One of the Directors, of course, introduced "Enhanced Interrogation" Not torture, he said. Nothing as bad as the Spanish Inquisition. (Not exactly a high bar in human rights.) And they had doctors there to look after the subjects. On pressing, he admitted two died, one of hypothermia, so that was not exactly close attention.

However, as another one pointed out, from one interrogation they eventually got details of a plan to destroy 10 civilian aircraft flying the Atlantic. By thwarting that, they saved, by my guess, well over 2,000 innocent civilians, and they claim a number of further successes. So the question, what would you do if you were in charge? This is important if you write about these things because you have to understand the issues facing such decision-makers.

The second issue is drone strikes. You get information that a bad guy is in a building. You have the chance to blow the building up with, say, a hellfire missile. Do you pull the trigger? As one ex-Director commented, when people tell him he should, he asks them, "Have you ever killed someone?" Note there will be civilians in that building too. So, so you think the drone strikes are warranted?


message 2: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 14926 comments These are hard moral dilemmas and I'm not sure there is an absolute answer fit for every situ. Re: tortures, I think if there is an imminent danger of something grave to happen, then torturing one of the perpetrators should still if possible be avoided, but if not - the safety of innocent people should prevail over health and well-being of a terrorist. Tortures for confession or procuring self-incriminating evidence shouldn't be used.
Re: striking the entire building to get a bad guy while neglecting civilian casualties shouldn't happen. We frequently hear reports of abandoned missions because of potential casualties.
An even harder dilemma is whether to down a hijacked plane full of passengers, when the plane is heading towards a populated area and you have a suspicion it might carry weapons of mass destruction? If I'm not mistaking, I think recently it was revealed that Putin authorized downing a plane, suspected to be hijacked, heading towards Sochi during Olympics opening ceremony, however it turned out to be a false alarm.
Or how much should one care for hostages, when dealing with those who hold them? Beslan for example.


message 3: by Michel (last edited Mar 21, 2018 04:41AM) (new)

Michel Poulin On torture: I am against it, all the time. First, you may think that you have the bad guy, but what if you have the wrong guy? One case: Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who, because of erroneous/sloppy intelligence work, was arrested on the request of American authorities (unfortunately, the Canadian government and security services didn't prove more competent/careful) and then sent to Syria, where he was tortured for over one year before someone reacted to this blatantly illegal situation. Look at how often the so-called 'No Fly List' gets it wrong, with children as young as five having been stopped and questioned at airports. Second, if you start on that slope, you never know how low you will end, especially if you are acting on orders from some politicians who don't give a damn or who have an agenda of their own. What if that boss decides to torture the wife of a terrorist 'because she may also know the info'? Where do you stop? Third, torture simply doesn't work well. The CIA itself said that most of the 'info' they got was either inaccurate or lies told in desperation to make the pain stop. Some smug, cold-hearted people who watch too many spy movies may say that, if long and hard enough, tortures will break anyone. Well, Allied agents and resistance fighters during WW2 proved many times that they could resist the worst from the Gestapo. Fourth, this business of 'enhanced interrogation' not being real torture is complete hogwash from people who either know nothing of the subject or are lying to protect their methods and avoid legal prosecution. By the way, I was once a qualified tactical interrogator while serving with the Canadian Forces (psychological tricks and stress only, no brutality or violence. Tricks work much better than torture could).

On drone/missile strike: The USA have become a bit too complacent in my opinion about how to treat people surrounding terrorists in one fixed location. They say that they weigh heavily the presence of innocents around the target, which they may, but too often the racism factor comes into play, meaning that 'Arab' or 'Afghan' lives may be deemed less important than 'American' or 'Westerner' lives when the officer in charge of the strike takes his decision to strike or not. That factor may well be an unconscious one but it is still there. This 'fashion' of using drones or missiles is too often the result of what I would call a combination of hypocrisy and cowardice on the part of the politicians deciding them: cowardice because they want to control things in other countries but don't have the political courage to send troops to do a proper job on the ground and risk friendly casualties; hypocrisy because they don't want to be accused of wanting to put the country into a war, when they actually do acts of war when using drones/missiles overseas.

On downing an airliner. Unfortunately, that is the most clear cut and easy dilemma to resolve. The equation is simple: you have a plane with maybe 200 persons aboard that is heading to crash into something containing thousands of persons and there is no other way to stop or prevent that than to shoot down that plane. This is a simple question of arythmetics: 200 against thousands. It is an atrocious dilemma, yes, but such kinds of cold calculations happen all the time in wars, and terrorists have declared war on us.


message 4: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 14926 comments Sound deliberations, Michel.
But it's just a 'suspicion' about airliner's intentions and potential danger (whether it contains weapons)? Should one always assume the worst? 200 hundred people may die for nothing


message 5: by Michel (new)

Michel Poulin Okay, I was under the impression that the case discussed was about a confirmed hijacked plane, in which case I stand by my opinion.

In the case of an unconfirmed or suspected hijacking, then my answer is: don't suppose, confirm before taking a decision. At worst, a fighter jet can give hand signals visually to the pilots of an airliner. If they refuse to acknowledge the signals or show defiance or hostility, then shoot the airliner down. By the way, no genuine airliner pilot not under duress will ignore the fact that a military jet is positioning itself mere meters from his airliner. No airline pilot is that dumb.


message 6: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10709 comments I am more or less in agreement with Michel. In Afghanistan a lot of people were arrested and interrogated as terrorists because someone "turned them in" and received a large payment for doing so. Who cares about the innocence of him when you can collect thousands of dollars? Most would, but many won't.

Interestingly, of the ex-Directors, David Petraeus gave what I think is the best way of getting information - make friends with them. One of the other ex-Directors argued this was too slow (he was the one who authorised waterboarding, etc) but I am not sure of that either. In WW1, the British were rather rough on German prisoners and did not learn much. The Germans apparently fed prisoners better than their own troops and plied them with beer, etc, and learned a lot. Beer would probably not work with muslims, but . . .

I have been very strongly against drone strikes, mainly for the reasons Michel raises. Only too often you get the wrong people, and most of the time, they are carried out by people treating the whole thing like a video game. That degrades society as a whole, and what is the point of defending a country against evil by falling into evil yourself? And as Michel says, a lot of these decisions are political ones made by people too afraid to commit real troops, and worse still, by people not under any military chain of command so they are not used to thinking about the consequences. One of the nteresting things about this program was it ended up by one ex-Director stating that even though ISIS is down, the terrorism recruits are more widespread than ever.

As for the question of downing a plane, again I agree with Michel, except I would ask that it be left to the last reasonable moment. It is just possible that passengers could organise a take-over and recovery, and they should be given the chance.


message 7: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 14926 comments Ian wrote: "....to commit real troops..."

If you ask me, whenever there is an important and perilous mission, the more risk free for your people you can do it the better. I don't see any additional value in risking your troops, if the same end can be achieved without it. In each case though you need to have a sound target and avoid casualties among unengaged. Soldiers should not be destined to die.


message 8: by Michel (last edited Mar 21, 2018 01:27PM) (new)

Michel Poulin Nik, things are at a point where the American government is too often engaging in drone and missile strikes simply because it is easier to do than go check properly if the target is an appropriate one, something best done with troops (special forces) on location. Troops on the ground can capture prisoners and grab documents and electronic data, something that a drone or missile can't do. Too often now, war is treated like a video game, with risk-averse politicians refusing to put soldiers in harm's way for purely political reasons that have nothing to do with military reality. By using such a hands-off approach to war, you simply tell your enemy that you don't have the heart for real fighting, thus are showing your lack of resolve to the enemy. That same kind of lack of resolve eventually caused the USA's defeat in Vietnam, against an opponent ready to do or die. Yes, soldiers should not be destined to die as a certainty (I was once a soldier), but you need soldiers on the ground if you want to control fully a situation or territory.

There is also the geopolitical factors to consider here. A nation too cowardly politically to be ready to risk the lives of its soldiers, or who put limits on their missions based on a maximum permitted amount of troop casualties will always lose a war in the long term, as is happening now in Afghanistan and as it happened in Iraq. Strikes by drones and missiles based solely on intelligence, with no local ground observer or agents/soldiers present to confirm the validity of the targets, will never be enough to win a war. What it will nearly assuredly do is to create and reinforce anti-American sentiments in those countries struck by drones or missiles, plus will simply act as recruiting posters for the enemy we are trying to destroy.


message 9: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10709 comments Nik, I feel Michel's last sentence sums it up nicely, except I would delete "nearly". It is interesting that in war it is generally considered counterproductive to try to assassinate enemy leaders, because such leaders are quickly replaced, you know less about the replacements, and the enemy tend to fight more bitterly. Another bad thing about "intelligence" is you tend in these circumstances to rely on unreliable sources. That means you will inevitably kill a lot of innocents. Now while the CIA maintains it does not kill many such civilians, how do they know? Some sources are only too willing to tell you what you want to hear, and some of the assessments are made more by hunch than anything else, and very minimal such casualties are announced for political reasons.

One point I think that is important is that special operations, drone strikes, taking actions from intelligence can't win the battle for you. The best they do is buy you time. The more the battles are "over there" and you are not deploying troops to achieve an end, the more the politicians "spin" whatever is known by them. The net result is that this "war on terror" is not likely to end any time soon.

Back to "enhanced interrogation" my feeling is that what you eventually find out is probably not worth what has happened. If the enemy has any sense at all, they will limit what anyone knows to the least possible, i.e. you know what you need to know and not a spot more, and when someone is captured, those whom he knew about should immediately change as much as they can. Interestingly, when Osama bin Laden was chased down, no effort seemed to have been made to capture him - he was simply killed. Bin Laden should have had a lot of useful information, but were the Americans too afraid that interrogation methods on him would become too public?


message 10: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 5791 comments Just trying to get the gist of the conversations here.

Most of you seem to be against torture of a combatant because the results are unreliable, although some interrogations have saved many lives.

Most of you seem to favor troops on the ground because drone strikes are cowardly and kill innocent civilians - as if troops on the ground wouldn't kill many more civilians and soldiers. As for incurring hatred by making drone strikes, I'd say that the hatred is already there.

I'd point out that Michel negates his arguments against torture and drones by saying that it's okay to shoot down a plane with 200 passengers to save thousands of lives.

You have to consider the payoff and cost of any action. Whatever saves the most lives wins.


message 11: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10709 comments Scout, the problem with shooting down a plane that will be used as a bomb is the passengers in there are already dead - they just haven't got around to dying yet. Of course there is also the problem of do you actually know it will be used as a bomb, or is the hijacker just trying to go to Cuba, say?

The point of troops on the ground is not, in my opinion, one of limiting casualties or whatever, but rather in principle it is a means of ending the problem, PROVIDED the political end position has been worked out and it is enforced properly. Thus the problem in Iraq was that the best the US could think of was to use someone like Ahmed Chalabi to form a local government, and when they realised that wouldn't work, they had no real options. The idea of troops on the ground is to capture and control what the bad guys need to actually continue the struggle. Small groups of special forces can capture and gather information, such as documents, laptops, whatever.

The problem with enhanced interrogation/torture is that your own country tends to fall to the level, or below, those who you dislike. In the extreme case the nation becomes evil. Think of Nazi Germany. The average German in 1930 was highly cultured but annoyed at Britain and France. When the SS started training people to carry out torture, the end position was awful. As an example of where it can end up, you should see the records of the Wansee conference, where Heydrich introduced the "Final Solution". Apparently there were some who objected, but the mere threat of Heydrich intending to "persuade" them, and they withdrew their objections. I am not suggesting the CIA went anywhere near that, but the problem is, if everyone approves of the techniques, can you guarantee they won't?


message 12: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 5791 comments I see what you're saying. I was just talking numbers, as in interrogate 5 terrorists and maybe save 1000 lives. Maybe take out one al qaeda leader with a drone and disrupt their organization, saving 1000 lives. Hypothetical, but you get the idea. As far as ground troops, old Pres. Bush did it best with Desert Storm, or am I wrong? I definitely could be :-) Looks like a stroke of genius to me.


message 13: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Ian wrote: "The problem with enhanced interrogation/torture is that your own country tends to fall to the level, or below, those who you dislike...."

I think that there is a real tendency for any technique used against a foreign 'enemy,' to at some point get used against the home civilian population.

Torture is a slippery slope into an amoral abyss.


message 14: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Michel wrote: "On torture: I am against it, all the time. First, you may think that you have the bad guy, but what if you have the wrong guy? One case: Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who, because of erroneous/slo..."

Very well said Michel.


message 15: by Holly (new)

Holly (goldikova) The confessions obtained during torture aren't credible, so why do it?

(My source material for this are the confessions obtained by the good sheriff of Salem Massachusetts in 1692. Under torture people will say whatever they want their torturer to hear, even if they have to fabricate stories about dancing with and kissing the buttocks of mythical beings)


message 16: by Michel (new)

Michel Poulin Scout wrote: "I see what you're saying. I was just talking numbers, as in interrogate 5 terrorists and maybe save 1000 lives. Maybe take out one al qaeda leader with a drone and disrupt their organization, savin..."

Well, first, Desert Storm was launched for the wrong reasons (incorrect intelligence about non-existent WMDs in Iraq). Yes, the assault phase was well conducted and attained its objectives quickly and with minimal casualties on the Allied side. The big problem came after the victory: there were no sensible post-war occupation/governing plans for Iraq. Governance of Iraq was put in the hands of an obscure American bureaucrat who knew nothing about the region and who made many disastrous errors right from the start, like dismantling the Iraqi Army, expelling Bath Party members from all echelons of the Iraqi administration and government and choosing the totally wrong guy to act as Iraqi Prime Minister.

The USA did pretty much the same mistakes in Afghanistan, not understanding fully the state of politics and social/religious affairs there. Now, in Syria, the same type of fragmented, ill-advised and ill-informed intervention has happened, plus we can't even adequately protect and support the one group that has shown to be dependable allies, the Kurds, simply watching as the Turks bomb them and invade their territories. The problem is not with the American military machine: it is with the American political government and general American culture, which seems incapable of understanding properly how things work around the rest of the World. This is a problem that has been going on for decades (think about all the American 'interventions' around Central and South America. How many dictators did the USA support in the name of anti-communism).


message 17: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 14926 comments As we discuss here, we raise different issues that I agree with. Having a drone option, shouldn't mean its operators must have an itchy trigger finger. Whatever weapon is used, it's still mandatory to verify the target is sound and civilian casualties are avoided. (Almost) every army now uses drones for different purposes. If opponents have bows and arrows, one doesn't need to disarm to their level. I believe in a technological edge, as well as preventing dangers as distant as possible from your own soil. I'm sure superior weapons are sufficiently formidable to instill owe and respect.
I generally agree that we need to have a moral edge over those who don't have one and we should employ only legit means. What I'm saying though - that in a situ when there is a ticking bomb about to explode in a public area, you don't have time to be too subtle with one of the terrorist - perpetrators, if you happen to intercept one before the bomb went off.

Ian wrote: "Scout, the problem with shooting down a plane that will be used as a bomb is the passengers in there are already dead - they just haven't got around to dying yet. Of course there is also the problem of do you actually know it will be used as a bomb, or is the hijacker just trying to go to Cuba, say?"

We are all destined to die sometime the minute we are born. You shoot the plane down, you still kill 200 people, because anything could happen a minute after. Although I do agree, that there may be situs when shooting is inevitable..


message 18: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10709 comments The problem in Iraq and Syria was faulty intelligence, and that arose in part because minds had been made up before looking for evidence. When that happens, someone will tell you what you want to know, especially if (a) you scatter around money, and (b) you tell them, maybe indirectly, what you want to know. By that, the sort of question, is A there is fine; it is "I am sure A is there, and it is, isn't it?" that gets the answer yes, even if the subject hasn't a clue. He says yes, either to collect cash and go, or to stop the advanced interrogation.

In my opinion, the problems in the mid east are largely due to either fragmented religious and nationalist views, or for "revenge" over perceived previous western intervention, or both. I don't think the US intelligence community understands this because either they do not have access to enough people sympathetic to the US on the ground in the regions, or they don't listen to them.

Nik's comment that everyone is going to die is true, but not exactly helpful. You don't have to die right now!


message 19: by Michel (new)

Michel Poulin Well, the problem about faulty intelligence is now a rather moot point, for the good reason that Donald Trump apparentloy doesn't even take the time (or refuse) to read his Daily Intelligence Briefings. He prefers to get his intelligence by listening to Fox News! Now, on top of that, he just hired John Bolton (super-hawk who promotes military strikes as solution to North Korea and Iran, still think that invading Iraq was a good idea) as his new National Security Advisor. You guys better wear your brown pants for the next few months!


message 20: by Philip (new)

Philip (phenweb) | 0 comments Once upon a time I lectured on Rules of Engagement whilst plotting targets to hit.

Its a legal nightmare but in my experience (others may differ) great care was taken with all aspects whether collateral damage or risk to own troops to minimise casualties. I know of multiple missions called off at all stages because of the risk of enemy casualties. That was true in Iraq 1 where massive efforts were made to persuade conscripts to give up rather than needless killing.

Torture is always difficult. Your child is kidnapped. The clock is ticking. You catch one of the kidnappers - what do you do next to save your child? That is the moral dilemma. In that case there is an immediate need for action to save life (like the hijacked plane). The problem with the Afghan and Iraq tortures is most of the time there was no immediate gain or threat but longer term intelligence was sought. As the point is well made before the subject will tel you what you want to hear and hope its enough to save their life, stop the pain or increase their bank account. The intelligence is therefore at best unreliable at worst completely wrong.


message 21: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10709 comments I confess that the appointment of John Bolton did not strike me as a step in the right direction towards world peace and stability. The only good news there is he is appointed to a job where nobody lasts that long.


message 22: by Graeme (last edited Mar 23, 2018 06:42PM) (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Torture: How I use it in my stories. As it turns out, every book I've written, and the one I'm currently writing has torture scenes in them.

[1] A loved one is tortured in front of the target, resulting in the torturer getting the information they were after - Torture succeeds.

[2] A spy is purposefully given to the enemy, trapped, and tortured to death - reveals a 'lie,' that gets the torturer trapped. Torture fails.

[3] An agent is captured, and tortured. The torture results in the agent tapping into an unexpected resource of strength, the agent escapes and all hell breaks loose to the dismay of the torturer. Torture fails.

[4] An operative, captures and tortures a low level opposing agent - who breaks and blabs what the operative needed to know. Torture Succeeds.

So when I use it in a story - sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.


message 23: by Michel (new)

Michel Poulin Graeme wrote: "Torture: How I use it in my stories. As it turns out, every book I've written, and the one I'm currently writing has torture scenes in them.

[1] A loved one is tortured in front of the target, res..."


Graeme, those are book scenarios, not reality, and you can't use such ficticious scenarios to judge of the 'efficacy' of torture. Instead, you should base yourself on hard historical examples.

History actually shows us one thing rather consistently: torture more often than not produces unreliable/false information or false confessions. And those historical examples (Inquisition, Gestapo, KGB and other 'nice guys') tell us of tortures often more savage, bestial or cruel by far than what the CIA used in recent years inside its 'black detention sites'.

Lastly, using torture is inexcusable in my opinion, no matter the circumstances, and only lowers you to the level of the bad guy.


message 24: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10709 comments If we are going into fiction, one of my interrogations went like this. A bunch of bad guys were invited to business lunch and were wined and dined. The meal was managed by a couple of raptors (evolved from something lies a velociraptor) and then the interrogation started. They were given pencils and paper, and were forbidden to talk. All they had to do was to answer one question. This who gave useful information would be allowed to leave. Those who did not would be part of the raptor's lunch. Or subsequent dinners.

One method that nobody has raised yet is the question of the so-called "truth drugs". I have no idea how well they work, but if someone's life is at stake, you need a fast answer, and there are no additional effects, would you use this? It might violate the right to silence, and you could not use what came out in a case against the victim, but if you saved a life from it, would it not be worth it?


message 25: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 5791 comments That fictional scenario sounds great to me. I'm much less civilized in my thinking than most of you guys when it comes to people who are dedicated to killing me and mine.


message 26: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10709 comments If nothing else, Scout, I had a lot of fun writing it.


message 27: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Michel wrote: "those are book scenarios, not reality, and you can't use such ficticious scenarios to judge of the 'efficacy' of torture. Instead, you should base yourself on hard historical examples. ..."

Hi Michel, completely understood, I didn't mean to imply an equivalence between my fictional scenarios and the real world.

As it turns out, the torturers in my scenarios are typically the bad guys, or someone who is in an unusual 'moral,' position.


message 28: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Ian wrote: "If we are going into fiction, one of my interrogations went like this. A bunch of bad guys were invited to business lunch and were wined and dined. The meal was managed by a couple of raptors (evol..."

In my fictional scenarios - truth drugs get used in friendly interrogations and in unfriendly tortures.


message 29: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 14926 comments How about questioning at the gun point? I guess it might be happening quite frequently.
Say, a commando unit breaks into a facility, captures one of the opponents and needs to know what awaits ahead?


message 30: by Philip (new)

Philip (phenweb) | 0 comments Nik wrote: "How about questioning at the gun point? I guess it might be happening quite frequently.
Say, a commando unit breaks into a facility, captures one of the opponents and needs to know what awaits ahead?"


That goes to my immediacy statement above.


message 31: by Michel (new)

Michel Poulin One other possible scenarior for Graeme that actually happened a number of times in past history: the person being tortured commits suicide in order not to give up secrets (could throw himself out of a window, or slam his head against a stone wall, or cut his veins, etc.).


message 32: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Thanks Michel - good point.


message 33: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10709 comments As for Nik's question about someone captured at gunpoint and asked what lies ahead, I think the question is pointless because the captured one will almost certainly lie. There is also no time for any interrogation, and if the threat is, talk or be shot, the odds are he will be shot if he talks. There is no way to trust the answer, so why waste time asking?


message 34: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 14926 comments Ian wrote: "....the captured one will almost certainly lie..."

Why? If told: "you don't talk, you die, and if you tell us, we spare your life", if s/he's not a kamikaze, s/he might grab a chancier option, understanding that his/her fate would depend on correctness of the answer. Intelligence is not necessarily a fact. It's good to know and cross-check with more intel, not always - rely upon. It's so often when the info from your own people is neglected and not trusted, for example, Stalin ignored Richard Sorge's intel about imminent German invasion...


message 35: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10709 comments Nik wrote: "Ian wrote: "....the captured one will almost certainly lie..."

Why? If told: "you don't talk, you die, and if you tell us, we spare your life", if s/he's not a kamikaze, s/he might grab a chancier..."


In which case your best chance of living his to give information that leads your captors into a trap. The problem with the scenario you paint, Nik, is if the questioner has the moral quality to kill you if you don't talk, odds on are that he has the moral quality to kill you after you have talked. Much less messier.

Many times you can't check. Then you have the problem of the leader who sees the world as he thinks it should be, not what it is, which is why Stalin ignored Sorge. Also why Bush ignored the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before Iraq on the number of troops needed to succeed in Iraq. (The problem was not dealing with the Iraqi army - it was in stabilising the place afterwards.)


message 36: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 5791 comments Let's say you, Ian, were captured. Is there anything that would make you give up critical information?


message 37: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10709 comments You can't know until it happens, Scout, and probably nobody won't break under sufficient torture, but if it were the sort of deal that Nik suggested, how could you trust the other guy to keep his word? Once the information is gone, you have no leverage. As I think I said above, the best thing for such an organisation is to make a rule that if some key person is captured, they have to assume he will talk, so they should change everything he knows. That way the captured person only has to hold out for a certain time.

In my personal case, though, i can't see my knowing anything that anyone would want. If I were a terrorist, say, I would'n't be me, so it doesn't really apply.


message 38: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 14926 comments Ian wrote: "The problem with the scenario you paint, Nik, is if the questioner has the moral quality to kill you if you don't talk, odds on are that he has the moral quality to kill you after you have talked...."

I don't think that's the mindset. The captured one is a terrorist/an enemy soldier. If he weren't neutralized, he would've been killed anyway. Probably in reality captive's life isn't worth much at such a moment, although it's a crime to kill an incapacitated and disarmed terrorist.
We can take an imaginary scenario of say, in order to connect - liquidation of Bin Laden. You are watching the compound for a week. You know that the security detail, say involves 5 bodyguards. 1 is outside and another 4 are inside. With infrared you more or less know where they are stationed. You manage to capture a watchman. You know he's Al Qaeda. Commando came to kill him anyway, but you can spare his life, if he reveals how many of 4 remaining are supposed to be awake and where they are. You have 1 min before those inside would know something's happening. A fanatic terrorist may say: "I won't tell you anything, infidel dogs" or can bet on western mercy and code of army conduct and cooperate in an attempt to save his worthless life.
The mercy and code of conduct exist. It's not random, that often ammunition silos and hideouts of terrorists are in the kindergartens and hospitals.
I watched the documentary the other day about the events preceding bombing of Assad's nuclear reactor in 2007. The assumption was, that the minute Assad knows his secret is blown, he'd put a kindergarten near the reactor.
And btw, I'm sure armies and organizations' working assumption is that their captives talk...


message 39: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10709 comments Too much to answer in one go, Nik, but first, you have captured your terrorist. The scenario was that the terrorist was told, "Talk or we kill you." My argument is, if the people are capable of doing that, they are criminals right then, so the terrorist knows if he does talk, he is probably dead. No point in killing your comrades when you are dead anyway. If the soldiers are not criminals they won't interrogate that way.

Yes, terrorists to tend to put arms etc in hospitals, and Assad may well have put kindergartens beside assets to stop the West bombing them. ISIS has used human shields constantly. It is drifting away from interrogation, though.

Also, if you can see the terrorists with infrared, why interrogate a captive? The smart terrorists should do something about this infrared, though, since it seems to be a known technique. It would not be difficult.


message 40: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 14926 comments Ian wrote: "if the people are capable of doing that, they are criminals right then, so the terrorist knows if he does talk, he is probably dead. No point in killing your comrades when you are dead anyway. If the soldiers are not criminals they won't interrogate that way...."

It's just not a moment of rational thinking. If you want to live, you'd use any chance to prolong it. If not - you can just refuse to talk.
The terrorist doesn't know whether they'd follow through on their threat. The commando may threaten and still not execute the terrorist even if he doesn't cooperate. Not sure bluffing makes them criminals.
A captive may only reveal how many are awake and where the awake ones are and where those sleeping...


message 41: by Philip (new)

Philip (phenweb) | 0 comments A known interrogation technique is mock executions. Tactical information can be changed relatively quickly e.g guard passwords. More strategic information is therefore more important and may therefore take a long time to extract. There is effort expanded in getting information, whether from spying other intelligence collection and yes interrogation. Even defectors get long debriefs and sometimes these are more like interrogations.

There is a long line between a simple question politely asked to pulling fingernails out.


message 42: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 14926 comments In Russian popular culture racketeers' favorite technique is hot iron over beer belly of a businessman they want to pay for protection.
Not interrogation, but coercion, I know, but still connects under 'torture', I guess


message 43: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10709 comments I have no objection to threats, and if threatening the captive leads to information, fair enough. It is the carrying out of the threat that may be torture. As with Philip, I am unconvinced that tactical information is worth the trouble. In the example given of the raid, who is sleeping and who isn't is redundant once the first shot is fired, and if no shot has been fired, it is better to get on with it while you still have the element of surprise. Surprise is far more valuable than any unreliable information from a captive.

Also a long debrief is not torture. Here, there is an implied element of cooperation, and obviously a bribe/offer is both desirable and plausible. Describing two futures, where one is better than the other can't be wrong, as long as the wrong one isn't waterboarding.


message 44: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 5791 comments Isn't threatening someone's family an effective means of extracting information? This method takes time, but I think it works.


message 45: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10709 comments I would hope that carrying out the threat was out of bounds, but I guess with the Scripal example, we can't be sure.


message 46: by Michel (last edited Apr 01, 2018 05:56AM) (new)

Michel Poulin Scout wrote: "Isn't threatening someone's family an effective means of extracting information? This method takes time, but I think it works."

This would fall into the 'psychological tricks' category...if it is only a bluff, with no real intent to act on it. But, if your bluff is called, then don't bother trying again. However, if you act on the threat and, say, kidnap the wife/lover or a child of the one holding the information and then start sending pieces of them via mail/parcel, then it becomes mental torture (for the one with the information) and actual torture for the kidnapped person.

About the 'efficiency' of the last method, here is a true life story: it happened in Beirut, Lebanon, during the Lebanese Civil War of the 1970s-80s. A faction of Islamist extremists hostile to the Soviet Union kidnapped one of the attachés of the Soviet embassy to pressure changes to Soviet policies. The KGB quickly learned who was involved but couldn't get directly at them without risking the live of the Soviet attaché. So, they kidnapped a family member of the head of the Islamic faction and started sending pieces (fingers, ears, etc.) to the faction leader, saying that it would continue until the attaché was freed. The diplomat was released within days.

During WW2, one of the German Gestapo's favorite tricks to make a tough prisoner talk was to torture his wife or child in front of him. Unfortunately, that method proved very effective, so the Gestapo used it whenever they could.


message 47: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 14926 comments Michel wrote: "About the 'efficiency' of the last method, here is a true life story: it happened in Beirut, Lebanon, during the Lebanese Civil War of the 1970s-80s. A faction of Islamist extremists hostile to the Soviet Union kidnapped one of the attachés of the Soviet embassy to pressure changes to Soviet policies. The KGB quickly learned who was involved but couldn't get directly at them without risking the live of the Soviet attaché. So, they kidnapped a family member of the head of the Islamic faction and started sending pieces (fingers, ears, etc.) to the faction leader, saying that it would continue until the attaché was freed. The diplomat was released within days...."

That's an interesting example of a moral dilemma (not sure, KGB had one though). Being too 'civil' in some cases may come through as 'weak', especially to ruthless terrorists, and just encourage taking more hostages..


message 48: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10709 comments I suppose the other approach to kidnapping was similar to that of G. Julius Caesar who, when released from being kidnapped by pirates following a ransom, came back with force and crucified the lot of them, and no mallet. The problem with this approach with terrorists in the mid-east, though, is as often enough there is not sufficient force to deal with them.

I don't think moral dilemmas bothered the Gestapo or the KGB all that much.


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