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Two links about torture - Input Junkie
November 5th, 2010
09:06 am

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Two links about torture
General discussion of why torture is apt to get inaccurate information. It was a pleasure to see that the large majority of comments on the page I read were anti-torture.

Moderate sleep deprivation (35 hours awake) greatly amplifies the effects of negative emotions. This is relevant to torture, because I think people are apt to underestimate the effects of combined tortures.

Links thanks to Andrew Ducker.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/442569.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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From:madfilkentist
Date:November 5th, 2010 02:11 pm (UTC)
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I don't know if that article addresses the strongest possible case for torture. (Here I'm addressing effectiveness alone, not ethics.) The hardest case to knock down, I think, is the one where there are multiple people being tortured for information with no opportunity for collaboration (redundant checking of independent, unreliable inputs) and verification of their claims is possible at a reasonable cost. In this situation, no one person's answers have to be very reliable, as long as some are telling the truth some of the time.

This is different from the supposedly strong "ticking bomb" scenario; in that case it's assumed that only one person has the information, and the cost of following up a false answer is very high.
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From:nancylebov
Date:November 5th, 2010 03:06 pm (UTC)
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That's an interesting case, though I think the problem is getting real independence. The torturers are likely to have shared beliefs about what answers would be plausible.

I don't know whether most torture advocates don't bring that up because they haven't thought of it, because it lacks the drama and certainty of a ticking bomb scenario, or (related) it obviously increases the risk of torturing innocent people.
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From:anton_p_nym
Date:November 5th, 2010 04:30 pm (UTC)
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In this situation, no one person's answers have to be very reliable, as long as some are telling the truth some of the time.

The problem there is the contaminating influence of the interrogators. Torture mainly provides "confirmation" of existing inclinations (aka "the victim tells the torturers what he/she thinks they want to hear") and if the interrogators all start with similar preconceptions then they'll likely end up with similar results whether the data is valid or not.

-- Steve knows that this is a problem with all interrogation techniques, but it's exacerbated by torture's known unreliability.

PS: Torture's a great way to get a speedy confession, which is why authoritarian governments like it so much. It's not a good way to get a true account of what happened, however; a great many false confessions have been beaten out of innocents.
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From:madfilkentist
Date:November 5th, 2010 05:01 pm (UTC)
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It's particularly unreliable for obtaining confessions or accusations, for the reasons you gave, but I was thinking more of torture for more emotionally neutral information, like "Where are the plans for the Death Star?"

I've read that even without torture, there have been a number of false confessions simply because the interrogators asked enough leading questions that the accused started to believe what they suggested, or thought that failing to confess would be worse for them (which can happen when the interrogators keep saying it would be).

There's something ugly about figuring out the best case for torture, but it's necessary to explore it in order to give the best refutation.
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From:sodyera
Date:November 5th, 2010 03:50 pm (UTC)
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Torture? I used to stay up that long at a convention.
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From:nancylebov
Date:November 5th, 2010 04:09 pm (UTC)
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The sleep study didn't call it torture. It said that even that level of sleep deficiency amplified the effects of negative emotions.

You presumably weren't being tortured at the convention.

Also, your tolerance for missing sleep isn't universal.

Edited at 2010-11-05 04:28 pm (UTC)
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From:sodyera
Date:November 5th, 2010 04:44 pm (UTC)
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True.
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From:agrumer
Date:November 5th, 2010 05:20 pm (UTC)
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Also, there's a tremendous difference between doing something because you want to and being forced. Not just a moral difference -- there's a difference in the psychological states it produces in the person doing it.
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From:nancylebov
Date:November 5th, 2010 06:33 pm (UTC)
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Which leaves me thinking about what it would be like to be forced to do all the things you usually do. "You will scratch your nose, or else!" It would be maddening.
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