Interrogational torture: Effective or purely sadistic?

Interrogational torture: Or how good guys get bad information with ugly methods

From Political Research Quarterly 

While government officials have argued that “enhanced interrogation techniques” are necessary to protect American citizens, the effectiveness of such techniques has been debated. According to this study, information gleaned from interrogational torture is very likely to be unreliable, and when torture techniques are employed, they are likely to be used too frequently and too harshly. In order to assess the effectiveness of interrogational torture, this study employed game theory. The author found that under realistic circumstances interrogational torture is far more likely to produce ambiguous and false, rather than clear and reliable, information. He acknowledges that “the question as to whether—in reality—interrogational torture actually provides us with vital information we otherwise would not get—and at what human cost—is one of the pressing moral questions of our time” and conludes “The debate over this question suggests that this reality needs probing, and the probing offered here suggests that torture games have no winners.”


Debate about the sources of intelligence leading to bin Laden’s location has revived the question as to whether interrogational torture is effective. Answering this question is a necessary—if not sufficient—condition for any justification of interrogational torture. Given the impossibility of approaching the question empirically, I address it theoretically, asking whether the use of torture to extract information satisfies reasonable expectations about reliability of information as well as normative constraints on the frequency and intensity of torture. I find that although information from interrogational torture is unreliable, it is likely to be used frequently and harshly.

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Article details
John W. Schiemann (2012). Interrogational Torture : Or How Good Guys Get Bad Information with Ugly Methods DOI: 10.1177/1065912911430670 Political Research Quarterly, 65 (3) : 10.1177/1065912911430670

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