List of approved CIA interrogation tactics

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According to ABC News, here are the six interrogation techniques
1. The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.

2. Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.

3. The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.

4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.

5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.

6. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.

Apparently as long as we're not applying electric shock to their genitals it isn't really torture.

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Note that it said that everyone begs to give a confession. No mention of innocent people not caving.

"No mention of innocent people not caving"?

Possibly they confess, too, to whatever they're asked to? Just to avoid, you know, being tortured?

Care to try a few minutes on the water board and see? Or do I presume to much about your innocence?

All of those methods sound really not fun at all, but in all fairness I would take even the water board over electric shocks or something likely to cause serious permanent injury. As you might tell, I am trying very hard to see the positive here.

I would think the cold cell and standing techniques are more effective for getting good information than the water board, however. With something like that, anyone will confess to anything just to get it to stop (same problem as most torture techniques, basically).

Yes skippy, that was my point.

It's quite clear from accounts of the 'interrogations' that most of the 'interrogators' don't even know what the people they're 'interrogating' are accused of, much less what information they might or might know, and are generically tasked with getting the person to 'talk'.

Since we've decided to discard the constraints of civilized behavior here, perhaps we ought to go all the way. Clearly, some people won't give us the information we want even if we waterboard them, or do whatever other Inquisition-like techniques are still being kept secret. But that's not so hard--we just need kidnap and torture their parents, siblings, and children, right? If we've discarded the notion of basic human rights in favor of might-makes-right and the-ends-justify-the-means, how could anyone sensibly argue against this, except in terms of the bad publicity caused?

Of course, this is only done to suspected terrorists (e.g., people captured by armed thugs in Afghanistan and sold the the US) and dangerous foreigners. So, anyone want to offer odds on whether Jose Padilla has spent time being interrogated this way?


Jack, I think you're overlooking the obvious point that psychological damage can be just as serious as (and often symptomatically indistinguishable from) physiological damage. Walk through a post-traumatic stress ward sometime.

Of coures, the question is, does it do any good?

EG, if we gave this treatment to Gonzalez, Rumsfeld, or other administration officials, could we cause him to say it IS torture even when they currently strongly insist that it is not?

A couple of points that should be obvious, but apparently aren't:

1) Yes, torture might cause a prisoner to "say anything" to stop the torture. But hostile prisoners already have lots of reasons to "say anything"--for example, desire to mislead the enemy, inflate one's perceived importance, or hide knowledge of important information. The problem of prisoners lying to interrogators is pretty much independent of whether they are tortured, mistreated, or pampered. Their stories have to be checked in any case, and there are lots of familiar techniques for doing so. If anything, the possibility of future torture if caught lying increases a prisoner's incentive to tell the truth.

2) The discussion here of using torture to coerce prisoners to "confess" is rather bizarre, given that the detainees in question are currently being held without the right to a hearing. Hence their captors have no incentive to torture them except in the hope of obtaining potentially valuable information from them. Of course, if they were entitled to a hearing, and evidence of actual wrongdoing were required to continue holding them (and to save face)....

3) It's no doubt disturbing to think about places where one's government severely mistreats foreign nationals merely suspected of being agents of an enemy government or organization. Then again, there are many places where one's government uninhibitedly kills foreign nationals merely suspected of being agents of an enemy government or organization. They're called "battlefields". (And in the case of some countries bordering on hostile neighbors, they're called "borders".)

It's a nasty world out there. Personally, I'd prefer that democratic governments come out and admit frankly what they need to do, one way or another, to protect their citizens. But in the immortal words of Col. Jessep (Jack Nicholson) in "A Few Good Men"...

Dan, your arguments are based on the assumption that torture might actually be more useful than the alternative for gaining actionable information. Actually, in order to make a decision on whether this asserted benefit is worth the cost, we need evidence of _how_ much more effective it is.

Unfortunately, the people that advocate torture have all sorts of reasons why they don't what to provide such evidence.

Well, that's an awfully hard experiment to do effectively. But I take your point--the optimal interrogation technique might conceivably turn out not to involve harsh treatment at all. In that case, torture may well be unnecessary--and if so, I'd certainly be happy to see it abandoned.

Of course, it's interesting to imagine what it might involve instead, and what the moral implications might be. Pharmaceuticals? Disorienting environmental cues? Unacted-upon threats? Would the same people who are disgusted at torture necessarily be any less appalled at the more effective alternative?


I think it's important to distinguish two things here: (1) Whether we are torturing people and (2) whether we *should* be torturing people. I take your argumentss here to be addressed at the latter point. But what I'm trying to complain about here is that our government is claiming we're not torturing people when we pretty clearly are....

I'm sure if DARPA sponsored a hundred million dollars worth of research into interrogation effectiveness, you'd be surprised at the ingenuity of researchers in coming up with innovative experimental approaches.

I agree that we've broadened the debate beyon Eric's original point. I assumed that Dan had stipulated to the fact that these techniques (at least 3-6) clearly count as torture.

I agree that it would be better if the government frankly admitted that it needs to use harsh interrogation techniques, and set up a regulation and oversight regime to govern them. Unfortunately, democracies always operate on a certain amount of hypocrisy--American democracy perhaps more than most. If the president had instead said, for example, "we do not limit free speech", nobody would have batted an eyelid.


I understand that it's a nasty world out there. But the question is, does that justify absolutely anything we need to do to win, or should there still be limits. For example, I suspect Iraq would be much easier to keep quiet if we simply killed nearly all the Sunnis, perhaps using engineered contagious diseases, fallout-enhanced bombs, toxins injected into both surface and ground water, etc. Assuming we could do this and it would help us win, is there a reason we shouldn't do it?


Actually Dan, I think that if a number examples came out about the executive branch exercising prior restraint and censorship of speech without due process and the president responded to this news with, "We do not limit free speech," there would be a lot of eyelid batting.

John: Yes, of course I believe there should be limits--that's why I'd like to see regulation and oversight of the treatment of detainees. In particular, I'd like to see some sort of procedural measures--short of actual judicial proceedings--taken to minimize the likelihood of total innocents being detained and subjected to harsh treatment. But I believe that in some cases harsh treatment will be necessary (at least until our understanding of interrogation techniques improves considerably), and I therefore wouldn't want it to be ruled out by law.

Kevin: One of the standard forms of hypocrisy in American politics is the redefinition of otherwise straightforward terms to disguise various gray, fuzzy consensus policies as clear-cut matters of principle. For example, the concept of "limiting free speech" is sometimes narrowed down from its plain meaning to something as flimsy as the fact that prior restraints on expression can only be issued by members of the judiciary. That way, Americans can go around triumphantly declaring that their country's government doesn't "limit free speech", even though by any honest definition, it does so all the time. Apparently, frank discussion of when limitations on free speech are justified is just too painful for the American body politic to handle, so the whole issue is swept under the rug with grand, blanket declarations of principle that are in practice routinely ignored.

The president is attempting to do something similar with the concept of "torture"--and who knows, it may end up working.

I understand the general point Dan, and agree with you.

What I'm saying is that responding to a specific accusation with such a statement is vastly different than your run-off-the-mill doublethink platitudes. It's a baldfaced lie.

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