What's wrong with interrogation under drugs?

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Last night I went to an interesting lecture at Berkeley by Stephen Maurer (slides here. One of Maurer's topics was about how to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable interrogation practices. Clearly there's some consensus that certain practices (e.g., detention, just asking questions) are OK and that others (the rack, electric shock, aren't). The tricky part is where to draw the line. But what struck me was that drugs was on Maurer's list of methods that there's a consensus aren't OK. I agree with that assesssment, but I think it's interesting to ask why that should be.

In theory, an interrogation drug that simply got you to tell the truth seems like a really humane form of interrogation. You just give the subject the drug, he tells you what you want to know, and there's not need for any of those tiresome (and tiring) beatings, electrocutions, etc. So, what's wrong with drugs?

Fundamentally, it seems that there are three problems: The first, pointed out by Maurer, is that this isn't how interrogation under drugs actually works, because we don't have some magic "truth serum". Instead, the conventional practice--at least when such things were being studied--was to attempt to induce a state of artificial psychosis and hope you could destroy enough of the victim's personality that he would tell you what you wanted to know. This obviously doesn't sound super-humane and it's easy to understand why you would want to prohibit it, if it's the state of the art.

The second problem, also pointed out by Maurer, is that bodily autonomy makes a convenient bright line, and interrogation under drugs clearly cross that line. However, just because a line is easy to draw doesn't mean it's the right one. A secondary problem with this explanation is that this particular bright line doesn't actually match up well with people's other intuitions. In particular, many people seem to be comfortable with the kind low-end physical abuse (slapping, etc.) that the CIA has apparently approved even though it clearly violates bodily autonomy, but yet not to be comfortable with drugs.

The final reason, which is sort of the inverse of the first, is that drugs seem to cross another line: towards mind control. It's one thing to temporarily drug someone in order to get information out of them, but it was a clear objective of a lot of the CIA work to permanently reprogram their personality--a la the Manchurian Candidate. That's something that strikes people--rightly in my opinion--as well over the line, and one might imagine that if you had effective non-mind-control drug-based interrogation techniques, they could be converted to mind control techniques. So, maybe better to keep a bright line against all such techniques.

None of this is really that convincing of course, and like many debates about interrogation--or ethics in general--it's not clear that there really is any set of principles that leads to intuitively acceptable results.

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1 Comments

Hmmm... What about a little alchol? Cannabis? Cocaine?

The error of the beard is REALLY hard to avoid in this area...

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