Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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The Threat of Death

I was intrigued and somewhat alarmed by this news that American torturers use the threat of death, particularly staging mock executions.

FOCUS: Report Reveals CIA Conducted Mock Executions
Report Reveals CIA Conducted Mock Executions Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff, Newsweek: "A long-suppressed report by the Central Intelligence Agency's inspector general to be released next week reveals that CIA interrogators staged mock executions as part of the agency's post-9/11 program to detain and question terror suspects, NEWSWEEK has learned. According to two sources - one who has read a draft of the paper and one who was briefed on it - the report describes how one detainee, suspected USS Cole bomber Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was threatened with a gun and a power drill during the course of CIA interrogation."


As torture techniques go, credible death threats -- usually involving some serious physical setup to make them convincing -- have two strong advantages. First, physical harm is optional; you can terrify your victim into breaking without leaving a mark on him. Second, this is one of the more effective methods; many people will break in the face of their own death who will break for nothing less. Combined, these two features give it more bang-for-buck than most other techniques.

This is balanced by the tremendous drawbacks, chiefly that three out of the four possible outcomes are undesirable from the torturer's point of view. These are: 1) The victim breaks and tells you everything you ask about. Aside from the standard challenge of sorting truth from falsehood, this is what you want. 2) The victim breaks, but not in a productive way, as the mind is shattered by extreme stress into incoherence. An insane victim is of no practical use to a torturer under most circumstances, as little or no information can be extracted. 3) Exposure to death threats makes the victim unafraid of death, but does not bring enlightenment. You have created a perfect suicide soldier, and had better kill him before he gives other people ideas, kills some of your guards, and/or escapes. 4) Exposure to death threats makes the victim unafraid of death, and also brings enlightenment. This tends to break whatever hapless guards happen to be in the room at the time, divine energy being volatile stuff. Also, freshly hatched saints are extremely dangerous to the kind of regime that allows torture. So again, you'd better kill him quickly.

The first two outcomes are more common. The third is uncommon and the fourth is rare ... but if you make a habit of torturing people with the threat of death, you'll run through the odds fast enough to hit them.

So if you were wondering why there are suicide solders running around, one answer is likely "because we're making them." If the government is admitting one example of this type, it's probably not the only case.
Tags: news, politics
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