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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Coercing reliable information

People seeking to ban the use of physically coercive interrogation list as a main supporting argument that the benefits are small: that such techniques (whether or not they rise to what should rightly be called "torture") do not yield reliable information. According to one group that represents torture victims:
...they would have said anything their tormentors wanted them to say in order to get the pain to stop.
Why that doesn't include telling the truth, when that is what interrogators want to hear, is not clear, but suppose for argument that the critique is valid. Emerging technology provides an answer to the reliability problem. Brain-scanning lie-detection is rapidly becoming very accurate. By combining coercive techniques with brain-scanning lie-detection, it should be possible to coerce reliable information.

Brain scanning by itself may be able to replace physical coercion in most cases. If the person being questioned is talking, then watching what parts of his brain are at work in what sequence will reveal whether he is being evasive. Even if our knowing when he is lying does not stop him from lying, his lies may carry as much information as the truth, when we know they are lies. Still, brain scanning by itself is inadequate.

Sometimes knowing that person is lying will not provide the necessary information, and sometimes a subject won't talk at all. Where brain scanning really becomes valuable is when we can use it to determine that the subject is being entirely forthcoming, and that is where physical coercion comes in.

Water-boarding sounds perfect. Apparently it is physically harmless, yet impossible to bear:
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.
I have a question for the evasive subject with his head in the brain-scanning lie-detector: "Do you want to go back on the water-board?" I think we would be getting to the full and honest truth pretty fast.

Every terror war detainee should be subject to brain-scanning lie-detection for important information. If any are evasive, water-board them until they spill, and brain scanning reveals that they have no further strategic information to yield.

Such a regimen would not subject any innocent or compliant person even to the non-torture of water-boarding. Brain scanning would reveal that they are telling the truth.

Of those who refuse to come clean without coercion, it seems that none would need to be subjected to anything worse than water-boarding.

So what is the downside? There is none. To argue against the one-two punch of brain-scanning and water-boarding, one would have to argue against the desirability of being able to coerce reliable information at all. In the area of criminal law, that might be sustainable. In war-fighting, it is absurd. Should we let innocents die (including our innocent soldiers, who have done no wrong), rather than separate the guilty from the innocent by harmlessly looking inside their heads? The technology is here. Get used to it.

That's what the waterboard is for. They go back on the waterboard until the brain scanner says they are telling the truth. Polygraphs are unreliable. Brain scanning lie-detection is not.
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