Monday, November 21, 2016

Summary of Findings: Torture (Not Valid)

Note: This post represents the synthesis of the thoughts, procedures and experiences of others as represented in the articles read in advance (see previous posts) and the discussion among the students and instructor during the Advanced Analytic Techniques class at Mercyhurst University in October 2016 regarding Torture as an Analytic Technique specifically. This technique was evaluated based on its overall validity, simplicity, flexibility and its ability to effectively use structured data.


Torture or “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EIT) is a modifier for intelligence collection that utilizes the infliction physical or mental stressors/pain in order to elicit information from a given human subject.


  • Will likely produce information, however the reliability of that information is highly suspect.


  • Not a simple process.
  • May lead to the collection of misinformation, if any is even given.
  • Where do you find an expert (10,000 hours=10 Years Experience) in torturing?
  • Data on torture use is severely limited, and thus makes it difficult to assess.
  • Difficult to replicate and validity is questionable


  • Find someone who you believe has the information you want.
  • Capture them and place them in an environment where you have complete control
  • Inflict pain or threaten its use via a desired method in order to elicit information
  • Application or threat of application of mind-altering substances may be used to enhance the fear within the subject that they will divulge useful information
  • Threats of imminent death of the subject or family, friends, associates, etc. can also be an effective means of encouraging subjects to give up withheld information

Application of Technique:

A group of students in class participated in a socratic discussion after being presented information on the history, uses, current techniques, and events where torture was used in order to determine the logical effectiveness of the modifier.  Macro and micro issues were presented as evidence for and against the use of the modifier in order to weigh costs and potential benefits.
For Further Information:

Perspectives on Enhanced Interrogation Techniques:

CIA Interrogation Manual:

These Are The 13 ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques’ The CIA Used On Detainees

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program:

FM2-22.3 (FM 34-52) Human Intelligence Collector Operations:

Regarding the Torture of Others:

Torture at Abu Ghraib:

Liberalism, Torture, and the Ticking Bomb:

Torture, Henry Shue:

Interrogation of Abu Zubaydah:

Hard Measures, part 1:

Hard Measures, part 2:

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Effects and Effectiveness of Using Torture as an Interrogation Device: Using Research to Inform the Policy Debate


Hot on the heels of the Abu Ghraib incident, Mark A. Costanzo and Ellen Gerrity took a qualitative look the circumstances and results of torture. Early on, the point was raised on how do you collect data on torture. In fact, that point was made several times throughout the article in what appeared to be a bid to highlight the issue of conducting scientific research on what they call “one of the most extreme forms of human violence.” To codify this, the report used the United Nations definition of torture that states that any act that causes severe suffering or pain (mental or physical) with the intent to extract information and is executed under the authority of a public official is torture. 

That aside, they did pull from many different studies concerning problems from coerced information. One instance they looked at was in law enforcement and the confessions pulled from suspects via long interrogations and even less legal means. What they found was 24% of wrongful convictions came from false confessions that were gained via means far less detrimental than torture. Costanzo and Gerrity use this as a basis to show that information gained from torture would have a shadow cast upon its validity. Suspects in criminal cases were often kept awake and interrogated for hours on end until they had lost major cognitive control. They eventually just confessed to something that they had not done to make it stop. 

Greater parallels are draw versus prolonged law enforcement interrogations and torture. The report asked that any information that was gained in marathon interrogation was often false. Add in mental and physical pain and the probability of false information increases. Ulpian in 200 CE raised questions on the validity of information extracted under torture was suspect. Further evidence was provided from CIA operatives that people being tortured would be willing to confess anything, true or not, just to make the torture stop. 


This is a very well sourced article that draws from many different fields for the purpose of looking at something that is hard to study. After going through it, some of my ideas on torture are now not as justifiable. While I am very aware of intelligence professionals who state that the Arab culture is not conducive to normal methods of interrogation and that torture is necessary, the report stated that people who made use of torture attempt to justify it as a means of dismissing or allaying what they have done. I am by no means saying that supporters of torture are wrong or are falsely attempting to justify torture as a valid means of getting information out of someone. I have not been in a firsthand situation to see positive results from torture (and I rather hope I do not have to). It is when there has been nearly 2000 years of concerns as to the validity of torture for attaining actionable information that I start to have misgivings.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Interrogation Game: Using Coercion and Rewards to Elicit Information from Groups


This study created a model called the "Interrogation Game" to test the differences between how knowledgeable and ignorant sources react when faced with both coercive and rewarding interrogators. The primary purpose of the study was to determine when detainees provide accurate information to interrogators. The study also highlighted the importance of understanding when detainees truthfully tell interrogators that they do not know the desired information. The authors, David Blake Johnson and John Barry Ryan, acknowledge both the lack and necessity of research on the efficacy of interrogation within the intelligence community. Johnson and Ryan argue that both knowledgeable and ignorant sources have the ability to provide inaccurate information, and that interrogators are unable to decipher the difference between the two during an interrogation. If a detainee is truly ignorant, then further interrogation may only lead to false information.

 The "Interrogation Game" model identifies a coercive interrogator as one who reduces a detainee's utility for not providing accurate information, and a rewarding interrogator as someone who provides a detainee with utility gains in exchange for accurate information. To test the differences between the two, this study performed an experiment using 160 Florida State University students in ten sessions each. During each session the participants were divided into groups of four. Each group was assigned a playing card, which could only be one of the four aces. Two participants within each group were given the identity of the card, while the other two were given no information. The "interrogator" in the experiment consisted of a computer that prompted a random participant to identify the group's card. The participants received different earnings depending on the type of interrogator. Most importantly, ignorant participants (participants who were asked to reveal the card but did not know the card's identity) who truthfully stated "I don't know" to the rewarding interrogator received the same amount of earnings as the other participants. However, ignorant participants who truthfully stated "I don't know" to the coercive interrogator received less earnings than the other participants. In other words, the coercive interrogator punished participants for not knowing the identity of the card. 

The study found that ignorant participants truthfully responded "I don't know" to the coercive interrogator 12.5% of the time, whereas ignorant participants truthfully responded "I don't know" to the rewarding interrogator 32.5% of the time. Johnson and Ryan explain that this is because revealing the truth to a rewarding interrogator leads to a fair outcome, whereas telling the truth to a coercive interrogator leads to an unfair outcome. In turn, the study found that participants revealed the incorrect card to the coercive interrogator 43.8% of the time, which was 7.1% more often than the amount of times the incorrect card was revealed to the rewarding interrogator. This is because participants were more willing to admit to not knowing the identity of the card to a rewarding interrogator than they were to a coercive interrogator. Johnson and Ryan concluded that not only did the participants tell the truth less frequently to coercive interrogators, but the ignorant participants were also less likely to reveal their ignorance to coercive interrogators. 


This study was confusing to understand at first due to the several assumptions and details included in its model. Johnson and Ryan incorporate multiple formulas and theories that add to this confusion, though they also seem to increase the model's reliability. A major concern, though, is the lack of reality mixed in with the experiment. Johnson and Ryan mention how torture is a form of interrogation, but it is hard to truly view this experiment as a form of "coercive interrogation". This is not to say that it cannot be applied to real-life torture situations, but it is difficult to see a complete connection. 


Johnson, D. B., & Ryan, J.B. (2015). The interrogation game: Using coercion and rewards to elicit information from groups. Journal of Peace Research, 52(6), 822-837. Retrieved from:

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Interrogational Torture: Or How Good Guys Get Bad Information with Ugly Methods


This research aimed to provide insight on an important problem: the effectiveness of interrogational torture in revealing clear and accurate information to the state.  There is little consensus among policy makers, academics, or even interrogators on whether interrogational torture works. This article examines whether torture is effective in revealing reliable information and at what cost in terms of frequency and intensity of the torture employed, even under limited conditions and with certain restrictions in place. Due to the absence of any reliable and systematic data from either the field or laboratory on the effectiveness of torture, Schiemann investigates the question theoretically by employing the tools of game theory.

Game theory allows Schiemann to build an analytical model of restricted, limited interrogational torture incorporating realistic elements and corresponding to what one might call the pragmatically normative view of interrogational torture: that “limited” or “restrained” torture is unfortunately necessary in limited cases. This allows Schiemann to compare the outcomes of the analytical model with the criteria defining the normative model of interrogational torture’s proponents. The model’s outcomes substitute for empirical data that we will likely never have to assess torture’s effectiveness.

In the first section, Schiemann outlines his normative model of pragmatic interrogational torture.  The point of this model is to first identify constraints on the use of torture in interrogations, and second, the anticipated consequences of employing interrogational torture, including the expected reliability of the information gathered and the degree to which torture is employed.  Together, they define how torture should work on the pragmatic view.  The second section develops two variants of an analytical model of interrogational torture that is consistent with both the constraints of the normative model and other real-world features of interrogational torture to see how torture would work.  Obviously, if data was actually available one could assess how torture does work. The third section presents the results of the analytical model and compares them to the predictions of the normative model, with the goal being to see if the outcomes of the analytical model support or undermine the normative model. Finally, Schiemann concludes in the last section by discussing some implications for state-sanctioned interrogational torture.

The Game

In Schiemann’s model, there are three players in the game, depicted in Figure 1: nature, a detainee, and an interrogator for the state.  The nature player is game theoretic convention for modeling uncertainty about other players in the game, in this case about the characteristics of the detainee and the characteristics of the interrogator.  The interrogator is uncertain whether the detainee is knowledgeable and weak, knowledgeable and strong, or possesses no information (innocent).  The knowledgeable and weak detainee is willing to give up information in exchange for not being tortured, while the knowledgeable and strong detainee prefers to suffer torture rather than give up information.  The innocent detainee has no valuable information to divulge.  The uncertainty about exactly which detainee is actually facing the interrogator is captured by the first move of the game, by nature, dividing it into three branches.


Schiemann concludes that the outcomes of the analytical model provide little support for the pragmatic defense of interrogational torture.  The outcome predicted by the pragmatic defenders of interrogational torture – valuable information extracted by (the threat of) torture from a knowledgeable detainee but no torture to innocent detainees – does not occur in equilibrium.  For torture to ever generate valuable information, the state must be willing to torture innocent detainees.  Furthermore, this “ever generate” is not the same as “reliably generate,” despite coming at the cost of torturing innocents.  An outcome resulting in valuable information is possible, but the conditions supporting it are empirically unlikely.  They require a knowledgeable detainee to believe the promise he will not be tortured if he divulges information and an interrogator to be very confident the detainee has told all he knows.  Moreover, even when these conditions are met, interrogational torture fails to satisfy the necessary reliability condition.


The question of whether interrogational torture is effective in providing valuable information to the state is ultimately an empirical question that cannot be conclusively decided by a game theoretic (or any other) model. However, formal models can be helpful tools for probing reality. Examining if – in reality – interrogational torture actually provides the state with vital information they could otherwise not get – and at what human cost – is a pressing moral question of our time. The debate over this question implies that this reality needs probing, and the probing Schiemann offers here suggests that torture games have no winners.


Schiemann, J. W. (2012). Interrogational torture or how good guys get bad information with ugly methods. Political Research Quarterly65 (1), 3-19.


The article I am about to summarize and comment on was written by James Franklin and published in the Cardozo Journal of International & Comparative Law. This is a journal published three times a year by students of the Cardozo school of law at Yeshiva University located on lower Fifth Avenue in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

Franklin’s article begins upfront by clarifying some definitions and phrasings. He expresses the importance of identifying that the discussion of whether torture is effective as an interrogation technique is separated completely from the argument about whether or not it is ethical or moral. He makes a great point in stating that it should first be determined if torture even works before shifting the focus to its legality. He also clarifies the meaning of effectiveness by saying that torture is not akin to a trial in that evidence has to be found “beyond a reasonable doubt”. Rather he believes the information must meet a standard he calls “quite probably true”.  Franklin believes that in order for torture to be an effective interrogation tool, the information obtained must be verifiable. This is his main point of discussion which seeks to dismantle the anti-torture advocates argument that people will say anything under duress to make the pain stop. He believes that in order to say torture is effective, the interrogators must receive falsifiable information from the detainee that can be checked for authenticity. This is the only way one can say without a doubt that torture is an effective strategy.
Franklin continues his article by outlining cases from history where torturers “fact-checked” the information provided by detainees before passing judgements or making decisions. He also included times throughout history such as the European witch hunts in which tens of thousands were killed based on false confessions under duress or torture. The article continues with multiple examples of torture revealing the crucial fact necessary to thwart the plot or save the day, with only one instance of torture failing to provide useful information. That instance was the interrogation of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a Libyan al-Qaeda operative captured while fleeing Afghanistan around the end of 2001. He provided false information to his captors that Iraq had given chemical and biological warfare training to Al-Qaeda. This information was heavily relied upon by the Bush administration as the link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda.  Franklin concludes by stating the importance of further research as the dangers posed by external threats are greater now than ever before and the ability to act quickly in the interrogation process could save countless innocent lives.


This article definitely had a slant that was pro-torture in nature as was evidenced by some of the verbiage used by the author. Statements such as one claiming the freedoms we have now are a result of torture techniques used in the past American wars are evidence to support this conclusion. The article focused much of its body discussing the potential benefits of torture by citing multiple cases where torture or the threat of immense bodily harm caused detainees to offer up useful information. Whereas only one example was used to show how torture can also be ineffective in revealing the truth. I did like however that even though the article itself was biased in favor of torture, it specifically spelled out in the earlier portion that very little empirical research has been done on the topic. The academic community would shun any “respectable” researcher who would seek to compile real cases of torture to see if in fact it proved effective. Even in places where torture is accepted, those who’ve written on the subject with first-hand experience receive little recognition due to the subject’s taboo nature. Nobody is going to take the word of a torturer who says it is very effective because society “rightly or wrongly” sees him/her as a bad guy/girl. It seems like the issue of torture is in the same boat as the rest of the methodologies studied this semester in that more research is needed in order to prove effectiveness. This is one methodology in which I have no interest in being a part of its future. 

Franklin, James. (2009). Evidence Gained from Torture: Wishful Thinking, Checkability, And Extreme Circumstances. Cardozo Journal of International & Comparative Law. Mar2009, Vol. 17 Issue 2, p281-290.