From Zero Dark Thirty to 24 and even Scandal, people on screen cave when tortured, their secrets unwillingly extracted. But in real life, torture tends to produce bogus info while suspects are sometimes eager to spill the beans.
This week in the New York Times, Benjamin Weiser chronicled case after case in which legal, moral interrogation techniques compelled terrorists to give up self-incriminating information. Their confessions led to life sentences in prison.
“They want to boast,” said David Raskin, a former chief of the terrorism unit in the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan, “particularly if they have ever done something to harm ‘the infidel.’ But just being an enemy of the United States is something they’re very proud of and anxious to talk about.”
Former FBI agent Ali H. Soufan said that many terrorists “feel what they are doing is an extension of their jihad, is part of their cause…. They are willing to die for it, so if given the right opportunity, they are not going to deny it.”
This message comes as no surprise to interrogation and national security experts. Human Rights First recently assembled a group of interrogators and intelligence professionals, who issued a statement condemning “enhanced interrogation” as illegal, ineffective, counterproductive, and wrong.
Weiser’s article also notes that torture may in fact work against prosecutions. An alleged Libyan al Qaeda operative tried to suppress his confession by claiming he had been tortured and coerced by the CIA into waiving his Miranda rights.
And while delays and uncertainty have plagued the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, civilian courts have had no problem locking up terrorists.
So the next time you see the good guys on TV using torture to save the world from the bad guys, know that the good guys might actually be a lot more successful if they skipped the torture and induced them to talk.