Does torture work?

I have posted on this before but it has now become More topical after the report on the activities of the CIA so I thought I would do another post on the same subject.

The CIA report raised several issues.

1. Is it ever right to use torture?
2. Does torture work?
3. If it is wrong to torture but torture does work then is it right to torture when both the following conditions hold
a) the person tortured has forfeited the right to normal civil liberties by being a terrorist.
b) by the use of torture you prevent a greater evil such as a terrorist attack. That is by using torture you are committing the lesser of two evils.
4. If the above holds, is it right to torture without the knowledge and approval of those on whose behalf you are torturing.

I don’t want to comment on this issue as such but look at the Athenian view.

Their view is that
It is never right to torture a citizen or a free man. (I don’t know whether this applies to war).
Torture does work.
It is always right to torture slaves. Their view is that slaves will only give true evidence under torture. Evidence given by slaves not under torture is inadmissible.

I have just read the speech of Lysias “The murder of Erastothenes: Defence”. This gives an example of the casual use of torture of a slave.

The background to this is that Euphiletus has killed Erastothenes because he has found him in flagrante delicto with his wife. Athenian law allowed you to kill the seducer if you caught them red-handed in the act. Before that, when his suspicions had been aroused, he had planned to torture his wife’s maid servant to get the story out of her. In the end the threat of torture was enough. He was quite entitled to torture her even though she was not the guilty party.

ἐλθὼν δὲ οἴκαδε ἐκέλευον ἀκολουθεῖν μοι τὴν θεράπαιναν εἰς τὴν ἀγοράν, ἀγαγὼν δ᾽ αὐτὴν ὡς τῶν ἐπιτηδείων τινὰ ἔλεγον ὅτι ἐγὼ πάντα εἴην πεπυσμένος τὰ γιγνόμενα ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ: ‘σοὶ οὖν’ ἔφην ‘ἔξεστι δυοῖν ὁπότερον βούλει ἑλέσθαι, ἢ μαστιγωθεῖσαν εἰς μύλωνα ἐμπεσεῖν καὶ μηδέποτε παύσασθαι κακοῖς τοιούτοις συνεχομένην, ἢ κατειποῦσαν ἅπαντα τἀληθῆ μηδὲν παθεῖν κακόν, ἀλλὰ συγγνώμης παρ᾽ ἐμοῦ τυχεῖν τῶν ἡμαρτημένων. ψεύσῃ δὲ μηδέν, ἀλλὰ πάντα τἀληθῆ λέγε.’

When I got home, I told the maid servant to follow me to the market place and bringing her to one of my friends I said to her that I had found out about everything that was going on in the house. “You”‘ I said “can make one of two choices, either be whipped and thrown into a mill and never stop being subjected to such pains, or by telling the whole truth not to suffer any pain but rather have my forgiveness for what what you have done wrong. So don’t lie but tell the whole truth”

On the other hand, Aristotle gives a different opinion about how reliable evidence produced by torture is which differs from that of Lysias above and Demosthenes and accords more with the modern day view.

αἱ δὲ βάσανοι μαρτυρίαι τινές εἰσιν, ἔχειν δὲ δοκοῦσι τὸ πιστόν, ὅτι ἀνάγκη τις πρόσεστιν. οὔκουν χαλεπὸν οὐδὲ περὶ τούτων εἰπεῖν τὰ ἐνδεχόμενα, ἐξ ὧν ἐάν τε ὑπάρχωσιν οἰκεῖαι αὔξειν ἔστιν, ὅτι ἀληθεῖς μόναι τῶν μαρτυριῶν εἰσιν αὗται,
ἐάν τε ὑπεναντίαι ὦσι καὶ μετὰ τοῦ ἀμφισβητοῦντος, διαλύοι ἄν τις τἀληθῆ λέγων καθ᾽ ὅλου τοῦ γένους τῶν βασάνων: οὐδὲν γὰρ ἧττον ἀναγκαζόμενοι τὰ ψευδῆ λέγουσιν ἢ τἀληθῆ, καὶ διακαρτεροῦντες μὴ λέγειν τἀληθῆ, καὶ ῥᾳδίως καταψευδόμενοι
ὡς παυσόμενοι θᾶττον. δεῖ δὲ ἔχειν ἐπαναφέρειν ἐπὶ τοιαῦτα γεγενημένα παραδείγματα ἃ ἴσασιν οἱ κρίνοντες. δεῖ δὲ λέγειν ὡς οὐκ εἰσὶν ἀληθεῖς αἱ βάσανοι: πολλοὶ μὲν γὰρ παχύφρονες
οἱ καὶ λιθόδερμοι καὶ ταῖς ψυχαῖς ὄντες δυνατοὶ γενναίως
ἐγκαρτεροῦσι ταῖς ἀνάγκαις, οἱ δὲ δειλοὶ καὶ εὐλαβεῖς πρὸ τοῦ τὰς
ἀνάγκας ἰδεῖν αὐτῶν καταθαρροῦσιν, ὥστε οὐδὲν ἔστι πιστὸν ἐν

Aristotle Rhetoric 1.15.26

Torture is a form of witness and seems to have an element of trust because it includes the use of force. It is not difficult to say about torture what spin can be put on it – if it’s in your favour you talk up its benefits as being only true form of evidence and if it’s not but serves the the person you are in dispute with, you could demolish it by telling the truth about the whole subject of torture. For even when people are under compulsion they still tell lies rather than the truth either by having the endurance not to tell the truth or by easily being ready to bear false witness to stop the torture quicker. You should refer to the examples when this has happened which the judges know. One has to say that evidence from torture is not true. For many people are stubborn minded and thick skinned and are able to gallantly endure the use of force while the cowards and the cautious are strong willed enough until they see the torture. So that there is nothing trustworthy in evidence produced by torture.

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