JOANNE MYERS: Good afternoon. I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs. On behalf of the Carnegie Council, I would like to welcome our members and guests, and thank you for joining us.
Today we are very pleased to welcome Darius Rejali to the Carnegie Council. Because the subject of torture is on many people's minds these days, especially since President Bush just last week vetoed a bill that would have outlawed the harshest interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, extreme temperatures, and electric shocks, we are delighted that Professor Rejali is here to give us a comprehensive view of this issue, as he discusses latest work, Torture and Democracy.
For a very long time, Western democracies have upheld the international ban on torture and have publicly criticized governments that violate it. Although many choose to believe that torture was only a tool of dictatorships, you may be surprised to learn that as the 20th century progressed, many democracies became quite adept in engaging in the systematic infliction of physical torment on detained individuals. In fact, according to our speaker, many common torture techniques in use today either originated in democracies or reached their most characteristic form in that context.
In Torture and Democracy, Professor Rejali describes various torture techniques that democracies have pioneered, and he identifies what factors shaped the diffusion of torture methods in different types of political systems. He points out that one of the unintended consequences of democratization is that torture, rather than being eliminated, has become harder to identify and to document. He refers to this as "stealth" or "clean" torture, in that it leaves few marks.
Since much of the discussion about torture is often based on myths and misconceptions, our speaker decided to clarify the realities of the subject, and in so doing, he has produced what are actually three books in one: a historical encyclopedia, a social scientific analysis, and a policy book. So complete is Torture and Democracy that it has been referred to as the most compendious and the most rigorous treatment of the subject to date. Simply stated, it is the definitive study on this topic.
Darius Rejali is an internationally recognized expert on government torture and interrogation, who has spent his scholarly career contemplating violence, specifically reflecting on the causes, consequences, and meaning of modern torture in our world. In 2003, he was selected as a Carnegie Scholar by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which has, since 1999, launched major efforts to support developments in Islamic and Muslim communities.
Professor Rejali's written work appears regularly in such places as Time magazine, Slate.com, Salon.com, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. In addition, he is a frequent guest on ABC News, CNN, Court TV, and NPR.
His books include Torture and Modernity: Self, Society, and State in Modern Iran and the forthcoming Approaches to Violence, which will be published later this year.
Currently, Professor Rejali teaches political science at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.
As phrases such as "waterboarding" and "extraordinary rendition" have darkened our vocabulary, while names like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have become emblematic of our fears about the world and what we have become, I have no doubt that when the history of our times is written, America's relationship to torture will be a most important subject, as this debate goes to the essence of who we are as a nation and as a people. When you find yourself hotly discussing this issue, Torture and Democracy is the one book you will want to have close at hand.
Please join me in extending a warm welcome to the author of this book, our guest today, Darius Rejali.
DARIUS REJALI: Thank you.
This subject is unpleasant. I know that. People are usually about as happy to see me as they are happy to see their dentist. They know they have to come to see him. He sometimes has useful information for them. I have cousins who are dentists. They know what this problem is.
I'm not showing you pictures. I'm not going to tell you about horrible things. This isn't that kind of thing. I'm a social scientist. I have resisted the temptation for a long time to come forward and work with the press or do all these things, because basically I need to complete my research. I'm not the kind of person who likes to run out there and do things and get the press. Hey, I teach at a small liberal arts college; I have tenure; I'm just going to take the time it takes to do it right.
Let me just tell you a few things about the book. I'm supposed to speak for a half-hour.
I should just admit to you that I have a problem, which is that typically I have three balls that I juggle and it's kind of hard for me to do all three of them in 30 minutes. But I will try. One of them is, where is the demand for torture in democracies? Where is the supply? Where do the techniques come from? Lastly is the "does it work" question, which everybody wants to know.
I know that some people in this audience were at Intelligence Squared on Tuesday night, so you will hear the back-and-forth on that when that DVD is finally available. I will be repeating a bit what I said there, but, obviously, I can go into it in greater length.
Let me briefly say a few things just to set this up.
One of the things is that Torture and Democracy begins by observing that we sometimes say, why is torture still happening in democracies? At least for me, when someone asks why something is still happening, it means there is something wrong with the way we remember our history. And there is something wrong with the way we remember our history. In fact, democracies have always tortured. There is a long history of this. The Greek and the Roman republics tortured. The Roman judges all used a whipping device called a ferula, which is a long, flat whip, which they passed on to the Catholic Church, which then passed it on to generations of English schoolchildren, and they passed it on to the Canadian prison system, in which it was still legal up until 1972.
I want you to understand that these things have a history.
The Florentine and Venetian governments, Renaissance republics, also tortured. They were Catholics. They used inquisitional techniques, too. The French, the English, and the Americans all tortured in their colonies. Some of you may have seen the New Yorker article on the Philippine insurgency from last week, where they talked about American troops. The British certainly did it in their mandates and Palestine, and the French did it in Vietnam.
American police also use torture, in small and large cities in the United States, including electrotorture, water torture, drugs, various sorts of things.
So none of this is particularly novel. I just want to be clear how deep our amnesia goes sometimes. Whipping was actually legal as a form of punishment in the United States in two states, Maryland and Delaware, up until 1961. The last case was a case for wife beating, which was 10 lashes at Red Hannah in Delaware.
This is all happening within our lifetimes, these changes that we are talking about. Part of this is our history that we have kind of chosen to forget, in some interesting ways.
What I would like to talk about briefly, then, is where we get our amnesia from. Part of this is clearly World War II. If you turn to the back of the book, there is a poster that I found in the Archives from World War II. It's a wonderful poster. It was very hard to find the original. It says, "Torture is the method of the enemy. We fight to build a free world." It really captures the ethos of what we came out of World War II believing. Indeed, we came out believing that torture was something that authoritarian states did—Nazis, Stalinists, those kinds of people.
There were good things and bad things about this. On the positive side, what this drove us to thinking about was, how do we make a better world? How do we have a world without torture? The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights—extremely important for the world—opened up a whole new possibility of human rights monitoring. Then, locally, many professional police moved forward to clean up their act and to get better policing at home as well. So many of the outrages that happened in the early 20th century more or less disappeared.
On the bad side of this is that we developed a kind of amnesia, which was, no one on our side had ever tortured, because being a winner was all about being morally pure. That was unfortunate, because that was kind of the way in which torture finally found its way into our system.
Before I go on and talk a bit more about the demand side, I want to say two more things.
First of all, as a social scientist, I'm not really interested in whether you call what I'm about to call torture, torture, not torture, muffin stuff, tough stuff—it doesn't matter to me. I am an empiricist. So what I'm interested in is a set of practices.
The practices I'm interested in are practices where four things happen. There is a person who is a state official, who is, in some sense, responsible for the occasion—a designated state official. Secondly, the person on whom he is practicing is helpless and detained, unable to move. Thirdly, the practice that he is using is for the purposes that the state has specifically authorized him for—intimidation, confession, or information. Lastly, the technique that he uses is painful.
I don't care what you call this. But we want to know the history of these practices, whatever you want to call them. Call them muffin stuff, as I say. It doesn't matter.
The history of torture is part of the broader history of cruelty. Obviously, these two have a connection. But I'm just interested in the causes of that particular set of practices, the supply and the demand, and whether they work and what their effects are. That's what the book covers. It's extremely narrow. I'm sure you are all going to ask me about psychological coercion, sexual coercion, all those other things. I'm happy to tell you their relationship to this, because it's a very complicated field. But that's what I'm studying right now.
The other thing I want to tell you is that, much as I am going to say some bad things about democracies, I want you to appreciate and understand that the authoritarian record on torture is so much worse. It is simply incomparable to what we do or what we have done.
The point I'm trying to make is that it's not that democracies have no history of torture; it's just that they have a different history. The history is something that we need to remember, because part of what our societies are about is about being aware of the abuse of political power. Ultimately, torture is a real threat to democracy. If we forget that component of it, we forget what, in fact, the project of democracy is all about, which is to create limited government, to have respect for minorities, and to have dignity in relation to strangers. The more we let torture be involved in this system, the more the project gets imperiled. That's an important part of the story I want to tell.
Let me tell you a bit about the demand. I'm sure the first thing you are thinking to yourself is, national emergencies, that's when democracies all end up going to torture, when there is a real important national emergency. Actually, that's about a third of the cases. Two-thirds of the cases have nothing to do with national emergencies. There are a couple of reasons why torture happens in the absence of the national security model, if you want to call it that.
The first is when torture is a local arrangement between the businessmen, the homeowners, and the police. They just want the streets clean. They don't care how. They just want people pushed out of the way. They just want a lot of order. That's all they want.
When I gave this talk just about two weeks ago in Chicago, when I got to this point, I just said, "And, of course, for you guys, all I need to say is Jon Burge." And everybody went, "Oh, yeah, Jon Burge." I said, "Fine. Let's move on."
But I know you don't know Jon Burge. You don't know the Chicago torture scandal and the fact that the city is paying out $20 million, and that's just the beginning of a disastrous story.
The story of Jon Burge: Mr. Burge was a decorated Vietnam veteran who entered the Chicago police force in 1972. He rose to be the second-most powerful policeman in the city. He was charged with South Chicago Area Two and then Area Three, which was north, which was Evanston. It has now been documented, after a series of major government probes, that Commander Burge and about 50 to 60 detectives under his command coerced confessions from suspects in numerous cases repeatedly from 1972 to 1994.
For those of you who may remember this, Governor Ryan, the Republican governor of Illinois—who also now resides in prison somewhere—at the time, had suspended all the death penalty cases. The reason he did was that, basically, at a certain point, it became clear that so many confessions on death row had been tied to detectives who had been tied to Commander Burge that it was impossible to tell who truly should be there and who shouldn't be there. The $20 million settlement was just for the first six people released from death row. But there are hundreds of other cases that Chicago is going to face in the next year.
This is truly one of America's biggest torture crises. I wouldn't want to suggest that this is happening everywhere. But this is an example that I could repeat from Rio, from Moscow, from Johannesburg, from Mexico City. This is a very typical way in which torture enters democracies, not because of a national emergency or a perceived threat, just because local people turn a blind eye to the injustices of the world in which they live.
But there's another reason that torture also appears in a democracy. It has to do with characteristics of the judicial system. We know, for example, that torture is highly correlated with long-term detention powers given to the police. The longer the police can have you in their custody without having to show you to a judge, the more likely it is that torture is going to appear in the system. So if you have a police, like the Japanese police, that can arrest you on a charge for 24 days and then release you and then arrest you again for that charge for another 24 days and another 24 days and another 24 days, until you actually finally come to terms with the fact that you are going to have to confess, that will bring torture into the system.
Another thing that can certainly trigger the process is a judicial system in which juries and judges value confessions a great deal. Again, the Japanese system is a particularly interesting one in this respect. Across all crimes, in Japan, 86 percent of all crimes in Japan end with a full confession by the accused. That's huge. In our country and in England and France, it's between 30 and 40 percent. That's a cultural disposition. There are a lot of reasons why the Japanese value confessions. But one of the things that happens is, when you combine confession with long-term detention, torture happens. The Japanese Bar Association has found a number of cases, starting from the 1970s, where this sort of thing happens.
But I wouldn't want to suggest that we are particularly immune to this value of confession. Saul Kassin, who works at Williams College, has been doing some magnificent work on how ordinary juries perceive confessions. The truth of the matter is, even when, in the experiments that he runs, the juries are told:
- (A) "This confession is coerced," and it's obvious that it's coerced;
- (B) They are asked, "Do you know that it's against the law to take this into consideration when you make your decision?" and they all say yes;
- (C) When they say, "Did you consider this?" they say, "No, we never considered this."
When he runs the experiments and he does the stats, it's unquestionable: People trust confessions even under those circumstances. They can't help themselves.
That's all I'm going to say about the demand side.
So we have national security, we have local, we have judicial systems, and there is one last way in which torture comes to democracies. That is soldiers coming back from war. When you have been an MP [Military Policeman] in Vietnam, when you have been an MP in the Philippines, and you come back, what kind of job are you going to look for? Guess what? Private security at your building, some kind of job in the police force, that sort of thing.
We all know waterboarding. We all know it happened in the Philippines. We just don't know how it came here. It isn't that someone brought it back to Langley and put it in a box. What happened was, these soldiers from the Philippine War all came back and they all took up jobs as police; waterboarding appeared all across the American South and in the military lockups between 1902 and 1920. That's how waterboarding became as prevalent as it did in the United States.
This gets into subtleties that you may not want to know, but it replaced ducking, which was a more traditional American water torture. Ducking was legal in the United States. It was for nagging women. You could actually be convicted for being a scold. They would tie you to a chair and dump you into the water. The last person who was actually ducked in the United States—it happened right close to here, over in Jersey City—her name was Mary Brady, and she was ducked in 1891.
Ducking is a very old English Puritan punishment. It survived for a long time. But it was replaced by waterboarding, as these soldiers came back.
So part of the history of torture—it's amazing how our world keeps on shifting and changing. Commander Burge's detectives, those who allegedly did the kinds of things that he is accused of doing, used techniques that were well-known in the Mekong Delta in 1963 to 1965.
I hate to say this, but practically speaking, torture basically throws a 20-year shadow if you use it in a war. Domestic stuff goes out; war stuff comes back. This isn't just us. The French had this, too. We all think of electrotorture as being something tied to the Nazis. Actually, the French developed the signature form of electrotorture, the magneto, in Vietnam in 1931. It was passed on to the Gestapo by a member of the Vichy police, a man by the name of Pierre Marty, who was colonial governor of Tunis, in 1943, and then it moves north from there.
Torture comes home. That's the really important point to recognize. Torture doesn't need a passport. It doesn't need to recognize the difference between domestic and international.
One of the reasons you might want to buy my book, then, is that it might be useful to use sometime in the next 20 years. I hate to be funny about this, but, in certain ways, we are going to have a crisis because so many of our soldiers now are going to come back with this kind of history. And that's a really bad thing.
Let me turn to supply. I'm sure you all think that torturers are abnormal persons; they are kind of weird. You should go out for a beer with one of them from time to time. I have. They are really nice people. You can't imagine that they would hurt anybody. In fact, I have friends who actually meet Greek and Brazilian torturers and interview them, and the story is always the same: Organizations that go to coercion don't want sadists, because sadists don't listen to the rules. They get a little too carried away. They want organization people; they want ordinary people. People are chosen for this activity because they are loyal, not because they have a particular predilection for pain.
The other part to recognize, then, is that not only are they normal, torture is really a craft. It's like any other kind of craft that deals with the body. They have traditions that they pass on to each other through apprenticeship. One of the things that the book covers is all these different kinds of traditions. Again, to use an analogy which I think is fairly accurate, torture is like massage and tailoring. Swedish replaces Reiki or something like that. There are also other kinds of traditions of that sort.
To prove the point that I'm about to make about supply, I should begin by saying that 12 years ago I began on the nearly impossible task of trying to map out where every single modern torture technique has come from over the last 200 years. That was a really silly thing to try to do. But thank goodness the school and everybody else was behind me and letting me do my obscure work, at a time when absolutely nobody was interested in torture.
It was very, very difficult work. There is no book out there that says, "Here's Gestapo torture from 1933 to 1945." No such thing exists. There are lots of reasons. If you go to the Holocaust Museum and you talk to them, they will tell you: The Gestapo headquarters was destroyed; all these documents were lost; the collaborators made sure that a lot of papers were lost. There are a lot of things that you can't find.
The only way you can do this is if you read all the survivor stories of the Resistance by year, by time, by place, and then map them on this gigantic Excel chart. I actually have this gigantic Excel chart. I can tell you where every technique and thing happened over a long period of time. It's really unpleasant to try to figure out why leg clamps only happened in northern France from 1942, all the way to Norway, to 1944. But I can tell you this. I'm just trying to give you a sense of the degree of precision of my data, so that you understand what I'm about to tell you.
The main result of my data is roughly this: Very few techniques that we now consider to be modern are actually techniques that came from Nazi Germany, the Stalinists, or from anything before. There are a few exceptions. Waterboarding, yes, the Spanish Inquisition. I'm sure you have heard this. But let's be clear. In the old days, when people wanted to torture you, they wouldn't use tepid water; they would boil you. Tepid water is a practice of Catholic priests who have a kind of peculiar feeling about blood, and also there is a sort of baptismal ritual and practice that goes with this. Some interesting work has been done in this area.
So these were niche practices, which have become incredibly common.
Out of all of this a weird pattern emerged. The pattern was something that drew my attention to both democracy and human rights monitoring as being surprisingly the main forces that changed the character of torture in the 20th century. Let me explain why by taking a step back and describing to you two types of techniques: clean techniques, as you have described, techniques that leave few marks; and scarring techniques, techniques that leave marks, like leg clamps. They will break your legs.
The interesting story is that leg clamps are declining. No one has recorded the use of a leg clamp for over 40 years. They have disappeared.
On the other hand, clean techniques are spreading, and they are spreading in very predictable and cultural styles. There are two, as I said, cultural styles of modern torture that are very common. The first one, which you see in the movies a lot, is what I call "French modern"—not only in furniture and clothing, but also in torture. It is the classic combination of electricity and water, and when you put them together— the French are the ones who pioneered this. They did this in 1931 and passed this on.
The second is "Anglo-Saxon modern," as I like to call it. It's a combination of sleep deprivation, stress positions, exhaustion exercises, and sometimes a little water torture on the side. This stuff is very old. It comes from three sources. One is forbidden British and French military punishments. Another source is American police and prison practice in the 19th century. Lastly is the global slave trade.
You might think, "Wait, wait. Global slave trade, that makes no sense at all." Slaves were all about whips, and that meant leaving marks and so forth. Yes, if you owned a slave, but not if you were trying to sell a slave. Marks on a slave reduced the price of a slave. So slave dealers developed a niche market on cleanness. These techniques were also tied to nautical techniques, because on a ship captains couldn't maim their sailors. When you are thousands of miles out at sea, it's kind of foolish to whip someone to the point that they can't do anything.
So a lot of these clean techniques had very niche components. What is peculiar is that they have become much more common in the 20th century. And they are not psychological techniques. Sleep deprivation isn't depriving you of your naps. We know a lot about sleep deprivation, and not because people study torture, but because psychologists have been interested in you guys because you all don't sleep very much. You work for many hours. We are interested in the physical and psychological effects of sleep loss.
One of the things we know about this process is that sleep deprivation aggravates all the joints in your body. If you don't sleep very long, your feet will start killing you. The pain will start in your feet and then it will rise all the way up until your entire body is really aching. It also makes your body incredibly sensitive to pain. That is to say, if I touch you or if you feel any kind of excessive heat, that hurts even more when you are sleep-deprived, which is why torturers often combine it with regular techniques.
There is a logic to this. But it would be silly to call this stuff psychological.
Why is this stuff valuable and why is this stuff spreading? The answer is that basically allegations of torture are simply less credible if there are no marks. If there is less to see and there is no pain to see, it's just really hard for you to make any kind of judgment about this stuff. That's why these things start happening, first in democracies, then in the world globally.
In democracies, we have the press and human rights organizations and so forth. Basically, when we were watching, the police got sneaky. In the 1960s, as a global human rights monitoring system began to spread, so too did these clean tortures, and authoritarian states started becoming cleaner, too. They all wanted their big foreign aid bill to pass Congress, and they knew that a bad human rights record was going to hurt that. So cleanliness started spreading.
The big example I use in the book is electrotorture. Electrotorture is a very, very hard technique—I know you all think it's the ultimate modern technique. Yes, but it's actually not a really smart one to use. First of all, high amperage will kill you. In execution, that's fine. In torture, that's a bad idea, because if the guy dies, you get no information, no confession, and there's a problem. The other thing that torture does—believe it or not, your muscles contract, and someone who receives a high amount of electrotorture can't open his jaws, because the muscles contract. So torturers actually have to punch you really hard so you can start talking after electrotorture. It is not the kind of thing that you would use if you wanted to get information.
Before 1960, only, I would say, nine countries in the world used electrotorture. After that, every decade, electricity doubles in the number of countries using it. Here the contagion effect is fairly obvious. The claim that I make repeatedly in the book is that this often has to do with the fact that as you get increasing monitoring, these countries all want to be cleaner.
I will just end with one thought. Obviously, I didn't get to the question of whether it works or not. I'm happy to talk about that. But I will tell you one thought to end with, which is hopeful.
It's really not hard to stop torture. Let's be clear about this. It doesn't take a lot of effort. There are about five very basic steps that any organization can take to clean up its act. It's governmental will to change and want to implement those five steps. That's the critical thing. When governments aren't willing, then there can be no internal monitoring.
Then it falls to the human rights organizations to do the external monitoring. Sometimes they are successful, and authoritarian states and democratic states have stopped torturing. Sometimes they are not, and they get sneaky. Sometimes the human rights monitoring regime falls apart completely, as it did in the old Communist bloc, and people go back to the scarring techniques.
We will know how bad the situation is if, for example, whipping gets to be vogue again.
But the good news is this. So far, it seems, torturers like to be clean. That's important, because it means that they care what you think. It means that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and your church group—you may not think they are effective, but they do. They worry about these people. It's important that you recognize that if there is a chance of a world without torture, these organizations are the important organizations that can get us there.
If you want further evidence of this, one other thing to think about is that doctors have become far more important as torture has become cleaner, because they can now identify things that you and I can't see. That's important. But as doctors have become mobilized in the world to become torture monitors, basically, and human rights abuse monitors, the torturers kill them. They wouldn't bother to kill these doctors if they didn't think that they were catching something.
So I would like to be clear about this. In fact, there is a reason for hope that everything we have been doing can produce a world without torture. But certainly we have every reason to worry. If indeed the monitoring systems that I have just described break down, then we go back to what we had in the 19th century. And that won't be fun for anyone, either domestically or internationally.
Thank you so much.
Questions and Remarks
QUESTION: I would appreciate your comments on the efficaciousness of torture.
DARIUS REJALI: It's amazing how much I have to remember to give these talks. I know a lot of horrible stuff, and I have to figure out how to tell you this stuff in ways that don't really scare you.
It certainly scares my mother. She says, "How do you remember all this stuff, dear?"
I say, "You have no idea how much I look forward to Alzheimer's." It is in our family.
I really know a lot of horrible stuff. What I'm about to try to tell you is, in part, something I said at Intelligence Squared, because that debate was all about whether torture works.
Let me just say, first of all, that there's torture talk and there's torture. The torture talk that you hear on both sides is storytelling—it worked for me, it didn't work for me, and what is or isn't torture. I hate torture talk. I know there are going to be lots of graduate students out there who are going to write huge dissertations on "The Discursive Change of the American Torture Debate." I can see this now. But that's not what I want to talk about.
I want to talk about the actual practice, no matter what you call it.
The other thing I want to be clear on is, I want to be safe, and so do you. Really, what this debate is about is being safe and what good counterterrorism policy is. It's not about torture. We all want good counterterrorism policy. We want it done in the most professional way possible. For that reason, I think the question is, is good counterterrorism policy good torture?
For me, the answer is very clearly no. But you don't have to take my word for it. First of all, let me begin by giving you a quote from the Japanese Kempeitai, the fascist military police during World War II, who tortured for interrogation. We got their manual in 1943 in Burma. This is what it said, and I quote: "Torture for gathering intelligence is the clumsiest method and it is a way the prisoner makes a fool of you."
These are not people who are afraid of torture. Why would they say such stuff?
There are a lot of stories we could tell, I know. I'm going to give you a story, too.
About two years ago, I was giving one of my talks and a World War II veteran came up to me and he said, "When I was in France, we caught this German soldier and we put a knife to his throat. We said, 'Where are the other soldiers?'"
I said, "Did you get good info?"
He said, "Yeah, sort of."
I said, "I'm very glad for you. I really am. I sincerely am, because, frankly, if you had gotten bad info, you'd be dead."
The problem is that everybody who knows that torture doesn't work is dead. Those who say that it works are the ones walking around saying, "Hey, it worked for me." This is what in social science we like to call a biased selection sample.
Don't trust the stories. The stories really don't mean anything. The real thing is to try to get data from the best studies that you have. Actually, surprisingly, we have a few really remarkable cases where we have the statistics. At Intelligence Squared, I couldn't use all the ones that I wanted to use. But I will share this one.
In the Project Phoenix database, which the CIA gathered in its most professional way—it hasn't released any of the written documentation, but, for some very foolish reason, they released all the data cards. Remember all those little punch cards we used to have, where you made all sorts of things in elementary school, like Christmas stars and things like that? They released the entire torture interrogation database of the Hoang project, which has now been digitized and we can actually study it. What I'm about to tell you is actually based on a variety of work that has been done for some time.
In these cases, armies that used torture to gain information, in the best possible way, tried to get suspects that they thought were really possibly, potentially, the bad guys. They only got to their best results when they had arrested somewhere between 8,000 and 20,000 people, and tortured all of them or most of them. In this best-case scenario, it turned out that, when we looked back at the real data against what had happened, they tortured 20 to 78 innocent people for each bad guy they got—20 to 78 innocent people for each bad guy they got.
There are psychological and biological reasons why this would be true. This is the historical data. If you do a Bayesian analysis—I won't even bother to explain that—it would predict that this would be exactly, more or less, what it is—game, set, match. That really is what it is. For one accurate piece of info you have to torture thousands of innocents. Even if you are professional about it, this is wholesale business; this is not retail business. A ticking time bomb, single things—that's not the way this stuff goes down.
Does this work? Again, as a social scientist, it's not my job to be a moralist. But I will give you the opinion of the professional Gestapo. In 1942—this is another case we know a great deal about—the Czech resistance assassinated Reinhard Heydrich, the Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, now the Czech Republic. Hitler wanted results. He didn't really care how. He said, "Get these people. I don't care how many bad guys you get. The gloves are off." They caught all three of them, but to do that they arrested, tortured, and killed 7,545 people, including annihilating the villages of Lidice and Ležáky.
They also got about 100 resistance members, which they weren't looking for. So you can add that to the plus pile, if you want. But it's still really lousy results.
That's more or less what we know from the Battle of Algiers. I'm sure you have all seen the movie. Don't believe a word of it. Anytime the Pentagon starts watching Marxist nationalist movies to see if it can actually get accurate info, this is a problem. I'm happy to tell you about what's wrong with the movie. It's a fascinating movie. It has nothing to do with the reality of the Battle of Algiers.
In the middle of all this hunting around and the Gestapo going through all these communes, there was a guy by the name of Heinz von Panwitz. He was a career Gestapo officer, but he was also a career policeman. He was head of the anti-sabotage unit at Prague. He came in and said, "Don't be stupid. Depend on public cooperation. Build up a rapport. Put out a reward." They got over 1,000 tips. In fact, what really broke the case and revealed the Czech resistance was when a man by the name of Korda, a member of the Czech resistance, betrayed the entire operation. He walked into the door of Gestapo Central. He wasn't tortured. He lived well. He collected a huge reward. In the end, he was shot for treason after the war, in 1947.
The professional Gestapo knew how to do its business. It repeatedly decimated the resistance in Europe by infiltrating it with informers and public cooperators in France, in Denmark, in Poland, Norway, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Russia, even in the concentration camps. The reason that they turned to torture, as any Gestapo historian knows, was that they lost so many of their seasoned pros during the course of the war. Eventually all they had were these young guys with whips. These guys didn't bother to learn the basics of policing.
So there was a huge de-professionalization effect. That actually happens repeatedly whenever you have torture. This is not a new phenomenon. I'm happy to show how that happened in the Battle of Algiers and a few other things.
So the bottom line is, when you don't have public cooperation—and we have American studies that have shown this, too—the chances that a crime will be identified or solved falls to 10 percent, no matter what else you do, even when time is short. I know you have heard the ticking time bomb stories and so on. But public cooperation is really powerful, even under those circumstances.
July 21, 2005, seven guys got on buses with ticking bombs, and the British police got all of them in 10 days, and the ticking time bomb that was lying in the bushes outside of Brixton Prison. The big break came when Muktar Said Ibrahim's parents turned him in, when they saw his face on the security video. Would they have turned him in, these loyal British Muslims, if they knew their son was going to be tortured by the British police? The answer is, obviously not.
Torture doesn't just get you bad intelligence, which is what I have told you, getting all these innocents in the process. It also destroys the only thing we really know is effective, which is public cooperation. Public cooperation, rapport building, is so strong that it can break the bond between parent and child, which is surely among the strongest bonds we know.
So I just want to be clear about this. I'm not going to tell you whether it works or it doesn't work. I have just given you the data. I'm just telling you that basically we have really good options. There are people who have been al-Qaeda hunters all through the 1990s—Jack Cloonan and so forth—who have used this profoundly and effectively. Breaking into a terrorist organization is like breaking into the mafia. They are fish that swim in the sea. You have to push them out. The only way you can do that is with the people.
QUESTION: I just read recently, in asking you if techniques are changing—I think it was Iran, with the reporter, where they said they would seize her mother's house if she didn't come clean or something. Is this a new form of torture?
DARIUS REJALI: It's not for me. It's a form of psychological coercion, which is definitely another part of this.
One of the interesting things that has happened in Iran—there are so many interesting things that happen in Iran. As you know, I'm Iranian, and, of course, I have a long and interesting history with that country.
When I first went back in 2001, I said, "Will they arrest me?" I wrote this big book on torture in Iran.
My friend Ali said, "Oh, Darius, don't be so worried. There are 100,000 people in line in front of you. Your name's on a list, but they'd have to throw all these other people out."
I said, "Thanks, Ali, that was good."
So I went to Iran and I had a really good time, three months there. They knew who I was. They kind of figured it out. They wanted to use me and all these other things, too.
I went back in 2005, six months after Ahmadinejad was elected. I was somewhat more nervous at that point. I finished this book in my great-grandmother's bedroom in Tehran. I carefully shredded all the drafts before I left.
I just want to be clear that I go back and forth.
The one thing that I want to say is that recently, as you know, they arrested Haleh Esfandiari, and she put up her house. Haleh is a friend of mine. They arrested Ali Shakeri, and he's a friend of mine. I called up my friend, Ali, and I said, "Look, they got to 99,998. I'm next, right?" These are people I know.
The Iranian system used to be very vicious in terms of whips and electricity and all these other things. Now they are much more interested in forced confessions of the Stalinist style, where somebody gets up on television and says, "I did these things. I used to be a communist, but now I've seen the light," or some version thereof. These techniques are clean. In fact, the Persian word for clean torture is Shekanjeh-e Sefid, "white torture."
Here is a more social scientific point: Torture doesn't usually change in the context of war, because people are too insecure to think these things through. They are afraid of throwing away a tool that may or may not be useful to them. Torture changes during periods of stability, when people have a chance to take a look back and ask, did we really have to do it this way? Could there have been a different way of doing it?
My hope is that in the next four or five years, we are approaching a point where we can actually take a look at that question again.
QUESTION: Can you think of any circumstances in a national emergency where torture might be justified? Let me just cite a quick hypothetical example.
Suppose the New York police department learns of three al-Qaeda people with a suitcase bomb coming into the United States, and they pick up one or two of them. They don't know where the third man is with the bomb. You have an imperative there.
DARIUS REJALI: Yes, and I understand the ethical—again, we can get into the ethical argument about this. But let me just put it this way. You wouldn't want to make that a torture policy. This is why we have jury nullification. Jury nullification is our policy, basically.
Can you imagine a situation where your wife is ill and is in tremendous pain, and you have to kill her? Can you? Yes, it's possible. You could. Then you go and stand in front of a jury and you say, "I did this," and no jury will convict you—unless, of course, you wanted the inheritance.
The same thing is true for torture. If you actually did this—and this is what I really dislike about this argument—first of all, you should be prepared to go to Leavenworth if you didn't do this properly. You should spend 30 years in Leavenworth if there was no reason, just as if you did this to get your wife's inheritance. You should go to jail for a very long time.
Instead, what I find is that all the CIA guys have liability insurance in case they are sued. They know that there isn't an emergency going on here.
The other point I would like to make about this—and I think it should be kind of straightforward—is that torture is not a regulatable process. One of the things that Torture and Democracy shows is that, even if this argument is true, it can't support the argument for regulating or legalizing torture. It just is an argument for the extreme end exception. To prove the rest of it, you would have to actually have proof—look at the data—that, in fact, torture can be regulated.
Can it be? That's a really empirical question. It's a very useful one. I'm happy to investigate it. I know all the data. This is what it turns out to be.
Torture has three slippery slopes; not one, but three slippery slopes. The first is that the number of victims that it's limited to—extreme cases, whatever—starts expanding.
Second, the number of techniques that are approved starts expanding, for a variety of reasons having to do with the pressures of time and worry and all these other things. People say, "Why should I stick to this? I'm not going to stick to the regs." They are the Jack Bauers of this world. They are not going to bother.
Lastly, organizations that torture and have regulated torture typically become less responsive to centralized authority. They simply become less accountable.
I was the last person in the world to be surprised that the CIA destroyed its videotapes without any legal permission. That is what happens when you allow an organization to torture. It becomes very worried about its own security. It becomes much less responsive to the people at the top.
All three of these slopes happen whether it's domestic torture or international torture. What happens in international torture, particularly in the context of war, is that these slopes become much slicker. They become much slicker for reasons that will become obvious. You need flexibility in counterinsurgency, so groups are separate from central command. You are dealing with fuzzy contexts, where you can't tell enemies from soldier combatants. Safety requires that you treat a person as an enemy unless they can prove they are your friend.
Basically, the ticking time bomb example, even if it is true, doesn't prove what its proponents want it to prove, which is that we should institute or regulate torture. All it can prove is something we all knew, which is that when anybody in America does anything bad, they stand before a jury and make their case. If they are wrong and if they lie, they go to jail.
What I dislike is when we get a culture of irresponsibility, where basically people say, "If I had good intentions, I should get off the hook."
I have students here. They all had good intentions when they were working for me, so they all deserve A's, right? No. It's what you do that really matters.
Torture still is a crime, but it's excusable under certain circumstances. For that, you don't need a policy. You just have jury nullification.
QUESTION: Concerning your two illustrations of why torture doesn't work, the second, being that the family member connection will prevent turning in a relative, is very understandable.
The other one—forgive me if I'm missing something—the notion that the Gestapo would kill 7,000-plus people to get three horrifies us. So does torture. From the Gestapo's point of view, it did work, surely. Seven thousand innocent victims were lost. So what? They got the three.
You touched again on this in your slippery slope, again indicating that it was a negative as far as torture is concerned.
So what am I missing?
DARIUS REJALI: I'm happy to get into that one. You're right. Here is the question in terms of genuine intelligence. Why was Panwitz upset? is another way of putting that question. What was the real problem, from Panwitz's point of view? After all, Hitler should be satisfied.
The problem is this. In war, you have limited resources and you have a selection problem. You have all these terrorists or guerillas hiding in a population. However you select these, you are going to get a lot of false positives. That's inevitable. The question then is, what's the fastest way that you can clean the false positives out of your system? What is the most efficient and effective way?
Panwitz's view was that if you tortured all of them, what would happen is that you would increase your numbers of false positives and waste resources. From his point of view, what inevitably happens is that—and believe me, we all know this—we all have neighbors whom we dislike. If you want a credible name, then I'll give you my neighbor Jack. Who knows? He could be al-Qaeda. He's a little suspicious.
One of the things we find—and Stathis Kalyvas has shown this regularly—is that whenever there is some group around who is willing to torture, there are lots of people who are willing to turn in their neighbors, not because these guys are al-Qaeda, but because they don't like them, and—who knows?—they need to give an answer. So what happens is that the number of false positives in your system starts going up.
The British, of course, discovered this wonderfully in the first six months of the Troubles. Basically, the number of false positives that they started getting doubled, tripled, quadrupled, and a huge number of resources were being wasted on this.
There are really two problems here. One is, how can you reduce the number of false positives going into your system? Second, what kind of interrogation system should you use that will reduce the number of false positives instead of increasing them?
You can't reduce the number of false positives going into your system in war. War is a messy business. Soldiers arrest people. They do all sorts of stuff. But if you torture, you just compound your problem.
The correct way—and I think the British actually demonstrated this magnificently during World War II—is that you do what we call cognitive interviews, what lawyers would call giving people Geneva rights or Geneva III rights, or whatever. Why is this important? Three reasons, actually. And they are all very practical.
The first is that giving people rights allows you to get innocents out of the system. It gives them a chance to prove the case that they weren't there and flushes your innocents out.
Secondly, it allows the cooperative witness to come forth. There are people who want to make a deal within your prison population. They know they're caught. They know there is no easy way out. But they are not going to talk if you are going to torture them. My favorite one is one of Jack Cloonan's guys. He went to Osama bin Laden and said, "My wife needs a heart operation. I did some good work for you in East Africa. We did those embassies, remember? It was good."
Osama said, "What am I, a welfare operation? Go away."
So he came to us. He said, "Will you pay 500 bucks for my wife's operation?"
Jack said, "What will you give me?"
He said, "I'll give you the phone number in Sana'a where they give all the orders."
We got that. We handed this over to the CIA. That was the phone number where the CIA recorded the names and the planes of the 9/11 people, which never got to central authorities.
You want the cooperative witness to come in, and if you are torturing, it's not going to happen. Panwitz wanted Korda to walk in the door.
It's not so much that torture never works. The point is, works better than what? The "what" on this side is this other process. The hostile person that you have in your system—and that's a serious problem, I agree, the person who doesn't want to cooperate—there, I think, there is another set of particular things that we can do. One of them is, by handing someone a defense attorney, basically what you do is you allow a third party to come in and make a deal, to basically say, "They've got you dead to rights on this. You're going away for a long time. Now make a plea."
This is a kind of negotiation process which the FBI has gone through with mafia people forever. It's extremely effective. It works.
So the question about torture is not, does torture work? The question is, works better than what, with limited facilities, for your taxpayer money? My answer is, social science has already settled this question. It really has. Torture is not the answer to this question.
JOANNE MYERS: Darius, I thank you very much for a very timely discussion.