Thursday, May 12, 2005

Thought Experiment on Torture

(via Sebastian Holsclaw)

George Mason University economics professor Tyler Cowen explains why legalized torture is such a bad idea:

Let us say that you have been captured and threatened with torture. You are, for whatever reason, entirely willing to betray the information you hold. Your primary goal is to avoid pain, and perhaps you positively want to squeal. How should you present what you know? I see a few options:
  1. Break down immediately, beg for mercy, humiliate yourself, and spill the beans. (If you talk right away, will they torture you anyway? And since no further good information can be offered why should they stop?)

  2. Go in acting tough, really tough. At the first sign of serious pain, start crying and switch to strategy #1.

  3. Wait until they apply their "best shot" torture, and then talk. They will feel they have done their job and stop.

  4. First offer (or make up) compromising information to show your disloyalty to the cause your torturers are fighting. Your confession will then be more credible.

  5. Say you don't know anything, try to fight the torture, but break down when you can't stand it any more. You can't fool them, so the best you can do is to actually "go through the wringer." You are stuck in the pooling equilibrium, and trying to deviate only makes you worse off.

Which of these is the most credible signal that you have told all you know?

It's all very well to talk about the hypothetical "ticking bomb" in which torturing a terrorist will save countless lives, but how much more likely is it that torture would be used on the innocent?


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