Torture & confession

Historically, torture seems to have been used in many judicial systems to get confessions from suspected criminals. I wonder why this is? Sure, many in a position of power might have just done it because they are sadistic, but traveling through Europe and learning about it’s history I’ve found that pretty much all of the countries used torture to get confessions in criminal cases, so there must have been more behind it?

Apparently, people were so convinced that this “tactic” was reliable that it was institutionalized. How the hell could they think that torture would bring out reliable confessions, as the tortured subject would say they did it just to make the torture stop? What kind of mental gymnastics did they do to delude themselves into thinking they care about finding out the truth and employ this completely unreliable tactic at the same time?

They assumed that if they had arrested someone, then that person had to be guilty. The confession was mostly for the paperwork.

Let me preface this by saying that I am against torture especially when done by the state (see * below ).

But I don’t accept that torture is unreliable. Torture is a tool of limited ability, it is designed to break a person and have them submit to you. Once a person is broken, which is a judgement call on the part of the torturer, you must realize that and go accordingly. Also some people’s breaking point you may not be able to reach.

  • The state may not have so much of a interest in finding the guilty person as finding someone they can punish AS the guilty person, which torture would be a perfect tool to get someone to accept blame, which also preserves the power of the state by showing that they can find and punish people who violate the laws the state imposes. So having torture available is very useful perserving state power.

Your OP is misplaced, The fact that torture is mostly highly unreliable has been known for millennia. The Corpus Juris Civil of the Roman Emperor Justinian greatly restricts it. In various Continental European jurisdictions, torture was not legalized until a papl Bull of Innocent III, and even that was limited to heresey. Indeed, higher Church Authroities and Courts of Appeal where they existed usually limited the application of torture. A priest writing in sixteenth century Spain observing tortures, noted that the results that were claimed by proponents were highly dubious and subjective. A person who gnawed teeth during torture was said to have been laughing (and hence in league with the devil) a woman who was shouting no, no was asked whether she followed Christ and her mindless mutterings were held to have been a confession. For an excellent summation, read Sdakat Qadris book The Trial.

Torture as a tool for getting information is poor. It is far better as a tool for political repression.

Google shows no relevant results for sdakat qadri the trial, or for the alternative spelling it suggests. Any pointers?

Try ‘Sadakat Kadri’

Torture has never been considered a reliable means of extracting information. It has always been used to punish and terrorize.

It seems to me that those in power have always had more interest in punishing people than in finding the guilty party. They reason that people see the punishment; they don’t see the guilt. Furthermore if you don’t concern yourself with guilt, you can simply punish a member of the underclass or someone who represents a threat to your power.
For those not in power, seeing people punished (generally in a very public manner) provided a comforting illusion of order. We live in a world where some god rewards good actions and punishes bad ones.

Surely it has limited application (not that I support it). If you can’t find the body, you can torture someone into revealing the location. If he gives you 8 false locations, then maybe he is actually innocent. Chances are, he’ll start talking.

It doesn’t work for things that aren’t immediately verifiable.

You could torture the subject mercilessly until he breaks and tells you something – anything.

This could provide information that you could then follow up on – Like names of co-conspirators, location of the body or other evidence. This then gives the investigator some more avenues to look into.

If you have multiple subjects, you could check their reliability by comparing their statements to see if they are reasonably consistent with one another. If not, torture them some more until they tell consistent stories.

This all assumes, of course, that the inquisitor is actually interested in getting to the truth.

If the subject is, in fact, innocent (or otherwise doesn’t have the information being sought), then he could end up being tortured endlessly and mercilessly for nothing. This requires the investigator to simply not give a shit, and tough shit for the subject.

Of course, as numerous posters above have already commented, getting to the truth isn’t actually the goal in most cases.

Civil rights lawyer Alan Dershowitz has argued the case that torture should be allowed in specific limited cases (mainly in “ticking bomb” scenarios, I think), but it should be handled like police searches of private property: Specifically, it should be allowed but only with a warrant from a court, a “torture warrant”, analagous to a search warrant.

Here is one such essay:

He also mentions this in this book “Chutzpah!” and I’m sure he discusses it elsewhere too.

Dershowitz is a well-known and influential civil rights advocate. But he is also an Orthodox Jew, with very strong feelings about protecting Israel and about the Arab / Israel conflict in general, and about the terrorism that is so rampant in that region of the world. His ideas about torture warrants seem to have evolved out of his admittedly conflicted thinking on those topics.

No. Those are two different things. If you torture the guy long enough, he will tell you that the Virgin Mary herself conspired with him to commit the crime. That is unreliable evidence. He will simply tell you who you are looking for.

But the location of a body is verifiable. It’s there or its not. He will eventually give up the location of the body to make the torture stop, because if he keeps telling you bad information, you will come back and torture him more.

*Note, I only agree with torture in the “ticking time bomb” scenario and no other. But for these very limited types of inquires, torture certainly works. Surely the inquisitors were just sick bastards that wanted to justify what they were doing.

Dershowitz is a civil rights lawyer? I’ll admit I known little about the man except that he is a noted Torture Advocate as you point out. I shudder to think of him as a civil rights supporter.

The argument he gives is misplaced for several reasons.

  1. The ticking time bomb senario is quite clearly the worst situation to use this. All an individual has to do is delay the interrogators long enough. Send them on a plausible wild goose chase.

  2. It presupposes far too much. The LEAs are apparently competent enough to learn of the plot and it’s master mind, but not skilled enough to discover what the target is?:dubious: So it presupposes that there is a plot and the target actually has that information, which inn real world scenarios, you rarely know at the start the exact extent of an individuals knowledge, you might suspect something,you need to confirm it.

  3. Torture warrants? What next, a domestic violence warrant? I mean after all we all know people for whom a smack three would be highly beneficial. Should judges sign off on applications by husbands to give their wives six of the best with a cane, because he is satisfied that it would be in her best interests? A warrant permitting a belting for being casual in taking prescription drugs? There are somethings that law should not condone.

-In the Gulag Archipelago ,a prisoner admits to plotting with Cardinal Richlieu, and they wrote it down on his form.
-That’s pretty funny when you think about it.

People use torture because they’d rather get a tidbit of information rather than nothing at all. You might not immediately know whether this information is valid, but just getting a bit of information that might be true is perhaps more satisfying than getting only silence.

The purpose of torture is to get a confession. It does not have to be true. They just have to have legitimate grounds to carry out the sentence… It’s the same mentality as the show trials in the old Communist countries. Officialdom wants to display incontrovertible proof to the public that they did the right thing in executing A or imprisoning B.

Whether they are guilty or not is irrelevant. In a non-free state, the trial or confession is just to cement the already-decided fate.

Most of the times,in a politcal trial,the main person (if not all associates) was guilty as sin. The purpose of the torture, confession and trial was to showcase power and the undesirability and consequences of opposing the status quo.

… and how do we know this ?

Except they won’t, because they’ll be getting crazier and crazier. They quite possibly won’t even know the right answer anymore - torture can distort the memory - and may well no longer be coherent.

Not really. You are more likely to torture someone who doesn’t know where the bomb is into giving you false information, and then come back and torture him again and again than you are to find the actual bomb. There’s also the problem that torturers are monsters, and they’ll torture their victims again again out of malice or sadism regardless of either innocence or cooperation.

And there’s the more basic problem that if you are torturing people, then you deserve to have the bomb go off.

Historical analysis. Guy Fawkes was found on top of gunpowder. Mary Queen of Scots and her associates did in fact attempt to overthrow Elizabeth I. Henrys VII ministers who were parted from their heads by Henry VIII was certainly guilty of what he accused them.