Monday, June 27, 2011

The Logic Behind why Torture is an Ineffective Interrogation Tactic

One question over the last decade since the beginning of the war on terror (the undercase is intentional) is whether or not torture should be used against captured terrorists. Due to the lack of direct nationality association for most terrorist a number of individuals believe that the provisions of the Geneva Convention do not apply to these individuals when captured. Any lingering morality concerns could be explained away through utilitarian arguments (the provided information will help many more individuals at the expense of physically and/or mentally injuring one person) or nationalistic arguments (these individuals are have declared war against us thus they are our enemy and deserve no quarter). Thus with no international legalities or moralities to prevent the act of torture itself, to these individuals the issue entirely involves the usefulness of torture in an interrogation environment.

The goal of interrogation is to extract accurate and useful information. With this goal in mind it is important to understand that there are two types of prisoners that can be captured: one who is utterly loyal to the particular cause whatever it may be (some could regard these individuals as fundamentalists) and one who is loyal to the particular cause due to some conditional element (money, kinship, etc.). For the purpose of an analysis with respects to the goal of interrogation it makes sense to define a best case and worse case scenario to determine the usefulness of torture on both prisoner types.

For the utterly loyal prisoner it stands to reason that success of the cause is the only important result, whether or not the individual is alive to welcome that success to reality is of secondary concern, (being alive to see it may be preferred, but not required). This attitude typically makes up the mindset of martyrs. With this attitude in mind it is rational to expect that from the interrogator’s perspective an utterly loyal captive will not give up any information that would prove detrimental to the cause. Therefore, the best case scenario emerging from torturing this type of individual is that the individual does not divulge any information and the worse case scenario is that all information given is either false or irrelevant.

A torture based interrogation of a non-utterly loyal individual is more interesting because there is a chance that the prisoner may talk, however the reliability of that information is certainly questionable. For non-utterly loyal individuals it is appropriate to move from the interrogator’s perspective to the prisoner’s perspective relative to the nature of the interrogation because as previously mentioned utterly loyal individuals have only one perspective. For the prisoner he/she is being tortured to give up information, so saying something should stop the torture session for a given time period. For the moment suppose that the prisoner gives up accurate information that is detrimental to the cause he/she is supposed to be supporting. After giving up this information the torture session is ceased and the information is checked and/or acted upon.

The best case scenario for the prisoner in the ‘accurate information’ scenario is that when the information is confirmed as accurate and is used to damage the opposing side the prisoner will no longer be tortured for the duration of his/her captivity because he/she has provided a honest exchange with his/her captors. Any expectation of release is not rational based on two reasons; first it does not make sense for an opposing party to release a captured enemy during an ongoing conflict unless required for some form of negotiation or prisoner exchange. Second if the individual is willing to give up accurate information under torture it makes that captive a valuable commodity, especially if more information is thought to be required in the future, which it almost always will be. Related to that second reason for not releasing the prisoner, the worse case scenario for giving accurate information is a higher probability to be tortured again because accurate information was given during the first torture session. If the point of the torture is to acquire accurate and actionable information it is very probable that the worst case scenario will win out much more often than the best case scenario for the prisoner.

Suppose the prisoner gives inaccurate information that will either be detrimental to the torturer’s cause or simply be of no consequence. The best case scenario for the prisoner is that because the information is inaccurate the prisoner is considered an unreliable source of information for the remainder of his/her imprisonment and is not tortured further. The worst case scenario is the prisoner is tortured again, not to extract information but as punishment for providing false information.

For summary purposes the best and worst case scenarios for each situation are shown below.

Truthful Best Case =
No further torture and damage to the captive’s cause;

Truthful Worst Case =
Greater torture than average and damage to the captive’s cause;

Non-Truthful Best Case =
No further torture and no damage to the captive’s cause with potential damage to captor’s cause;

Non-Truthful Worst Case =
Greater torture than average and damage to the captive’s cause with potential damage to captor’s cause;

After outlining the best and worse case scenarios it is important to rationally determine which of the scenarios is more probable. As previously mentioned there is little point in determining the probability for the utterly loyal captive because from the captive’s perspective the only outcome that matters is not revealing any information that would be detrimental to the cause, therefore the interrogator’s actions are irrelevant.

In the case of the non-utterly loyal captive giving accurate information the worse case scenario seems more probable because if the goal is to acquire accurate and relevant information why would captors deny themselves a proven avenue to continue to achieve that goal. Now it can be argued the frequency of the torture may change in order to ensure the psychological stability of the prisoner, but arguing a general cessation of torture in such a situation does not appear to be valid.

In the case of the non-utterly loyal captive giving inaccurate information determining the more likely scenario is dependent on two factors: the temperament of the captive and the temperament of the captor. If the captor is inherently savage or views the group represented by the captive as such then the worse case scenario of torture for punishment sake is more probable using the guise of ‘information extraction’. If the captor is not savage or is concerned about the treatment of any of their potential prisoners then the best case scenario of no future torture is more probable.

Therefore, from the prisoner’s perspective with the only major difference between the best case scenario for accurate information vs. inaccurate information being whether or not damage is done to the cause the prisoner support combined with a higher probability for the best case scenario when giving inaccurate information vs. accurate information it stands to reason that a prisoner should either give inaccurate information over accurate information when tortured. If this logical deduction holds then from the captor’s perspective engaging in torture for the purpose of extracting accurate and usable information is a futile effort and may even damage the cause.

Overall based on the characterization and basic personality traits of individuals that would be eligible for torture, the act of torture itself in interrogation does not appear to be beneficial on a logical perspective towards achieving the overall goal of extracting accurate and useful information.

Monday, June 20, 2011… the right strategy?

The glaring problem with seems to be too much of a passive stance. If the point of is to create a global environmental movement to combat climate change it makes sense that recruiting individuals who are not inherently of like mind (already environmentalists) would be a priority. Unfortunately the site does not appear to carry the requisite excitement and interactivity to drive this type of recruitment. This lack of drive is especially prevalent with almost all of the ‘projects’ at being some form of petition. Accompany those petitions with a single global event which seems to get less and less global mainstream media attention with each passing year and it is difficult to see sustainable progress. Without driving excitement among all parties the same names will appear on each petition heavily reducing its effectiveness. Why not introduce a wider range of scheduled events like:

1. There are some high-quality and informative flyers available on the website, but they do little good sitting on the website waiting to be found. Why not promote a type of ‘Post a flyer somewhere in your town’ day where members post one of the flyer in their town in a public legal location which can create more attention for both the climate and the organization without relying on the internet.

2. A T-Shirt Design Contest to develop a wide variety of clever and interesting ways to further promote the organization and what needs to be done to address climate change. Sadly the available t-shirts for sale on are mediocre conversation starters/attention grabbers and do not convey any real message.

3. A once per week (or every two weeks) instruction video (including archive) visually documenting how to do some form of pro-environment action (like composting, proper inflation of tires, installing a low-flow aerator, how to effectively recycle electronics, etc.) One could argue that these resources already exist, for example on youtube. However, there is a question of quality (clearly everything on youtube is not optimized or even correct whereas on quality can be assured. Also forcing people to search through multiple search strings is clearly not practical for those that are not very committed to helping the environment in the first place.

4. A raffle filled with items that either help conversion to a low emission environment (solar panels, coupons for a free energy efficiency audit, etc.) or fun pro-environment events (celebrity tree planting, personal meeting with head of environmental group x, etc.)

If wants to reach its goal of establishing a living environment with a CO2 concentration of 350 ppm or less then it needs to be more assertive. There are a number of positive ideas out there, not simply those listed above, and yet seems to plod along only attempting a small amount of what is needed.

Letter to Carbon Tax Proponent

Dear Carbon Tax Supporter:

How exactly do you envision a carbon tax and dividend system operating? In previous papers it appears that you and those that agree with you argue for a monthly equally divided distribution among all adults with all children receiving ½ of what an adult receives. Most proponents argue that this dividend should significantly reduce the regressive nature of the carbon tax seeing that the poor spend a higher percentage of their money on energy and food (the price of which will also increase under a carbon tax).

This belief seems unsound because that type of carbon tax may be even more regressive than people think. For some reason proponents seem to take the attitude that the status quo will remain in that those with higher wealth will always be contributing a larger proportional percentage to the total carbon tax revenue. This reasoning appears flawed for due to the high capital costs associated with reducing one’s carbon footprint (buying solar panels, electrical vehicles, increasing home efficiency etc.), which can be more easily purchased by the rich over the poor. When faced with a permanent and significant new cost associated with energy consumption, it seems rational that the rich would change energy mediums as soon as possible to reduce the total amount of money they need to pay, especially if it is to the ‘big evil government’.

If this carbon tax increases over time (which it very probable to have any significant effect at reducing carbon emissions), then it becomes even more regressive relative to time in a duel manner. Not only does the tax increase provide greater negative impact against those with lower probabilities of emission reduction (the poor), but because the rich will also progressively lower their carbon emissions, through the purchase of the aforementioned high capital products, the volume and magnitude of those taxed will be reduced and with it the total amount of the dividend distributed from the carbon tax.

In addition the monthly payout schedule seems detrimental to the poor because of the lack of scale capital available to make those capital intensive purposes. For example suppose a family of four (2 adults and 2 children) receives 9,000 dollars in dividend (3,000 + 3,000 + 1,500 + 1,500) over the course of a year, but that dividend is split into twelve $750 monthly payments. It is difficult to imagine a family saving a vast majority of that money over the course of a year when still having to paying increased prices on electricity, gasoline and other energy because they do not have the funds to avoid these fees with significant difficulty by changing their medium of energy acquisition. This rationality seems almost parallel with school vouchers and the erroneous belief that those vouchers actually offer a real level of school choice. Overall with this concern a lump-sum payment at the beginning of the year of 9,000 dollars may be a more practical payout schedule to drive emission reduction in the middle and lower economic classes.

One concern to the above proposal could be the question of whether individuals will make wise consumer choices with such a lump sum of money. However, the nature of the dividend program must be to grant these individuals the opportunity to make choices that will reduce carbon emissions, it is not the obligation of the program to make these decisions for them.

Finally current analysis from the Climate Justice Project of the best empirical model, the carbon tax in British Columbia, has concluded that the poor have born more than their proportional share of the burden from the tax. Overall either this analysis is in error in some manner or proponents need to reevaluate how they present a carbon tax and dividend system. So what is your opinion on these potential concerns?

Note that this is not opposition to the idea of a carbon tax, but instead taking issue with the lack of details provided by almost all current carbon tax proposals.