Virtually all of the top interrogation experts – both conservatives and liberals (except for those trying to escape war crimes prosecution) – say that torture doesn’t work:

Army Field Manual 34-52 Chapter 1 says:

“Experience indicates that the use of force is not necessary to gain the cooperation of sources for interrogation. Therefore, the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.”

• The C.I.A.’s 1963 interrogation manual stated:

Intense pain is quite likely to produce false confessions, concocted as a means of escaping from distress. A time-consuming delay results, while investigation is conducted and the admissions are proven untrue. During this respite the interrogatee can pull himself together. He may even use the time to think up new, more complex ‘admissions’ that take still longer to disprove.

• According to the Washington Post, the CIA’s top spy – Michael Sulick, head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service – said that the spy agency has seen no fall-off in intelligence since waterboarding was banned by the Obama administration. “I don’t think we’ve suffered at all from an intelligence standpoint.”

• The CIA’s own Inspector General wrote that waterboarding was not “efficacious” in producing information.

• A 30-year veteran of CIA’s operations directorate who rose to the most senior managerial ranks (Milton Bearden) says (as quoted by senior CIA agent and Presidential briefer Ray McGovern):

It is irresponsible for any administration not to tell a credible story that would convince critics at home and abroad that this torture has served some useful purpose.
This is not just because the old hands overwhelmingly believe that torture doesn’t work — it doesn’t — but also because they know that torture creates more terrorists and fosters more acts of terror than it could possibly neutralize.

• A former high-level CIA officer (Philip Giraldi) states:

Many governments that have routinely tortured to obtain information have abandoned the practice when they discovered that other approaches actually worked better for extracting information. Israel prohibited torturing Palestinian terrorist suspects in 1999. Even the German Gestapo stopped torturing French resistance captives when it determined that treating prisoners well actually produced more and better intelligence.

• Another former high-level CIA official (Bob Baer) says:

And torture — I just don’t think it really works … you don’t get the truth. What happens when you torture people is, they figure out what you want to hear and they tell you.

• Michael Scheuer, formerly a senior CIA official in the Counter-Terrorism Center, says:

“I personally think that any information gotten through extreme methods of torture would probably be pretty useless because it would be someone telling you what you wanted to hear.”

• A retired C.I.A. officer who oversaw the interrogation of a high-level detainee in 2002 (Glenn L. Carle) says:

[Coercive techniques] didn’t provide useful, meaningful, trustworthy information…Everyone was deeply concerned and most felt it was un-American and did not work.”

• A former top Air Force interrogator who led the team that tracked down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has conducted hundreds of interrogations of high ranking Al Qaida members and supervising more than one thousand, and wrote a book called How to Break a Terrorist writes:

As the senior interrogator in Iraq for a task force charged with hunting down Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, the former Al Qaida leader and mass murderer, I listened time and time again to captured foreign fighters cite the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo as their main reason for coming to Iraq to fight. Consider that 90 percent of the suicide bombers in Iraq are these foreign fighters and you can easily conclude that we have lost hundreds, if not thousands, of American lives because of our policy of torture and abuse. But that’s only the past.

Somewhere in the world there are other young Muslims who have joined Al Qaida because we tortured and abused prisoners. These men will certainly carry out future attacks against Americans, either in Iraq, Afghanistan, or possibly even here. And that’s not to mention numerous other Muslims who support Al Qaida, either financially or in other ways, because they are outraged that the United States tortured and abused Muslim prisoners.

In addition, torture and abuse has made us less safe because detainees are less likely to cooperate during interrogations if they don’t trust us. I know from having conducted hundreds of interrogations of high ranking Al Qaida members and supervising more than one thousand, that when a captured Al Qaida member sees us live up to our stated principles they are more willing to negotiate and cooperate with us. When we torture or abuse them, it hardens their resolve and reaffirms why they picked up arms.

He also says:

[Torture is] extremely ineffective, and it’s counter-productive to what we’re trying to accomplish.

When we torture somebody, it hardens their resolve … The information that you get is unreliable. … And even if you do get reliable information, you’re able to stop a terrorist attack, al Qaeda’s then going to use the fact that we torture people to recruit new members.

And he repeats:

I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

He said last week:

They don’t want to talk about the long term consequences that cost the lives of Americans…. The way the U.S. treated its prisoners “was al-Qaeda’s number-one recruiting tool and brought in thousands of foreign fighters who killed American soldiers.

• The FBI interrogators who actually interviewed some of the 9/11 suspects say torture didn’t work

• Another FBI interrogator of 9/11 suspects said:

I was in the middle of this, and it’s not true that these [aggressive] techniques were effective

• A third former FBI interrogator — who interrogated Al Qaeda suspects — says categorically that torture does not help collect intelligence. On the other hand he says that torture actually turns people into terrorists

• A declassified FBI e-mail dated May 10, 2004, regarding interrogation at Guantanamo states “[we] explained to [the Department of Defense], FBI has been successful for many years obtaining confessions via non-confrontational interviewing techniques.” (see also this)

• The FBI warned military interrogators in 2003 that enhanced interrogation techniques are “of questionable effectiveness” and cited a “lack of evidence of [enhanced techniques’] success.

• “When long-time FBI director Mueller was asked whether any attacks on America been disrupted thanks to intelligence obtained through “enhanced techniques”, he responded “I don’t believe that has been the case.”

• The Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously found that torture doesn’t work, stating:

The administration’s policies concerning [torture] and the resulting controversies damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.

The military agency which actually provided advice on harsh interrogation techniques for use against terrorism suspects warned the Pentagon in 2002 that those techniques would produce “unreliable information.”

• General Petraeus says that torture is unnecessary, hurts our national security and violates our American values

• Retired 4-star General Barry McCaffrey – who Schwarzkopf called he hero of Desert Storm – agrees.

• The number 2 terrorism expert for the State Department says torture doesn’t work, and just creates more terrorists.

• Former Navy Judge Advocate General Admiral John Hutson says:

Fundamentally, those kinds of techniques are ineffective. If the goal is to gain actionable intelligence, and it is, and if that’s important, and it is, then we have to use the techniques that are most effective. Torture is the technique of choice of the lazy, stupid and pseudo-tough.

He also says:

Another objection is that torture doesn’t work. All the literature and experts say that if we really want usable information, we should go exactly the opposite way and try to gain the trust and confidence of the prisoners.

• Army Colonel Stuart Herrington – a military intelligence specialist who interrogated generals under the command of Saddam Hussein and evaluated US detention operations at Guantánamo – notes that the process of obtaining information is hampered, not helped, by practices such as “slapping someone in the face and stripping them naked”.

Herrington and other former US military interrogators say:

We know from experience that it is very difficult to elicit information from a detainee who has been abused. The abuse often only strengthens their resolve and makes it that much harder for an interrogator to find a way to elicit useful information.

• Major General Thomas Romig, former Army JAG, said:

If you torture somebody, they’ll tell you anything. I don’t know anybody that is good at interrogation, has done it a lot, that will say that that’s an effective means of getting information. … So I don’t think it’s effective.

• Brigadier General David R. Irvine, retired Army Reserve strategic intelligence officer who taught prisoner interrogation and military law for 18 years with the Sixth Army Intelligence School, says torture doesn’t work

• The head of all U.S. intelligence said:

The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world … The damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security.

• Former counter-terrorism czar Richard A. Clarke says that America’s indefinite detention without trial and abuse of prisoners is a leading Al Qaeda recruiting tool.

• A former U.S. interrogator and counterintelligence agent, and Afghanistan veteran said,

Torture puts our troops in danger, torture makes our troops less safe, torture creates terrorists. It’s used so widely as a propaganda tool now in Afghanistan. All too often, detainees have pamphlets on them, depicting what happened at Guantanamo.

• The first head of the Department of Homeland Security – Tom Ridge – says we were wrong to torture.The former British intelligence chairman says that waterboarding didn’t stop terror plots.

• A spokesman for the National Security Council (Tommy Vietor) says:

The bottom line is this: If we had some kind of smoking-gun intelligence from waterboarding in 2003, we would have taken out Osama bin Laden in 2003.

• The Marines weren’t keen on torture, either

• As Vanity Fair reports:

In researching this article, I spoke to numerous counterterrorist officials from agencies on both sides of the Atlantic. Their conclusion is unanimous: not only have coercive methods failed to generate significant and actionable intelligence, they have also caused the squandering of resources on a massive scale through false leads, chimerical plots, and unnecessary safety alerts…Here, they say, far from exposing a deadly plot, all torture did was lead to more torture of his supposed accomplices while also providing some misleading “information” that boosted the administration’s argument for invading Iraq.

• Neuroscientists have found that torture physically and chemically interferes with the prisoner’s ability to tell the truth

• An Army psychologist – Major Paul Burney, Army’s Behavior Science Consulting Team psychologist – said (page 78 & 83):

It was stressed to me time and time again that psychological investigations have proven that harsh interrogations do not work. At best it will get you information that a prisoner thinks you want to hear to make the interrogation stop, but that information is strongly likely to be false.


Interrogation techniques that rely on physical or adverse consequences are likely to garner inaccurate information and create an increased level of resistance…There is no evidence that the level of fear or discomfort evoked by a given technique has any consistent correlation to the volume or quality of information obtained.

• An expert on resisting torture – Terrence Russell, JPRA’s manager for research and development and a SERE specialist – said (page 209):

History has shown us that physical pressures are not effective for compelling an individual to give information or to do something’ and are not effective for gaining accurate, actionable intelligence.

And – according to the experts – torture is unnecessary even to prevent “ticking time bombs” from exploding (see this, this and this). Indeed, a top expert says that torture would fail in a real ‘ticking time-bomb’ situation

Indeed, it has been known for hundreds of years that torture doesn’t work:

• In the ancient Far East, torture was used as a way to intimidate the population into obedience (rather than a method for gaining information)

• As a former CIA analyst notes:

During the Inquisition there were many confessed witches, and many others were named by those tortured as other witches. Unsurprisingly, when these new claimed witches were tortured, they also confessed. Confirmation of some statement made under torture, when that confirmation is extracted by another case of torture, is invalid information and cannot be trusted.

• Top American World War 2 interrogators got more information using chess or Ping-Pong instead of torture than those who use torture are getting today

• The head of Britain’s wartime interrogation center in London said:

“Violence is taboo. Not only does it produce answers to please, but it lowers the standard of information.”

• The national security adviser to Vice President George H.W. Bush (Donald P. Gregg) wrote:

During wartime service with the CIA in Vietnam from 1970 to 1972, I was in charge of intelligence operations in the 10 provinces surrounding Saigon. One of my tasks was to prevent rocket attacks on Saigon’s port.Keeping Saigon safe required human intelligence, most often from captured prisoners. I had a running debate about how North Vietnamese prisoners should be treated with the South Vietnamese colonel who conducted interrogations. This colonel routinely tortured prisoners, producing a flood of information, much of it totally false. I argued for better treatment and pressed for key prisoners to be turned over to the CIA, where humane interrogation methods were the rule – and more accurate intelligence was the result.

The colonel finally relented and turned over a battered prisoner to me, saying, “This man knows a lot, but he will not talk to me.”

We treated the prisoner’s wounds, reunited him with his family, and allowed him to make his first visit to Saigon. Surprised by the city’s affluence, he said he would tell us anything we asked. The result was a flood of actionable intelligence that allowed us to disrupt planned operations, including rocket attacks against Saigon.

Admittedly, it would be hard to make a story from nearly 40 years ago into a definitive case study. But there is a useful reminder here. The key to successful interrogation is for the interrogator – even as he controls the situation – to recognize a prisoner’s humanity, to understand his culture, background and language. Torture makes this impossible.

There’s a sad twist here. Cheney forgets that the Bush administration followed this approach with some success. A high-value prisoner subjected to patient interrogation by an Arabic-speaking FBI agent yielded highly useful information, including the final word on Iraq’s weapons programs.

His name was Saddam Hussein.

• Top interrogators got information from a high-level Al Qaeda suspects through building rapport, even if they hated the person they were interrogating by treating them as human

Postscript: Even if – despite the above – you still believe that torture produces helpful information, you should note that the U.S. government used Communist torture techniques specifically designed to produce FALSE Confessions.

Category: Think Tank, War/Defense

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

23 Responses to “Interrogation Experts From Every Branch of the Military and Intelligence Agree: Torture DOESN’T Produce Useful Information”

  1. Milo Minderbinder says:

    This post was torture. Unfortunately, in this day and age, under the government’s logic, it would be far more efficient to proceed right to bullets rather than stop at torture.

  2. wally says:

    And yet, America now tortures.

  3. Chad says:

    Thanks, again Barry. I don’t think it’s possible to repeat this too much. Sadly, we live in a world where beliefs dominate facts, so even a post like this that just lists a ton of facts will be ignored by believers.

  4. squire says:

    For something that does not work it sure seems to done alot by humans now and through the past…

  5. uncmed says:

    Chad Says:
    May 11th, 2011 at 9:34 am

    …even a post like this that just lists a ton of facts will be ignored by believers…

    Whether or not these people are right or wrong, these aren’t FACTS. They are opinions (not facts) quoted from people

  6. Lebowski says:

    Great post. Always good to have the facts collected and documented. I’m surprised you didn’t make any reference to Jane Mayer’s work:

  7. Chad says:


    There are plenty of facts there:

    - #1 reason they became terrorists and went to Iraq – fact
    - Quote from Donald P. Gregg – provided a story outlining how torture failed to get the information and how normal interrogation methods worked – fact
    - People confessed to being witches through torture – fact
    - Israel and one of the top tier evil states, Hitler’s Germany, stopped using torture – fact
    - The bottom line is this: If we had some kind of smoking-gun intelligence from waterboarding in 2003, we would have taken out Osama bin Laden in 2003. – fact
    - There’s a sad twist here. Cheney forgets that the Bush administration followed this approach with some success. A high-value prisoner subjected to patient interrogation by an Arabic-speaking FBI agent yielded highly useful information, including the final word on Iraq’s weapons programs. His name was Saddam Hussein. – fact

    Of course, not 100% of everything in that post is a fact. Some is opinion. But, at least the opinions are from people who have actually done this before. As opposed to “the lazy, stupid and pseudo-tough.”

  8. Dow says:

    Bob Baer – And torture — I just don’t think it really works … you don’t get the truth. What happens when you torture people is, they figure out what you want to hear and they tell you.

    If you stop and really think about it – the Bush administration wanted to hear that Osama bin Laden was no longer in charge. And then they just stopped looking for him. The only logical reason that I can think of for why they wanted to stop looking for bin Laden was they wanted to invade Iraq.

  9. dr_w says:

    Great post.

    The sad truth behind the “desire” to torture is that some wish to deliver pain and suffering to our “enemies”. This is why so many ignore or consider unimportant that torture does not provide reliable information. It is all about extracting revenge.

  10. jlj says:

    Of course torture works. Look at the historical evidence. If not for torture in the Middle Ages and by the Church and the Spanish, Europe would now be run by a bunch of witches and satanists!

    I propose a test. Let’s use waterboarding in the Republican primaries. Then we can tell if Mitt is pro choice or pro life, if Newt is a family values guy, if Paul really does have gold buried in his back yard and just what the other candidates actually believe. Although we might have to use tea instead of water…..

  11. Jack says:

    Where’s Cheney?

  12. • Major General Thomas Romig, former Army JAG, said:

    If you torture somebody, they’ll tell you anything.

    note, not the Source, the Tell..


    We act like this, only, the purview, of those that ‘Been there, Done that..’,or, worse, Ivy-covered Eggheads moldering in the ‘Ivory Towers’ ..

    Guess What? It ain’t that difficult..put yourself in that position(yes, metaphysically)..

    What would you Squawk? to make it Stop..?

    and, for you, addicted to *Tele-*Reality, yes, “Jack Bauer” is a Composite of ‘the Worst of Us’ (and, the Worst of the U.S.)..

  13. HKPomExpat says:

    I read a fabulous book called Task Force Black, by Mark Urban – go get a copy if you ca.

    It details how Petraus redefined the SAS’s role in Iraq. One of the key takeaways was that the intelligence they gathered very rarely came from torture. In fact the SAS would ‘interrogate’ people in situ. People were most vulnerable in the sate of shock, panic and confusion that ensues in the seconds that follow the moment a special forces soldier bursts through the window or door. Hold a gun to the persons head at that moment and they will more often give you what you need. Leave it any later and the moment is gone – so torture back at base provided very little actionable intelligence.

  14. jimc1004 says:

    When this issue first raised its ugly head I did a quick Google search and among the top couple of hits I found were a long paper written by an officer / professor at the US Army’s War College, and a quote from Napoleon.

    Both were absolute on torture not working. Enough said [but thanks for the Bibliography BR!]

    Torture is common despite not working [in the sense of information or intelligence gathering] because torture is about punishment and revenge and hatred. It dehumanizes both the tortured AND the torturer. It is the quick and cheap [and wrong] answer grabbed by creeps and thugs like Hitler or Saddam.

    Nice company for Bush and Chaney and Rummy to willingly and eagerly join.

    During Desert Storm Poppy Bush let the Generals run the show because he respected them, but W and Cheney and Rummy were corporate bullies who did not respect the military ["Everything is easy when you don't know anything"].

    This is a foul stain on our American ideals and values.

  15. victor says:

    Joseph Goebbels: If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. I see a clear tendency to politicize the issue of “enhanced interrogation” and to pin it on the bad guys, the Republicans of course. Some people just cannot help it! they MUST always second guess the pro’s in charge in the field. Now, even the Navy Seals are being second guessed: why did they shoot, why not just capture him, did they have an arrest warrant? How do we know they didn’t first rape the women in the compound, bludgeoned poor OBL to death then dumped the evidence? Kerry already made it clear that’s how the US military behaves….C’mon, the US water boarded 3 people with doctors present…they are continuing Enhanced Interrogations as we speak in Baghram, and with the help of our not so finicky allies. Above all, the word is out (from Leon Pennetta, Cheney’s will be labeled as self serving) water boarding DID help track down OBL, just stop second guessing for political reasons. One sunny day it’ll be discovered that this current Admin. simply used whatever methods of interrogation they deemed fit, including enhanced ones with all these nice guys whom bad US of A forced to become terrorists in their strict self defence you know. The backlash from the same ones who dumped on the Bush Admin. methods will probably be muted.

  16. DeDude says:

    But these are facts (blended with plenty of opinion from experienced experts). Don’t think for a moment that facts or the experiences of experts will change the opinions of Dick Cheney and his army of right wing BS artists. Because their opinions are not based on facts, they use gut feelings. And it just feels so god for the gut when someone you hate get tortured. Feels so much better than “actionable information”.

  17. DeDude says:


    The critical facts are: 1) when you break someone with torture they will say whatever they think will get you to stop the torture (and that is not necessarily the truth). 2) if your torture fail to break them, they will hate you and deliberately give you useless information. This does not mean that no useful information has ever been gained from a tortured person, just that the quality of information gained from a tortured person is of much lower quality than that gained if you had not tortured that person and instead used modern interrogation methods. That is the reason that almost all professionals eventually reach the conclusion that torture is a bad strategy for gaining actionable information.

  18. Domby says:


    Some people are not persuaded by facts.

    Just because you do not want to accept factual knowledge (in this case, ancient in the extreme) does not mean that it is a good idea to display your ignorance to the world.

  19. victor says:

    DeDude: and what are the “modern interrogation methods”? Please elaborate. “Torture doesn’t work” ? really?

    Domby: have you ever been tortured? Except for what you read what do you REALLY know about torture? Or are you just parroting a particular point of view that agrees with yours?

    Here are some FACTS from someone who was there: most interrogators KNOW when you’re lying; they want SPECIFICS about the subject (which they know a lot about in general terms from various sources) and they eventually will extract those specifics from you, be it by sweet talking or by other means. Your note about my “ignorance” is uncalled for, you don’t know me. When Francis Gary Powers took off on his ill fated flight in 1960 over the USSR the CIA operative in Peshawar told him: “Powers if you’re ever captured, don’t hold back upon interrogation, the KGB will get it all out of you anyway”. Then he said: “We know what you know and will immediately change the critical stuff so what ever you tell them wont harm us”. Draw your own conclusions but just stay civil.

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