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The “Barbaric” Visigoths

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

Thanks to the September 11, 2001, atrocities, some Americans began to accept a practice previously considered barbaric; thanks to John Yoo and the Bush administration, that practice became something American military and “intelligence” organizations did. Torture.

The moral aspects of the issue convince me that good people do not use torture. But, apart from concerns of justice and principle, there’s a big hurdle: unreliability. Torturers rarely retrieve good information.

Under torture, victims will say almost anything; even the innocent fabricate confessions to stop the pain.

Economist David D. Friedman recently discussed one “ingenious, if imperfect, solution to the problem in what is apparently the oldest surviving Germanic law code,” that of the Visigoths: The judge compels the accuser to describe the crime in detail and in writing, and makes sure this information is not told to the person about to be tortured. If, under torture, the victim confesses with the appropriate detail, then he’s considered guilty. But if he confesses without the appropriate detail, then the accuser is himself tortured.

What’s good for the goose. . . .

On Sunday, viewers of CBS’s 60 Minutes took a gander at Jose Rodriguez, the CIA official who says he’s proud of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” he oversaw, and not ashamed of his destruction of the 92 tapes of those interrogations. It was a bizarre interview, at the very least not “enhanced.”

Amy Davidson, writing for The New Yorker’s online site, argues, “There is much evidence to suggest that Rodriguez and others are simply lying when they claim that the torture produced reliable intelligence.”

I’m no expert, but I’d bet a solidus she’s right.

The solidus, in case you were wondering, was a coin used by the Visigoths.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.