The essay isolates our assumptions about torture and provides a bit empirical grounding for a debate that has been largely theoretical.
I begin the piece by identifying widespread belief in what I have the termed the “torture myth” — the idea that torture is the most effective interrogation practice. Rather than continuing to believe in the torture myth, I argue that as part of our evaluation of the merits of torture, we should take a shrewd look at the quality of information brutal interrogations produce. In reality, as I describe in the essay, in addition to its oft-acknowledged moral and legal problems, the use of torture carries with it a host of practical problems which seriously blunt its effectiveness. The essay demonstrates that contrary to the myth, torture, and the closely related practice of torture “lite,” do not always produce the desired information. Moreover, in the cases in which they do produce such information, these practices may not produce it in a timely fashion.
In the end, the essay concludes, any marginal benefit these practices offer is low, because traditional techniques of interrogation may be as good, and possibly even better, at producing valuable intelligence.