While waging war against terrorism, President Obama has opened a second front on torture.
“I’m going to make sure that we don’t torture,” he promised in a campaign speech, adding that this personal commitment is “part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world.” Two days after his inauguration he kept his promise.
As a public speaker and a sometime speechwriter, he has already rescued the English language from further torture by his predecessor. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to prevent the Bush administration from labeling the often brutal post-9/11 interrogation of captured terrorists an “enhanced technique.”
George Bush described such enhancement as “one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror. “He neglected to add that torture, mental or physical, most frequently ends up with someone saying or signing whatever the torturers want to be said or signed.
Or some prisoners simply make up an answer—anything to alleviate the fear and stop the pain.
According to experts, accurate information is hardly ever obtained through torture, particularly from folks who would be perfectly willing to die if they could take some of us with them. So, aside from the moral issues it raises, torture simply does not work.
Still, like it or not, intelligence gathering by means of interrogation is a vital wartime function. And being humane about it should be an all-the-time function. So how about replacing torture with what is commonly referred to as truth serum? It’s painless and it can be made to work.
Granted, the Supreme Court decided in 1963 that a truth serum-induced confession was unconstitutionally coerced. In the wake of 9/11, the court conceded that terrorism might call for “heightened deference to the judgments of political branches with respect to matters of national security. Finally, a Bush-era pronouncement that can be put to good use.
Look at it this way: The September 11 attack involved 19 men who were able to kill some 3,000 people in a matter of hours. Why ignore anything that might help us get information needed to prevent another group of suicidal nut cases from trying to stage a 9/11 sequel? Including a fast-acting truth serum.
Exactly what are we talking about when discussing “truth serum?” First of all what it’s not is a foolproof interrogation tool. But, unlike torture, it can work.
The “serum” is actually a barbiturate which, when injected, slows down parts of the brain that control anxiety and inhibition. Ideally, the person receiving the shot becomes a bit tipsy but calm, lucid and quite talkative. Under these conditions, a trained interrogator can steer conversation toward answers to life-and-death questions of the moment.
Problems arise when the amount of barbiturate injected is more than the person can tolerate. Then you have what amounts to a falling-down drunk on your hands, slurring words and eventually passing out.
The key to extracting needed information is to figure out the level of barbiturate required to keep the subject awake, alert, uninhibited and speaking coherently.
Then take your best shot. It won’t hurt. But it certainly can help.