The Spanish Inquisition and the learning curve

Empirical evidence on contemporary torture is sparse. The archives of the Spanish Inquisition provide a detailed historical source of quantitative and qualitative information about interrogational torture. The inquisition tortured brutally and systematically, willing to torment all who it deemed as withholding evidence. This torture yielded information that was often reliable: witnesses in the torture chamber and witnesses that were not tortured provided corresponding information about collaborators, locations, events, and practices. Nonetheless, inquisitors treated the results of interrogations in the torture chamber with skepticism. This bureaucratized torture stands in stark contrast to the “ticking bomb” philosophy that has motivated US torture policy in the aftermath of 9/11. Evidence from the archives of the Spanish Inquisition suggests torture affords no middle ground: one cannot improvise quick, amateurish, and half-hearted torture sessions, motivated by anger and fear, and hope to extract reliable intelligence.

Here is the full piece by Ron E. Hassner, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.


Greg Cochran has often said that the claim "torture doesn't work" is nonsense. If the torturers want to hear lies to justify a war, as happened with Iraq, then that's what they'll get.

@TGGP - you just contradicted yourself. And the OP is unreliable, since it depends on interpreting historical data which is sparse. In fact, it seems like projection of the author's own thoughts. Put another way: if lie detector tests can be fooled, what are the chances that some poor victim accused of being a witch is guilty?

Bonus trivia: Where in the world is Waldo? Nobody knows. They never caught Waldo,, despite torturing his followers into revealing his whereabouts.

It's not a contradiction. If you want valid info, you will seek out that which can be confirmed, and then do the work of confirming it. If you want lies, you can get that instead, and then not bother to do any investigation which might falsify such statements.

"U.S. torture policy"???
You must be referring to water boarding. Yes that "torture" that all U.S. Special Forces personal must undergo so that they will be familiar with it if they are captured. But wait! If it is actually "torture" why would we include it in their basic training. It isn't fun, but neither is basic training. Maybe you don't understand what "torture" is!!!

Water boarding is torture although I don't really know what you mother thinks of this.

"...willing to torment all who it deemed as withholding evidence. This torture yielded information that was often reliable: witnesses in the torture chamber and witnesses that were not tortured provided corresponding information about collaborators, locations, events, and practices"

The only points that matters in that sentence is that the Spanish Inquisition was able to credibly threaten everyone with brutal torture. As any former secret police organization can affirm, the only thing that really matters is a willingness to torment. Everything that one can term success from torture flows from that single point. Let us not be coy - the Inquisition also brutally murdered in addition to tormenting, in the same sense that totalitarian secret police organizations have no hesitation to also use murder to further their goals,

Confession is always useful before execution, regardless of whether the executioner believes in an immortal soul or not.

I can't access the paper but if it says torture works because people who were under threat of torture told torturers the same thing as those who were tortured, that's not very convincing.

Could you tell me your trick for ensuring that two people can make up the same answers? I have some marriage inspectors to fool

Tortured person A answers the question of "were you worshipping the devil with person B last Saturday" with "Yes, oh god, yes, yes, stop the torture."

Untortured person B, in custody and aware that person A has already been tortured, is also asked if they were worshipping the Devil with person A. Amazingly. person B confirms that is the case, and wishes to repent of their sins,.

The Inquisition was not all that concerned with technicalities when saving immortal souls.

Read the two comments by Quotes lower down in the thread.

Men far smarter than you and far cooler than the obese fags that run the US military demonstrated the startling effectiveness of precisely this kind of torture.

"Confession is always useful before execution, regardless of whether the executioner believes in an immortal soul or not."

The paper makes clear that a) Inquisitorial torture didn't seek confession; b) most Inquisitorial torture didn't result in a confession; c) torture actually had a higher acquittal rate (30%) than non-torture cases (17%); d) torture was not correlated with the sentence ultimately passed.

The point was that murder was a punishment, regardless of what the murderer believes.

And of course the Inquisition was interested in confessions - it is why they used torture in the place, to have the accused tell what 'criminal' acts they engaged in.

Killing the innocent is never a good look, and your professional torturers/murderers do their best to avoid that idea taking hold. There is supposed to some sort of incentive for doing what the torturers/murderers want. A true reign of terror tends to be shortlived for precisely that reason. Someone will replace a system of random torture/killing as the basis of power.

"Torture yielded confessions of guilt 29 percent of the time, compared to a 42 percent confession rate in the absence of torture. [...] At the same time, a 29% confession rate also implies a 71% silence rate: more than two-thirds of the torture sessions ended without a confession."

"The most extraordinary characteristic of this campaign was its duration and pace: The Inquisition was in no hurry to complete its inquiries. It was not operating under crisis conditions. It patiently gathered information about suspects for years before deciding whether to administer torture."

"The results were far more professional, indeed far more modern, than
any contemporary torture effort. Unlike many contemporary torture advocates, inquisitors did not regard torture as easy, quick, or cheap. At the same time, despite the immense resources and freedoms at their disposal, they treated torture cautiously, even suspiciously. Inquisitors tortured as a last resort to corroborate existing information, not uncover new leads."

"The only words addressed to the suspect were an admonition to “tell the truth.” The prisoner was asked no specific questions and was told no specific names."

"The same is true for all other names extracted from other torture victims in this period. The Inquisition did not use torture to discover new information or to provide leads at the outset of its investigation. It used torture at the end of its investigation to corroborate prior testimonies"

Thanks for providing that summary. Much appreciated.

The purpose of the Spanish Inquisition was to identify heretics. Since a heretic is one whose beliefs are contrary to orthodox religious (in this case Catholic) doctrine, how would one know if torture has been a "success"? Other than acknowledging beliefs that are contrary to orthodoxy, how would the inquisitor know one is a heretic? Indeed, how is it any different than identifying witches? I suppose practices that are not consistent with orthodoxy might be evidence, but what one believes is unknowable. The targets of the Inquisition were typically Jews and Muslims who were suspected of not being true converts to Christianity, a "convert" being a Jew or Muslim who had no choice but to convert or risk death. Their "crime" was to engage in practices of the religion into which the Jew or Muslim was born or raised. Compare this to the "ticking bomb" philosophy in determining whether torture has been a success, in which "success" is finding the bomb before it explodes.

That was only true in a official sense- many think the goal was to confiscate wealth for the crown & to diminish the Pope's control of the national church. Papal Inquisitions were far more benign for the guilty than local or national inquisitions. one expected it!

don't mention the war
John Cleese just got purged
UKTV said it expected to reinstate the show with "extra guidance" in "the coming days".

Not from the Onion: I notice that the paper's acknowledgements section begins with: "Colleagues at Berkeley’s MIRTH seminar..."

I'm not sure what decent evidence you could get as to whether torture "works" or not.

Heavens, when I enquire online as to how one can test the accuracy and reliability of virus tests I get no useful answers.

There might even be a distant analogy between the two cases. Jesting Pilate and all that.

One good test is to see if people really believe that torture does not work. The people who seem to be in the know - the professionals who work for the government and especially the Armed Forces - seem to think that it works.

Take the British Army. They say *now* that it does not work. But they put some Irish Republicans and a hell of a lot more Malayans, Cypriots and assorted others, through Stress Positions and the like. That is, they thought it worked *at*the*time*.

In fact when the chips are down and it is important, virtually everyone tortures. They just don't care if someone kills a pleb in a routine crime.

Roger Trinquier is the source for the use of torture in the modern context. Everyone quotes Galula but many emulate Trinquier.

Exactly the French victory in the battle of Algiers is one of the more awe inspiring military feats of the second half of 20th century. It’s success was entirely reliant on torture. Gather intel and then use torture to confirm it with an emphasis on specific details.

The abstract says that torture often worked. It does not note that it more often did not work. It may have led to a higher acquittal rate, meaning you were found innocent but were tortured.

It is fascinating that those who claim we cant trust government, that government is incompetent and champion liberty assume that in this instance government will always torture the right people and that it will always be successful.


"Empirical evidence" ignoring the myriad ways that bureaucratic and personal incentives may have given inquisitors reasons to distort their records.

The purpose of interrogation is to hear information that you don't already know.

The purpose of torture is to be told what you want to hear.

Since the torturer doesn't know the truth, he only stops when he hears what he already believes to be the truth.

On a site full of people with limited intelligence and and even more limited breadth of knowledge you are easily one of the most retarded posters- but this attempt at glib pithiness is characteristically wrong.

The French proved this in Algeria. as long as you use torture to confirm leads not generate them it’s basically the best tool that exists to defeat entrenched asymmetric enemies.

Thinking torture doesn’t work is more retarded than believing in Noah’s ark.

Read a book sometime dummy.

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