This is from the comments section from a post at Balloon Juice, by a guy who really sounds like he knows what he is talking about. (And the rest of the comments on this post are pretty hysterical. I have to add Balloon Juice to my links list.)
The problem with torture, beyond the moral aspects, is that it does not produce good information any quicker. It produces ASTOUNDING amounts of bulls**t, as the captives learn rapidly what sorts of information their questioners seek.
See, torture usually results in a confession to all sorts of things. It’s why the US Army FM 34-52 prohibits it, specifically.
From FM 34-52:
PROHIBITION AGAINST USE OF FORCE
The use of force, mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to unpleasant and inhumane treatment of any kind is prohibited by law and is neither authorized nor condoned by the US Government. 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. However, the use of force is not to be confused with psychological ploys, verbal trickery, or other nonviolent and noncoercive ruses used by the interrogator in questioning hesitant or uncooperative sources.
The psychological techniques and principles outlined should neither be confused with, nor construed to be synonymous with, unauthorized techniques such as brainwashing, mental torture, or any other form of mental coercion to include drugs. These techniques and principles are intended to serve as guides in obtaining the willing cooperation of a source. The absence of threats in interrogation is intentional, as their enforcement and use normally constitute violations of international law and may result in prosecution under the UCMJ.
Additionally, the inability to carry out a threat of violence or force renders an interrogator ineffective should the source challenge the threat. Consequently, from both legal and moral viewpoints, the restrictions established by international law, agreements, and customs render threats of force, violence, and deprivation useless as interrogation techniques.
That’s word-for-word out of the manual I was trained on as a 97E, Interrogator. We had some nice demonstrations at our AIT in Arizona as to the efficacy of torture as well.
You cannot trust information gained through coercive means like that without compelling subsidiary intelligence. And if you have that intelligence, you don’t need to f**king torture people. People say what you want to hear when tortured—and that wastes those precious minutes in the scenario you outline above.
We’ve got a nuke going off in an hour in NYC? We’re f**ked. Period. End of discussion. You cannot gain worthwhile intel in that time.