Finally, Science Beginning to Prove Torture Doesn’t Work

Successful interrogation requires craft and empathy, not brute force. Pictured: Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. (Photo: Shane McCoy / Wikipedia)

Successful interrogation requires craft and empathy, not brute force. Pictured: Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. (Photo: Shane McCoy / Wikipedia)

For a long time those opposed to torture, specifically when it’s conducted in recent years by the CIA and U.S. military on terrorism suspects, have maintained that — never mind the extent to which it undermines U.S. claims to moral leadership (though I’m afraid that horse left the barn long ago) — torture doesn’t work. But, until now, there’s been a lack of sufficient research or science to back up those claims.

Now, writes Peter Aldhous at Buzzfeed

Over the past five years, a small group of researchers has pulled together a body of evidence about what works in getting people to give up their secrets. It has nothing to do with abuse and coercion. Instead, it borrows methods from psychotherapy to get suspects talking and uses the science of how our brains process information to separate truth from lies.

“It’s true,” writes Aldhous, “that torture can make people talk. But they will often say anything to make the suffering stop.” Less commonly known…

Recent research … also indicates that brutal treatment will make it difficult, if not impossible, for a detainee to recall the details an interrogator may be looking for. The stress of mock interrogation disrupts trainees’ ability to perform on standard tests of memory, according to studies done by Andy Morgan, a psychiatrist at the University of New Haven in Connecticut and a former intelligence officer with the CIA. Most become detached from reality, showing symptoms of mental “dissociation” — such as time seeming to slow down, or out-of-body experiences — that also happen during traumatic events like car accidents.

In other words — pretty obvious when you think about it — torture degrades the functioning of the mind. Aldhous again:

Expecting brutal interrogations to extract good intelligence is like “banging a hammer on a radio to get a better signal,” [Andy Morgan, a psychiatrist at the University of New Haven in Connecticut and a former intelligence officer with the CIA] told BuzzFeed News. “It doesn’t enhance cognition. It only makes it worse.”