CIA's 'Enhanced Interrogation' Techniques Were Counterproductive

Sep 29, 2009 by Lin Edwards weblog

(PhysOrg.com) -- The author of a new report suggests the belief that harsh interrogation and torture techniques are effective is a form of folk neuroscience that is not supported by scientific evidence, and does not fit with what we know about how the brain works.

The new paper was published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences by Professor Shane O'Mara of the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience in Dublin. The paper reviewed previously secret scientific documents that were released in April, to determine the effect on and brain function of the severe interrogation techniques used by the CIA during the Bush administration.

Professor O'Mara found that so-called "enhanced interrogation" techniques, such as prolonged , exploiting phobias, being confined in stressful or painful positions, and waterboarding, result in the production of the stress hormones cortisol and the catecholamines.

The scientific evidence shows that areas of the brain most concerned with memory, the and the , can be damaged by the stress hormones, and there can be tissue loss if the stress is continued. This makes it less likely for the subject to accurately recall information, and more likely for false memories to replace real ones. If the stress continues long enough the subject becomes unable to distinguish between the real and .

Techniques of this nature are still defended by some intelligence officers, who consider them able to extract useful information from suspects. Other intelligence officers consider the practices counterproductive because victims supply the information they think the interrogators want to hear in order to make the torture stop.

The same phenomenon was also found in investigations of almost 250 police interrogations in which the accused was convicted and often pleaded guilty even though DNA evidence later proved they were innocent. In many cases the interrogated person had come to believe the police allegations and incorporated them into their own memories as if they were true.

Professor O'Mara's review of the literature on interrogation techniques reported that there is a wealth of literature showing that the extreme stress of severe interrogation and torture compromises and memory. According to O'Mara these techniques are based on bad science, and they actually destroy memories they are supposed to reveal. There is no way to determine whether information revealed during the interrogation is true or not.

CIA representative George Little criticized the paper, saying that O'Mara did not interview interrogation subjects, and claiming the practice did produce information used by the government to disrupt terrorism activities.

Professor Stephen Soldz of the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis, on the other hand, backed the study, saying that stress has been known for some time to impair cognitive function and memory. Many other studies have suggested severe interrogation techniques can disrupt memory processes, and a spokesman for the group Physicians for Human Rights, Dr Scott Allen, also said he has found no scientific studies supporting the use of these techniques.

The study may also have an application in processing asylum seekers who may have been victims of harsh interrogation or torture, since their memories may have been distorted and there may be inconsistencies in their stories, but this does not mean they are lying.

More information: Torturing the : On the folk psychology and folk neurobiology motivating ‘enhanced and coercive interrogation techniques’, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, doi:10.1016/j.tics.2009.09.001

© 2009 PhysOrg.com

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User comments : 30

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fuzz54
3.3 / 5 (7) Sep 29, 2009
What business does the CIA have arguing with this study? Their job is to get accurate information, not to figure out how they've shaped, molded, and destroyed a prisoner's brain in the process.

I don't doubt that information can be extracted through torture. But the interrogators should ask themselves if they'd like to go through the same torture if they were "hypothetically" caught and interrogated by an enemy regardless of whether they had valuable information or not. If we lower the bar, then eventually everybody will be torturing to figure out if a prisoner has valuable information. Some groups already do torture, but some don't because they actually abide by international treaties they signed.
lengould100
3.7 / 5 (6) Sep 29, 2009
Read "Disaster Capitalism" by Naomi Klein. Makes a very strong case that such torture techniques are not intended to elicit information from the victim, but to communicate with the victim's community. At that level, one can see why eg. CIA chiefs etc. still will stubornly defend the use despite above studies.
fuzz54
3.3 / 5 (7) Sep 29, 2009
Good point lengould. In the most recent round of enhanced interrogation they certainly succeded in communicating with the victim's community. Perhaps it's just basic caveman psychology that is hardwired into us.
CSharpner
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 29, 2009
There are two schools of thought on what constitutes "torture". Most people from both groups seem to be portraying their view as if their opinion is complete fact. There's a large group of people that consider "waterboarding" as "torture". There is also a large group that does not consider "waterboarding" as "torture". Which group is right? It, of course, depends on which group the person you're asking belongs to. These groups are usually aligned with a particular political party. As you turn the discomfort dial up, everyone draws a different line or threshold of where that graduating knob crosses from discomfort to torture. Who's right? How do you judge it? Is it an absolute or is it a gray area? Does there have to be permanant, physical damage to be considered torture? (That's the definition I've always known (damage plus pain, that is)) or is it just a certain threshold of pain that has to be crossed?
(continued...)
CSharpner
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 29, 2009
(Part 2)
Now, regardless of whether you ("you" as in the reader, not "you" as in any individual that's already commented here) believe that the techniques the CIA has been using for interrogation is torture or not, it's unscientific to ignore the results (regardless of whether you believe it was "moral" or not or "torture" or not). Using waterboarding (which many, including myself, do not believe to be torture), they did extract important information to stop ongoing terror plots, so one has to conclude that you in fact DO get useful information from at least waterboarding. I can't say for sure if you'd get it from actual "torture". Though, even John McCain, an outspoken individual against torture, who himself was tortured, admits to being broken and giving military secrets. This is not a moral justification for torture. It's just an observation that torture does seem to reveal information. Though, some of it may be artificial, some of it is certainly real.
(continued...)
CSharpner
2 / 5 (4) Sep 29, 2009
(Part 3)
Regarding these interrogation techniques (waterboarding, in particular) vs morality; let's assume that it were torture:

The question then is which is more immoral?
1. Using these techniques (or torture) and potentially saving thousands of innocent lives.
2. Not using them and undergoing another 9/11 (which is torture, death, and mayhem on a large scale).

Of course, one can argue: "Why not use other techniques that few, if anyone, would consider torture?" My understanding is that all known tactics (politeness through roughness) are tried before resorting to things like waterboarding. To my knowledge, torture has never been used.

Of course, your opinion of what "torture" is may very well be different.
(continued...)
CSharpner
Sep 29, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
defunctdiety
3 / 5 (4) Sep 29, 2009
There are two schools of thought on what constitutes "torture".

Really? I would think torture is quite simple to nail down... Subjecting someone to something they don't want to be subjected to, and depriving them of their freedom to leave said imposed scenario = torture.

Like playing clear channel radio over the speakers at work, is that torture? While I'd like to say yes, it isn't because I could always leave or quit, it may be torturous but it's not torture, I have an option. However if I was, say, chained to my desk and forced to listen to such drivel without the option of being released, then we have torture.

Anyone who thinks there's a difference between my seemingly tame above example and clamping a car battery onto someone's nipples while they stand in a puddle of water, has a poor grasp on the concept of principle. Torture isn't about the "level of discomfort", it's about depriving someone of a basic human right.
defunctdiety
3 / 5 (4) Sep 29, 2009
Does that mean it's acceptable to torture a lawfully and rightfully imprisoned person? Absolutely not. Last I checked we have something (in America) called the Bill of Rights which prevents cruel and unusual punishment.

This is all to say nothing of the cost vs. benefit of torture. Just saying that this "well, what is torture, really?"-posturing is a bunch of bull.
EagleSquadronSon
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 29, 2009
Is it true that Al Quaeda's and the Taliban's preferred method of interrogation namely beheading is injurious to the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus?
CSharpner
3 / 5 (4) Sep 29, 2009
@defunctdiety: "Subjecting someone to something they don't want to be subjected to, and depriving them of their freedom to leave said imposed scenario = torture"

Things that fit your definition:
School.
Jury duty.
Jail.
Court.
Military service (once you sign up, you have to stick it out).
Being pulled over for speeding.

Your definition is most definitely incorrect. Though, I would certainly agree with you that the scenario you depicted is definitely not something anyone wants. You're basically describing "unpleasantness that you don't have the freedom to get out of". That's not the same as "torture".

"Anyone who thinks there's a difference between my seemingly tame above example and clamping a car battery onto someone's nipples while they stand in a puddle of water, has a poor grasp on the concept of principle."

Anyone who thinks that your tame example and car batteries on nipples are the same has a poor grasp of reality.
(continued...)
CSharpner
2 / 5 (4) Sep 29, 2009
(part 2 of 2)
Torture:
1. the act of inflicting excruciating pain, as punishment or revenge, as a means of getting a confession or information, or for sheer cruelty.
2. a method of inflicting such pain.
3. Often, tortures. the pain or suffering caused or undergone.
4. extreme anguish of body or mind; agony.
5. a cause of severe pain or anguish.

Putting a rag on someone's face and pouring water out of a paper cup over rag over their face is not torture. Unpleasant, yes. Torture. No.
defunctdiety
3 / 5 (4) Sep 29, 2009
You want to play the ranking game in an argument of semantics? Okay.

School.
Jury duty.
Jail.
Court.
Military service (once you sign up, you have to stick it out).
Being pulled over for speeding.

C'mon CSharpner, even you had to know how faulty these examples are.

School, no physical restraint, you can drop out, plus your parents can pull you out (as a minor you cannot lawfully make that choice).
Jury duty, you agree to by remaining a U.S. citizen.
Jail/Court/Speeding ticket, lawful detention, you forfeit your right to freedom, at least temporarily, of your own will when you committed a crime.
Military, you signed on, you had a choice not to.

That was a weak attempt at invalidation. Your response was entirely invalid. I'm sorry that you have to try to rationalize and justify this moral of torture, but it's gonna fail every time in this case.
otto1923
Sep 29, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
frajo
2.6 / 5 (5) Sep 30, 2009
Using waterboarding (which many, including myself, do not believe to be torture), they did extract important information to stop ongoing terror plots,

This is a non-falsifiable statement, i.e. it is an unscientific argument.
Furthermore, you didn't account for the number of terror plots that will be plotted and executed as an indirect result of torturing.
frajo
2.6 / 5 (5) Sep 30, 2009
The question then is which is more immoral?
1. Using these techniques (or torture) and potentially saving thousands of innocent lives.
2. Not using them and undergoing another 9/11 (which is torture, death, and mayhem on a large scale).

The suggestion "potentially saving thousands of innocents lives" is non-falsifiable, i.e. it is an unscientific argument.
Furthermore, the underlying axiom
"it is morally justifiable to kill/torture N human beings if this will save the lives of M > N human beings"
has a far deeper meaning than most people realize:
Killing one (innocent) human being to save the lives of 2, 3, or more human beings (heart, liver. kidney) will be justifiable, too.

Of course, you would not justifiy the killing of "innocent" people, wouldn't you? But who says what's "innocent" and what's "guilty"? A jury in Hiroshima, in MyLai?
frajo
Sep 30, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
psychdoc
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 30, 2009
Actually, one of the honestly interesting things is that we do know an effective means of acquiring good information from suspects: put them in US prisons. Seriously. Afford them the rights of all US citizens by separately dispersing them in general population facilities across the United States.

Think about it for a few minutes. No torture. Good medical care. Monitored correspondence with relatives. But still, confinement with US citizens and absolutely equal protection and treatment from the guards that supervise their unit. Sometimes prison though can be a scary place, especially if you're in for something particularly heinous (and the language barrier could make things a bit more difficult). Or, these people could always cooperate with the government. The reaction in these situations is quite predictable: increased identification (and often love for) the captor by the captive. They'll willingly reveal everything they know. There's a syndrome named after it.
docknowledge
3 / 5 (2) Sep 30, 2009
Good comments. Reminded me of "Philosophy of Law" class. A simple question there really shocked me: What is the purpose of jailing people? Turns out there are many possible reasons -- and few people recognize that there are so many -- and very few recognize them all as valid. Possible reasons are:

Punishment
Revenge
Getting someone off the street
Reform
Returning what society lost (through work program)
A warning to potential wrong doers

The possible reasons for torture are somewhat similar, adding in, of course, the chance of getting valuable information from them. And for the, say tortured terrorists, there's always the advantage that these widely publicized and condemned "American atrocities" are great material to convince potential terrorists that Americans are just as morally bankrupt as claimed.

It's a "perfect storm" of circumstances, where many, perhaps most, imagine they are benefiting from torture.
frajo
2.3 / 5 (4) Sep 30, 2009
the advantage that these widely publicized and condemned "American atrocities" are great material

I don't think that these atrocities are in any way "American". All human history is full of atrocities.
The fundamental question is:
Are there any reasons that justify atrocity?
Mankind is divided about this question. Many are hopeful that we will overcome this behavior some day. Many are without any hope.
CSharpner
3 / 5 (2) Sep 30, 2009
That was a weak attempt at invalidation. Your response was entirely invalid. I'm sorry that you have to try to rationalize and justify this moral of torture, but it's gonna fail every time in this case.


No. Your definition of torture was just plain wrong. Being held against your will is not the definition of torture.
CSharpner
3 / 5 (2) Sep 30, 2009
Using waterboarding (which many, including myself, do not believe to be torture), they did extract important information to stop ongoing terror plots,

This is a non-falsifiable statement, i.e. it is an unscientific argument.
Furthermore, you didn't account for the number of terror plots that will be plotted and executed as an indirect result of torturing.


Also a nonfalsifiable. How many are there? I believe none considering they already did it and have vowed kill as many of "us" as they can. It doesn't matter wether we torture or not or whether they interpret these interrogation techniques as torture or not. They're already hell bent on our destruction. It's an irrelevent and pointless discussion as to how they view it. They want to kill us because we're both powerful and non muslim.
bindar
Sep 30, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
CSharpner
3 / 5 (2) Sep 30, 2009
Of course, you would not justifiy the killing of "innocent" people, wouldn't you? But who says what's "innocent" and what's "guilty"? A jury in Hiroshima, in MyLai?


LOL! Someone who's involved in the plotting to kill civilians can justifiably be considered "not innocent". But we're getting way off topic here. Whether I say it's OK to beat the snot out of some punk who's trying to rape and mutilate and/or kill your loved ones is not the issue. Back to my original original point:

There are two groups of people: Those who consider waterboarding to be torture and those that don't. The people that think it is seem to constantly ignore the fact that there's a very large segment of people that think it's silly to consider that it is torture. I'm not here to debate with you whether it is or it is not. I firmly believe it is not. You know that. And I know you think differently. So what? I'm here to inform you that not everyone swallows it hook, line, and sinker.
defunctdiety
1 / 5 (2) Sep 30, 2009
Being held against your will is not the definition of torture.

Good thing that wasn't my definition of torture.

Personally, I'm glad there are people/agencies out there who are willing to do inhuman things to humans, in the name of protecting America. As the reality is that the people who want to do me and my loved ones harm do not play fair.

Just don't let me know about it. Don't take freaking pictures of it. And leave nothing to suggest otherwise except the torturee, and then deny deny deny. Because I'm not gonna feel sorry for you when you're caught.

Don't play this game of, "oh, it's not torture" it's just uncomfortable. That's crap, you know it and everyone knows it, some people just have to lie to themselves and try to rationalize and justify something they know to be wrong for the right reason.
CSharpner
3 / 5 (2) Sep 30, 2009
Don't play this game of, "oh, it's not torture" it's just uncomfortable. That's crap, you know it and everyone knows it, some people just have to lie to themselves and try to rationalize and justify something they know to be wrong for the right reason.


I cannot, in my WILDEST dreams even BEGIN to imagine how you could POSSIBLY believe that.

But again, my point in posting was to make it perfectly clear that there are PLENTY of people who do not believe that putting a cloth on a terrorists face and pouring a little water over it is torture. You can choose to believe it is. That's fine. I'm not trying to convince you otherwise. But to say "I know it, you know it" is completely false and YOU know it.

There are PLENTY of people who do NOT believe it's torture. This is NOT debatable.
defunctdiety
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 30, 2009
Let's waterboard you for a while then, see what if anything we can get you to confess to, maybe something you didn't even do, maybe nothing? See what your opinion is of it afterward, see if you want to do it again, you know prove it's not torture. Let's waterboard your kids. No harm will come to them, as you've established.

Maybe after enough demonstrations, we can parlay it into a long term study about if/how fast brain cells are killed by the oxygen deprivation that waterboarding purposefully induces, yeah? You know that's the whole principle right? To separate a person from their rational mind (drive them insane), to induce their body into a state where it believes it's dieing.

Your extreme defensive response just indicates that you know I'm right, and I fully believe, well... actually, I know you know.
eztobeme
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 30, 2009
I agree with you there defunctdiety. People rationalize the most horrific acts in the name of protecting others. For that matter, they rationalize lesser evils in the name of protecting people. I think you won the debate.
CSharpner
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 01, 2009
Your extreme defensive response just indicates that you know I'm right, and I fully believe, well... actually, I know you know.


That's the most ridiculous rationalization I've ever heard in my life. If I agreed with you, why the hell would I argue against you? Your declaration is completely irrational. I'd like to say "and you know it", but clearly you don't. How unfortunate.

As for waterboardign me: yah right. It's obviously unpleasant, like I said before. No. I won't volunteer for it. There are a LOT of things I won't volunteer for that are NOT torture, such as watching the movie "Jackass" or continuing this pointless discussion with you.

I have clearly stated that I and many people do NOT believe it's torture. You are just so freaking closed minded that you cannot even accept that people have an opinion different from yours. You have proven you are incapable of discussing this logically or rationally.

With the exception of defending myself, this discussion is over.
defunctdiety
1 / 5 (2) Oct 01, 2009
If I agreed with you, why the hell would I argue against you?

Because you are lying to yourself in the first place, as you must in order to maintain what you perceive to be the integrity of your morals, I'm guessing.

In order for you to maintain your moral of torture, you can't admit to yourself this lie, so you must argue against me and tell yourself your rationalization is indeed truth and not just a semantic cover up (lie) of a definite principle.

As you've said, pain threshold is entirely subjective, therefore you can't base the definition of torture on that (level of pain) if you are to have a meaningful definition.

So either you must delude yourself into believing your definition is valid (which I have just demonstrated is not) by arguing against me, or you must admit that what I say is true and you've been lieing to yourself and reconcile.

One choice will grant you inner peace, the other will only result in the continued turmoil you've show is present in your replies.
CSharpner
Oct 01, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
defunctdiety
Oct 01, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
CSharpner
Oct 01, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
CSharpner
Oct 02, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
magpies
Oct 03, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
docmaas
5 / 5 (1) Oct 03, 2009
Three kinds of reasoning here.

Moral/ethical ideological reasoning. Not much evidence it is anything more than mental masturbation.

Pragmatic/empirical/observed reasoning. Better than ideological but not up to experimental standards. It's main benefit is the pragmatic justification of utilitarianism that provides for the possible safety of many over the possible harm to many fewer.

Reasoning from experimental results, that of the researchers. More useful but limited in scope. Wrong decisions can and are made based on the incompleteness of results. Look at nutrition recommendations. No sooner is something recommended as useful by one study than it is brought into question by another.

Survival relies on the pragmatic/empirical and those who actively pursue it. It's not right in any pure sense but pragmatically it rules.

Ideologues survive because pragmatists act. A tyranny of "shoulds" accomplishes nothing more than an unjustifiable sense of superiority for the tyrants.
Sean_W
1 / 5 (1) Oct 04, 2009
"the author... suggests..."

Well that settles it then. But then, if you are willing to cross reference the info you get from terrorists with other sources of intelligence then you wouldn't need to worry that the torture messed up some of his memories. All witnesses get things wrong but it doesn't mean their info is worthless. Do research into new forms of information extraction like using MRIs to detect if a subject recognizes a photo of a person or place but until that is done, if waterboarding three thugs saves hundreds of innocent lives it is criminal to not do it.
ZeroDelta
5 / 5 (1) Oct 04, 2009
War in the 00's: We really screwerd the pooch on this one
Shootist
1 / 5 (1) Oct 05, 2009
I don't doubt that information can be extracted through torture. But the interrogators should ask themselves if they'd like to go through the same torture if they were "hypothetically" caught . . . snip


Moral relativism is repugnant to all civilized people.

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