Friday, September 25, 2009

Torture Thrown Into Doubt, Again

Torture is illegal under international law and United States law; generally no more effective than conventional interrrogation techniques; a swell recruiting tool for Al Qaeda; and encourages subjects to lie. But at least sometimes the subject decides to spill the beans.

But wait. He may think he's giving out correct information but may be deluding himself. In newsweek.com, Sharon Begley summarizes a paper entitled "Torturing The Brain" written by neurobiologist Shane O'Mara of the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience in Dublin and appearing in the journal Trends in Cognitive Science. Here, she quotes O'Mara and explains:

"information presented by the captor to elicit responses during interrogation may inadvertently become part of the suspect's memory, especially since suspects are under extreme stress and are required to tell and retell the same events which may have happened over a period of years." As a result, information produced by the suspect may parrot or embellish suggestions from the interrogators rather than revealing something both truthful and unknown to the interrogators. Second, cortisol-induced damage to the prefrontal cortex can cause confabulation, or false memories. Because a person being tortured loses the ability to distinguish between true and false memories, as a 2008 study showed, further pain and stress does not cause him to tell the truth, but to retreat further into a fog where he cannot tell true from false.

O'Mara concludes

the use of such techniques appears motivated by a folk psychology that is demonstrably incorrect. Solid scientific evidence on how repeated and extreme stress and pain affect memory and executive functions (such as planning or forming intentions) suggests these techniques are unlikely to do anything other than the opposite of that intended by coercive or 'enhanced' interrogation.

Torture is necessary in the rare "ticking time bomb" scenario. But it is illegal, usually unnecessary, frequently counter-productive, and a gift to jihadists. Otherwise, it is a fine idea.

1 comment:

Dan said...

it all depends on how you define torture lol

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