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Science Suggests Torture Probably Didn't Prevent Any Attacks

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A recently published scientific paper suggests that "harsh interrogations" (torture) most likely "impaired the memories of suspects, diminishing their ability to recall and provide the detailed information" the CIA wanted.

According to the AP, the scientific paper claims torture could have even caused "suspects to create --and believe--false memories."

Professor Shane O'Mara at Ireland's Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, argues that:

"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."

O'Mara also writes "the assumption is that the (methods) are without effect on memory, or indeed facilitate the retrieval of information from memory." But, he goes on to say science suggests the opposite because "chronic stress and trauma" damages the hippocampus and, especially for long-term prisoners, the CIA's methods would have produced this result.

O'Mara suggests, "prolonged sleep deprivation, being chained in one position, exploitation of prisoners' phobias, and waterboarding" would "release stress hormones." If this happened repeatedly and for a prolonged period of time, brain function would be "compromised" and tissue loss would occur.

O'Mara adds:

""this could lead to brain lobe disorders, making the prisoners vulnerable to confabulation -- in this case, the pathological production of false memories based on suggestions from an interrogator. Those false memories mix with true information in the interrogation, making it difficult to distinguish between what is real and what is fabricated."

O'Mara suggests these techniques are flawed because they are based on "folk psychology."

Folk psychology, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, is a "mental simulation" theory, "a theory of everyday human psychological competence: that is, of the skills and resources people routinely call on in the anticipation, explanation, and social coordination of behavior." It "holds that we represent the mental states and processes of others by mentally simulating them, or generating similar states and processes in ourselves."

The term may lead one to think of the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training school the military puts servicemen through to train them to withstand enemy interrogation.

It is widely accepted that the torture program being used on detainees evolved from the techniques used on military service members in SERE training. And, essentially, interrogators would believe that if somebody in our military could survive the interrogation technique just fine, then surely detainees would do just fine.

The "folk psychology" of it all is naïve. When one considers that the military service members being interrogated actually trust the interrogator. They are not going to be repeatedly tortured for a long term and they also are not going to be held until they tell the interrogators what they want to hear (which often a confabulation suggesting they really were planning an attack or were working with certain terrorists).

Sadly, there's much more to this than "folk psychology." O'Hara may do those opposed to torture and those who favor accountability a favor by making torture "news" one more time, but the CIA knew what they were doing was producing results that would raise doubts in any scientist's mind. (See 2006 Intelligence Science Board referenced in the news article.)

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Kevin Gosztola is a writer and curator of Firedoglake's blog The Dissenter, a blog covering civil liberties in the age of technology. He is an editor for OpEdNews.com and a former intern and videographer for The Nation Magazine.And, he's the (more...)
 

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torture provided the information that kept the cou... by Stanimal on Tuesday, Sep 22, 2009 at 1:21:49 PM
These 9/11 conspirators were looking for both exc... by Richard Lee on Wednesday, Sep 23, 2009 at 11:57:01 AM
Or You will be tortured til' you lie or say what t... by bruce bowman on Wednesday, Sep 23, 2009 at 2:06:38 PM