Martin Robbins writes about how the US got suckered into playing torturer to the world. One reason is that we live in a culture that seems to celebrate torture: there sure are a lot of people wearing representations of an ancient torture device, where audiences will happily sit for hours watching torture porn in the guise of a religious movie, and where TV pretends that torture works every time as a way of getting results.
But here’s the thing: torture doesn’t work. Reason and evidence together ought to tell you that.
Luckily there’s another good argument, as I set out in these pages back in 2010 – torture simply doesn’t work. No compelling evidence has ever been put forward to show that torture can produce reliable intelligence. Worse still, the techniques used – typically causing stress, pain, sleep deprivation, or confusion – are textbook examples of ways to screw up a person’s recollection.
The intelligence and military communities have long accepted this to be true. The Intelligence Science Board provided scientific guidance to the US intelligence community on this matter, which I quoted at the top of this article. It was evidently ignored. In my 2010 article I quoted the US Army’s Training Manual [http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/library/policy/army/fm/fm34-52/chapter1.htm], which states:
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.
If only certain atheist scientists could comprehend this … and that people would kick to the curb anyone who brings up the ludicrous “ticking time-bomb” scenario.
So, if the science says it doesn’t work, and military manuals clearly state you shouldn’t ever do it, why were Americans torturing people? Here’s the interesting reason: they had hired a couple of psychologists to cobble together studies showing the effectiveness of torture — somebody basically didn’t like the answer given above, so they paid a few people to tell them what they wanted to hear. They commissioned studies to the tune of $180 million. Yeah, you can buy a couple of Ph.D.s for that.
The British Psychological Society put out an interesting but little-noticed response to the Senate report, stating: “we note with deep regret that some members of the profession and discipline of psychology were involved in developing some of these techniques.” That involvement took the form of contracts worth a staggering $180m, awarded to a company run by two psychologists who appear to have been little more than quacks. The report notes that neither, “had any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of al-Qaida, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise.”
In spite of these shortcomings, the intrepid doctors were able to develop presumably unpublished “theories of interrogation based on ‘learned helplessness’” (a kind of passive state associated with depression and loss of control) along with “the list of enhanced interrogation techniques that was approved for use against Abu Zubaydah and subsequent CIA detainees.”
It’s not clear from the report who exactly was involved, but Salon published an article in 2009 exploring some of the early stages of this work. ‘Learned helplessness’ was a concept developed by the famed psychologist Marty Seligman, who himself has earned tens of millions in defence contracts since 9/11. Vaughan Bell published a good article on the CIA’s use of the concept a few years ago, but suffice it to say that there’s no great reason to believe inducing the state aids interrogations.
These guys weren’t just back-room theorists though. “The psychologists personally conducted interrogations of some of the CIA’s most significant detainees using these techniques.” On page 487 of the report, we learn that a psychologist told Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, “if anything happens in the United States, we’re going to kill your children,” bringing a whole new meaning to ‘daddy issues’.
Here, by the way, is Seligman’s claim to fame.
Seligman is most famous for his work in the 1960s in which he was able to psychologically destroy caged dogs by subjecting them to repeated electric shocks with no hope of escape. The dogs broke down completely and ultimately would not attempt to escape through an open cage door when given the opportunity to avoid more pain. Seligman called the phenomenon “learned helplessness.”
He has spent about 60 years torturing small animals, and the CIA paid him huge piles of money to graduate to advising them on how to torture human beings.
You know, I really don’t think that anyone needed to do Seligman’s experiment to know that you can break minds with sustained torment. I wonder how much information he got out of those miserable, despairing dogs?
It’s also horrifying that the CIA thought that ‘learned helplessness’ was something they wanted to induce in people.