Saturday :: Dec 6, 2008

The Science Around Torture

by Mary

Via Scott Horton, I came across this passage about how some New York Times reporters are getting in the business of justifying torture.

Since torture is the subject that I have written about more frequently than anything else since I started this blog one year ago, I have indeed read previous stories in the Times about torture, including a particularly egregious one last spring by Scott Shane, which suggested a kind of moral equivalency between opponents and proponents of torture: "Certainly the debate is rich in emotion, with each side claiming the moral heights: You approve torture! You’re coddling terrorists! But the arguments have been scant on science to back them up."

Then Shane revealed the crucial science which had been ignored in the debate: "…[T]he [Army Field] manual’s inherited wisdom has not been updated to reflect decades of corporate analysis of how to influence consumers. Behavioral economists have dissected decision-making, and academic psychologists have studied political persuasion, but their lessons have not informed the interrogator’s art either." (I told Baquet that this was one of the oddest observations I had ever read in a newspaper.)

Shane is wrong to believe there is little science behind the arguments against torture. Unfortunately, the wisdom gained from studying brainwashing techniques by the CIA in the 50's and applied in the S.E.E.R. program showed how destructive and yet, ineffective these techniques are for getting real information. These "enhanced" techniques were clearly doing exactly what the Vietnamese and Korean brainwashing specialists had used them for - making people confess to whatever their torturers wanted to them to say. As one former S.E.E.R trainer said:

I used to teach SEER (Survival, Escape, Evasion, Resistance) in the US Army a long time ago and although we didn't use anything remotely close to the kinds of things that go on today, we were fairly harsh when it came to sleep deprivation, stress positions etc.

You know what I learned?

People will tell you anything. They will say the most outrageous and ridiculous falsehoods, they will agree to and repeat anything you ask them too just to get you to stop doing whatever you happen to be doing and they know that you aren't really going to hurt them because you're both on the same team.

Now you can make the argument that they could also be made to tell you the truth, but now you have a problem, how do you know the difference? You don't, you can't.

That's only one angle.

The other and the one that is the barometer for me is what's right and what's wrong. I have a moral keel and for me- obviously yours is different- but for me, torture is a stark contradiction to my value system, like abusing my kids, cheating on my wife, stealing from my employer, betraying my country, those sorts of things aren't something I can rationalize. Sorry. Socio-pathology has gone from being an affliction of disturbed individuals to being a State policy. I know what lies down that road and although I'm fairly certain I can't stop it, I sure as hell won't condone it, not for any reason, not ever.

I'd like to make the New York Times team have to watch Torturing Democracy if they think that this stuff is okay. Torture is an insult to our democracy and our constitution. It has destroyed our moral standing in the world. It must end now.

Mary :: 3:51 PM :: Comments (6) :: Digg It!