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If Torture Doesn't Work, Why Do We Use It? Psychology Reveals the Reason

Feb 08, 2017 10:55 AM EST

"Enhanced interrogation" is just one of the many interrogation methods people use to get a confession out of other people, but there is no guarantee that they will get the truth.

Scientists find the phrase, "If you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything" troubling. However, this is more so for torturers. After all, if tortured people will tell us anything, how can we be sure they are being honest?

Shane O'Mara, a professor of experimental brain research at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, has read the release of the "Torture Memos" or legal documents prepared for US federal authorities on the use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation and binding in stress positions as enhanced interrogation techniques.

O'Mara's research found out that there was no credible science that showed that torture actually worked. According to New Scientist, the reality is that the intelligence obtained through torture is so paltry that the proponents of torture are left with an indefensible case.

Controlled studies on the effectiveness of torture would be very abhorrent, but a lot of information on the psychological and physiological effects of severe pain, fear, extreme cold, sleep deprivation and confinement are present.

O'Mara emphasized that torture does not produce reliable information largely because of the severity with which it impairs the ability to think.

New Scientist also noted that torture produces panic, dissociation, unconsciousness and long-term neurological damage instead of making a reasoned decision to cooperate.

O'Mara quoted an intelligence officer's story of a 60-year-old torture survivor in Cambodia. Apparently, the survivor confessed to everything the torturers wanted to know -- from being a hermaphrodite, a CIA spy, a Catholic bishop and the King of Cambodia's son. However, he was just a school teacher whose crime was that he once spoke French.

Interrogators apparently often escalate torture when they think suspects are withholding information, but there is no good evidence suggesting that interrogators are better than the rest of people at detecting lies.

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