A new scientific paper asserts that the CIA's harsh interrogation program likely damaged the brain and memory functions of terrorist suspects, diminishing their ability to provide the detailed information the spy agency sought.Newsweek has more:
The paper, published Monday in the scientific journal "Trends in Cognitive Science: Science and Society," says the harsh techniques used by the CIA under the Bush administration were biologically counterproductive to eliciting quality information.
The report says extreme stress, the kind caused by the extended use of waterboarding — a form of simulated drowning used on three CIA prisoners — can also cause suspects to make up and believe false memories, a phenomena known as confabulation.
Scientists do not pretend to know, in any individual case, whether torture might extract useful information. But as neurobiologist Shane O'Mara of the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience in Dublin explains in a paper in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciencecalled "Torturing the Brain," "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."They may actually cause the torturer to believe a false memory:
These neurochemical effects set the stage for two serious pitfalls of interrogation under torture, argues O'Mara. The first is that "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.More reason why torture is stupid.