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The Justification of Torture Gets Obliterated Part Four – False Confessions

Posted on the 19 April 2013 by Paul Phillips @sparkingtheleft

Continued from parts one, two, and three...

The next section in the report addresses the “dangers of false confessions”.  Lots of interesting tidbits of info included here beginning with the fact many of the techniques for torture used by the CIA were derived from SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape), a child mostly of the Cold War but apparently not intended for what the agency used it for:

The SERE techniques…had their origins in Communist techniques used to extract false confessions…[T]hat model’s primary objective was to compel a prisoner to generate propaganda, not intelligence.The Justification of Torture Gets Obliterated Part Four – False Confessions

In other words, the methods torture advocates say are great for gaining intelligence were not actually derived for that purpose.  Should have been a clear indicator it probably wasn’t going to work out too well.  But it wasn’t and it gets worse.  They were also basing their decisions off of results of internal testing, which is problematic:

SERE trainees were given specific “secrets” to keep from “interrogators” in the training exercise, and routinely failed…SERE instructors often know in advance the information they are trying to solicit…SERE instructors likely believe they can tell based on behavioral cues whether someone is telling the truth, but scientific studies show that behavioral indicators of deception are faint and unreliable.

It should be obvious that interrogators in the real world do not know the info they are trying to get from someone in advance.  And the false perception of interrogators’ own ability to detect the truth and lies makes the use of torture incredibly problematic, as I have noted previously.  If we can’t tell someone telling the truth from someone lying then there is no way to know when to start and when to stop torturing a suspect.  And that is probably the most important reason torture should have never been used to begin with.

The study then notes the problems with using sleep deprivation and how this has an adverse effect on memory and might even produce false memories which lead to false confessions in order to stop the torture.  This is followed by the most damaging evidence against the use of torture one might conjure: al-Libi’s link between Iraq and Al Qaeda and the possibility of chemical weapons changing hands in the relationship.

Al-Libi was at first cooperating with interrogators and giving valuable info.  Then he was sent to Egypt to be tortured because he denied (correctly) a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein existed.

al-Libi claimed that during his initial debriefings “he lied…about future operations to avoid torture“…”the next topic was al-Qa’ida’s connections with Iraq…This was a subject about which he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story“…Al-Libi told debriefers that “after the beating,” he was again asked about the connection with Iraq and this time he came up with a story that three al-Qa’ida members went to Iraq to learn about nuclear weapons…the topic of anthrax and biological weapons. Al-Libi stated that he “knew nothing about a biological program and did not even understand the term biological.”

This info was quoted by Colin Powell at his UN speech prior to the Iraq War.  We, of course, would never allow info gained by torture in court cases in the United States but happily used some to start a war.  What’s not good enough for us is good enough for us to exert on the rest of the world apparently.

If the idea of using torture as a means for gathering intelligence hasn’t yet been buried forever, then the hammer is coming down very hard on the last nail on its coffin.  It never worked, will never work, and, the saddest part, we knew it wouldn’t work before we started using it.  Let’s hope the issue is forever put to rest for the betterment of mankind.


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