Torture Doesn’t Work: Government Report Shows Psychological Suffering Doesn’t Lead To Truthtelling

waterboarding
A classified 6,300-page report shows the CIA misled government agencies about the legitimacy of its torture practices nearly a decade ago. Garrison Gunter, CC BY-SA 2.0

The Bush administration was fraught with many things, but when it came to human rights there was perhaps no greater health controversy than the practice of torture, which many people argued violated deep moral and federal laws in exchange for nothing. Now a new government report backs those claims, saying the CIA misled Congress and the Department of Justice on the value of torture.

Whether it’s waterboarding or starvation in feral conditions, the practice of torture has a profound history behind it. The simple, brutish methods of extracting information cut straight to our deepest fears, and violates them on purpose. Not only are they anti-human; with respect to the years following the invasion of Iraq and the pursuit of terrorists, The Washington Post reports, they flat-out didn’t work.

“The CIA described [its program] repeatedly both to the Department of Justice and eventually to Congress as getting unique, otherwise unobtainable intelligence that helped disrupt terrorist plots and save thousands of lives,” said one U.S. official briefed on the report, according to The Washington Post. “Was that actually true? The answer is no.”

The 6,300-page report reveals swaths of previously classified information about detention sites and the subsequent failure of CIA-issued cases of abuse, often referring to instances where information was divulged prior to the actual torture taking place. One case involved the repeated dunking of a terrorist suspect into a tank of ice water, similar to the effects of waterboarding, though it didn’t appear on any DOJ-approved list of techniques.

Millions of records in fact indicate he information obtained during the period of several years had little, if anything, to do with “enhanced interrogation techniques.” And the information that was obtained was often false and only led to intimidated prisoners. In a 2007 Op-Ed for The Post, Reed College professor, Darius Rejali, noted that it isn’t so much the truth that stops the torturing, so much as saying anything.

“In fact, the problem of torture does not stem from the prisoner who has information; it stems from the prisoner who doesn't,” he explained. “The torture of the informed may generate no more lies than normal interrogation, but the torture of the ignorant and innocent overwhelms investigators with misleading information.”

In other words, when an official gains a piece of information, it has to be vetted and crosschecked and fact-checked (and surely a raft of other types of checks) before it can be verified as true. Nothing, in that case, is preferable to anything. But torture continues to search — to put it lightly — for anything.

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