Torture does it work? The answer is still probably not
A wee while ago I posted about the convergent evidence that strongly suggests torture doesn’t work. Today I have found another thing that should probably have been included in the original blog but weren’t, however this was not actually my fault (for a change) as I just posted that blog a few weeks too early to include it!
So to put this right I present for your delectation “torture does it work?” part deux.77
The next piece of evidence to add to our growing mountain of convergent evidence that suggests torture is useless as a means of extracting information (it’s still quite good at changing peoples minds about things – but still morally reprehensible in such cases) comes from social psychology.
The research suggests that the act of torturing someone even makes the innocent torture victim look guilty. Funny no ones noticed that before…
Participants in the study met a woman suspected of cheating to win money. The woman was then “tortured” by having her hand immersed in ice water while study participants listened to the session over an intercom. She never confessed to anything, but the more she suffered during the torture, the guiltier she was perceived to be.
The research, published in the “Journal of Experimental Social Psychology,” was conducted by Kurt Gray, graduate student in psychology, and Daniel M. Wegner, professor of psychology, both in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
The research suggests that far from uncover guilt torture actually leads to convincing torturer and observers of torture of the victims guilt. As though “those that know of the victim’s pain must somehow convince themselves that it was a good idea” so in order to explain why such pain might be being visited on an individual under torture their captors will class=”hiddenSpellError” pre=”will “>dehumanise them and come to believe them guilty rather than accept they have done wrong. The findings of this study also perhaps shed some light on the reprehensible goings on at Abhu Garib and the public reaction. As it was found those closely involved in the torture were more likely to classify the victim as deserving of the pain and see them as guilty whereas those observing at a distance were able to distance themselves from the act and feel sympathy for the victim.
This paper leaves the door open on the issue as to whether torture makes people tell the truth – stating simply that torture makes the torturers’ belief the victim is guilty. Which is enough to my mind to suggest that there is an inherent bias in “extreme interrogations” that leads to prolonged and self-perpetuating interrogations that ultimately prove fruitless. Arguably this process is similar to the dehumanization that we associate with the everyday business of war and war atrocities, spousal abuse and various other nasty things. In a strange way its heartening that people feel the need to make those they are about to inflict pain on seem less human and less like themselves but on the other (far, far larger) hand it’s horrifying how easily people can slip into the language of dehumanization. It’s worrying how effective dehumanization is at allowing people to commit extraordinary atrocities.
So thats another study to add to the pile marked: torture doesn’t work, the other side of the scale is still lightly dusted with a collection of anecdote. Can I claim victory yet?