A catalog of the scientific evidence of how torture is at best ineffective, usually counterproductive, and always inhumane.
In his exhaustive examination of the psychological literature on human (and animal) stress responses, O’Mara (Trinity Coll. Institute of Neuroscience; co-editor: The Connected Hippocampus, Volume 219, 2015, etc.) combs through numerous studies demonstrating how those stress responses are related to memory retrieval and communication, which are the stated goals of the U.S. military’s “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The author’s main argument—that we could argue forever about the ethics of torture, but the point is moot if the techniques don’t even work to solicit the information sought—is confirmed over and over as he works through experiments on the effects of sleep deprivation, pain, drowning, heating, cooling, sensory deprivation, and more. The experiments range from the well-known obedience experiments of Stanley Milgram to lesser-known studies that measured the cognitive effects of changes in core body temperature. O’Mara leaves no stone unturned as he meticulously details the procedures and outcomes of each experiment. It is important information, but as the studies arrive one after another with little narrative in between, readers are challenged not to become overwhelmed by the minutiae. O’Mara’s knowledge of his subject obviously extends beyond simply compiling the research, however; he is conversant in anatomy, neuroscience, and social psychology. At the same time, he takes pains not to assume readers’ knowledge, explaining the results of each study in layperson’s terms. O’Mara gives scant attention to alternative interrogation techniques that might not only be more humane, but also more effective. This makes sense, as the author is merely reporting on the studies that have been conducted, and these possible alternatives—virtual reality and role-playing options are among the most intriguing—are few and far between. Perhaps this book will spark more interest in new methods.
Everything you never wanted to know—but probably should—about interrogation techniques and outcomes.