Top Researchers: ‘Interrogational Torture Not Effective’

A concept of “evidence based practice” is a foundation for the scientific community. Simply put, this means that interventions should only take place when clear research shows they are effective. While this is not a new concept to the scientific community, it may very well be a foreign concept to many Americans who may value tradition over scientific research.

Christian Meissner, the Iowa State University psychology professor leading an international research effort to reduce false confessions through scientifically validated interrogation methods, said he hoped a damning report on the Bush-era CIA torture of terror suspects would bring a “productive dialogue to the U.S. around the use of certain interrogation tactics, and the ethics and legality of those practices.”

Meissner leads a multi-million dollar research program, funded by the U.S. government’s High Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), that is evaluating interrogation methods.

This is not new work for Meissner, who has been conducting this research for the past three years. In the wake of the atrocities that were detailed in the CIA “torture report,” however, the demand for his evidence-based research seems more necessary, and he feels an urgent need to get the information out to the public.

“I would hope that the report promotes a dialogue around the ethics of interrogation practice, and importantly, a focus on scientifically validated approaches that preserve our duty to treat others with legal and ethical safeguards. Our goal is to measure the impacts of research-based methods of interrogation while at the same time ensuring that scientific studies make a long-term positive contribution to training programs.”

While government officials have argued that “enhanced interrogation techniques” are necessary to protect American citizens, the effectiveness of such techniques has been debated. According to a recent study, when torture is used to elicit information, it is likely to be unexpectedly harsh yet ineffective. This study was published in a new article in Political Research Quarterly (PRQ) published by SAGE on behalf of the Western Political Science Association as long ago as 2012, but have changes in interrogational practices occurred?

John W. Schiemann, author of the study and a political scientist at Fairleigh Dickinson University, found that information gleaned from interrogational torture is very likely to be unreliable, which is consistent with the findings of Christian Meissner.

The Bush-era interrogation report released this week contains disturbing accounts of torture tactics like water-boarding, near-drowning, broken limbs, and a prisoner who froze to death.

Schiemann summed of the findings of his research thus far, but it remains unclear if the research will be heeded by officials.

“The use of torture makes it possible to extract both real and false confessions and no ability by the state to distinguish the two. The question as to whether—in reality—interrogational torture actually provides us with vital information we otherwise would not get—and at what human cost—is one of the pressing moral questions of our time. The debate over this question suggests that this reality needs probing, and the probing offered here suggests that torture games have no winners.”