Does Torture Work? Ask the CIA.
The uprisings in Syria, which began in March of last year, have created turmoil throughout that nation. The regime of President Bashar al-Assad has been battling to stay in power, resorting to firing on civilians and besieging whole cities (reported by Al Jazeera and the BBC). Now, victims of torture are coming forward, describing their experiences in detail.
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Ahmed, a former Arabic teacher from the Idlib province of northern Syria, said to the BBC, "They kicked us in the head… .They tied our hands behind our backs with metal and tightened it so we couldn't move. They covered our eyes and we were bleeding from injuries."
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Torture is a horrible means of interrogation. Not just because of the pain and suffering inflected on a victim, but also its complete failure to ensure the delivery of reliable information. In a 1988 Senate hearing on torture, the CIA admitted the use of "physical abuse or other degrading treatment was rejected, (by their interrogators) not only because it is wrong, but because it has historically proven to be ineffective." As the New York Times reported in 2007, the FBI's said "harsh methods produce unreliable information from people who will say anything to stop the pain" no matter if the information is factual or fictional.
The CIA experimented during the 1950s to perfect the science of torture. According to The New York Times, the CIA used LSD in the search of a “truth serum." The The Boston Globe reported use of electrical current to inflict pain and The Washington Post revealed an investigation into the effects of sensory deprivation. Ultimately, in 1963 the CIA published a manual exploring everything they'd learned. Titled the KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation manual, it said the best methods for extracting information from detainees come not through the infliction of physical pain or torture, but through psychological torture.
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Over the decades, the CIA has revised the manual, changing its name and updating the practices of their interrogators. "In fact, most people underestimate their capacity to withstand pain," reads the 1983 version, according to The Baltimore Sun.
In 1985, the United Nations condemned "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession."
These restrictions on torture were ratified by 25 countries; the United States was not among them. Even before that definition, Geneva Conventions banned treatment such as degradation and humiliation. However, the CIA included the best practices in their 1983 manual.
With the leaks, sources and many reports about torture practices of the CIA, the prevailing categories in the current torture handbook seem to be the following:
HOWSTUFFWORKS: How Pain Works
Solitary Confinement: Never underestimate the power of a lonely mind. In the article "Pure Torture" published in Notre Dame Magazine, Tom Moe describes his experiences in solitary confinement: "Although physical pain was inflicted on me deliberately and effectively, I would discover what an incredible burden mental pain would add to my suffering, how a dark fog slowly could creep over my consciousness, trying to rob me of my remaining power of reasoning."
Sleep Deprivation: The Justice Campaign describes sleep deprivation as a "very effective torture technique." According to their research, "it makes a person more suggestible, reduces psychological resistance and it reduces the body’s capacity to resist pain. Often this is paired with a noisy environment, for example loud music, which was reported by The New York Times as being used at Guantanamo in 2004.
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Cold Room: If you pictured torture being carried out in dungeons or dank basements, you might have seen too many films. As Slate reported in 2009, Abu Zubaydah, a detainee of the CIA, said, "I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. … (T)he cell and room were air-conditioned and were very cold." He was kept in the "cold cell" for two to three weeks.
Hot Box: With an absence of a reliable power grid, the CIA has been known to use the opposite method. The same detainee said, "Two black wooden boxes were brought into the room outside my cell. One was tall, slightly higher than me and narrow." The sweatbox has been used as a method of torture in Asia for many decades. The heat and humidity can cause rashes, and even the act of eating (which raises the body temperature) can become a task to be avoided, according to Moe.
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After the photos of prisoners at Abu Ghraib hit the papers, degradation became a topic at the forefront of our questions about torture. The Justice Campaign said detainees in U.S. custody in Abu Ghraib, Kandahar and Bagram bases reported being "sodomized with broomsticks, a ‘chemical light’ or rifles," but sometimes simply forcing a prisoner to remain nude for extended periods around other prisoners can break the detainee's will.
HOWSTUFFWORKS: How the CIA Works
Ultimately, torture is a grisly affair, and we as humans will continue to work within (and undoubtedly outside) the rules to extract information from our enemies. As HowStuffWorks' Josh Clark writes, "with the CIA, it appears old habits die hard."
The answer to the question, "Is there a torture manual?" can be answered unequivocally yes, but a more important question may be, "Is there a newer version of that manual which has not yet been leaked to the press?" If the latter is the case, there may be newer, unexposed methods of torture we have yet to assess as a global community and ultimately regulate. And that is truly distressing.