The wave of outrage against CIA’s interrogation techniques (which often involved torture) has been strong and sharp. But aside for being highly unethical (up to the point of inhumanity), a new study has shown that torture is also pretty ineffective. The report shows that confessions are four times more likely when interrogators adopt a respectful stance towards the detainee, developing a relationship with him.

Image via The Atlantic.

The Senate Intelligence Committee report released this week found that the CIA tortured terror suspects; the process involve waterboarding, keeping detainee’s heads under water, raping them with a broom, putting hummus in a man’s anus, forcing suspects to stand on broken feet, and blasting detainees with loud music to force sleep deprivation.

“At least five CIA detainees were subjected to ‘rectal rehydration’ or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity,” the report states. It adds that officers “threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families,” including a threat to sexually abuse the mother of one detainee, and to harm the children of another.

So nobody is arguing that the techniques aren’t cruel, but many do argue that they are necessary – that torture is a necessary evil; how else are you gonna extract information? The thing is, torture is not as effective as you might think, because it also produces many false positives, and military leaders have known this for quite a while. Just look at what Napoleon wrote, many years ago:

“The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know.” The French leader wrote that in a letter in 1798.*

So then if you do have terrorists or terrorist suspects… how are you gonna draw information from them? The answer is surprisingly simple: act like you care about them. A study published this year by Jane Goodman-Delahunty, of Australia’s Charles Sturt University, interviewed 34 interrogators from Australia, Indonesia, and Norway who had handled 30 international terrorism suspects, including extremists from Sri Lanka and Norway.

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Image via Jennifer Chase.

Researchers asked interrogators what technique yielded the best results and as BPS Research Digest notes, the results were obviously clear:

Disclosure was 14 times more likely to occur early in an interrogation when a rapport-building approach was used. Confessions were four times more likely when interrogators struck a neutral and respectful stance. Rates of detainee disclosure were also higher when they were interrogated in comfortable physical settings.

These findings were also backed by other results. A former U.S. Army interrogator told PRI this week that he was able to find information from an Iraqi insurgent based on their common love for the TV series “24”. They both admitted to watching the series on bootleg DVDs, and this helped build a connection, which proved to be instrumental.

“He acknowledged that he was a big fan of Jack Bauer,” he told PRI. “We made a connection there that ultimately resulted in him recanting a bunch of information that he had said in the past and actually giving us the accurate information because we had made that connection.”

However, while the report explicitly states that relationship building interrogations are much more likely to yield positive results, at least in high profile cases, interrogators are still probably going to go hard-ball on the suspects.

Torture is prohibited by international treaties, yet it is still a surprisingly common practice. Torture is generally regarded as one of two things: either a punishment for someone who did really bad, or as a way to extract life saving information. But if it’s forbidden, and it’s also ineffective, then this leaves us with only one question… why do it?