Shane O'Mara and John Schiemann
Last edited on December 24, 2018
Contrary to the (in)famous line in the film Zero Dark Thirty, the CIA's torture program was not based on biology or any other science. Instead, the Bush administration and the CIA decided to use coercion immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and then veneered the program's justification with a patina of pseudoscience, ignoring the actual biology of torturing human brains. We reconstruct the Bush administration’s decision-making process from released government documents, independent investigations, journalistic accounts, and memoirs to establish that the policy decision to use torture took place in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks without any investigation into its efficacy. We then present the pseudo-scientific model of torture sold to the CIA based on a loose amalgamation of methods from the old KUBARK manual, reverse-engineering of SERE training techniques, and learned helplessness theory, show why this ad hoc model amounted to pseudoscience, and then catalog what the actual science of torturing human brains – available in 2001 – reveals about the practice. We conclude with a discussion of how process of policy-making might incorporate countervailing evidence to ensure that policy problems are forestalled, via the concept of an evidence-based policy brake, which is deliberately instituted to prevent a policy going forward that is contrary to law, ethics and evidence.
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