Bioethics News

Torture does not work, says trauma expert

A Guantanamo Bay protest, with simulated water-boarding   

Scientists oppose President Donald Trump’s endorsement of torture, according to Science magazine, on ethical grounds, but also because it does not work. Metin Basoglu, head of the Trauma Studies section at the Institute of Psychiatry of King’s College London. “Our work shows that waterboarding is one of the most traumatic forms of torture. Scientifically, there is no question about this issue … so one cannot administer these techniques and remain within the bounds of the law at the same time.”

In 1994 Professor Basoglu published a remarkable paper in the American Journal of Psychiatry comparing Turkish prisoners who had not been tortured with prisoners who had been tortured. The tortured prisoners had “significantly more” symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety/depression. But he was unable to publish all of the data he obtained in the course of his study. Some colleagues, human rights organisations and some of his subjects were horrified that he would release information on the most “effective” forms of torture. So the data remained unpublished.

However, what he found was that “Of all forms of torture, asphyxiation was the strongest predictor of PTSD symptoms”. Asphyxiation is the main component of waterboarding. Other gruesome tortures, surprisingly, being hanged by the wrists,, electrical torture, and beating of the soles of the feet, were not predictive of PTSD symptoms.

“Don’t tell me it doesn’t work — torture works,” Trump told a crowd early in last year’s campaign. “Okay, folks? Torture — you know, half these guys [say]: ‘Torture doesn’t work.’ Believe me, it works.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.