Is it torture? Those who decide have not felt it

Mon Apr 11, 2011 10:46pm EDT
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By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Those who approve "enhanced interrogation techniques" probably have a flawed idea of whether this constitutes torture, because few have felt the pain these methods can cause, researchers reported Monday.

A new study that gave its subjects a mild taste of such interrogation methods as solitary confinement, sleep deprivation and extreme cold found most respondents characterized what they felt as torture.

Those who did not experience these techniques but were told about them generally underestimated how much pain they might cause, the researchers found.

"Because policymakers do not subject themselves to interrogation before assessing its permissibility, those who evaluate interrogation policies must predominantly rely on their subjective intuitions about how painful the experience seems," the authors wrote in the journal Psychological Science.

Torture is banned in most countries, but the study said the United Nations Convention Against Torture offers a definition of torture that is open to interpretation: "infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering."

"What this paper shows is that the legal standard of pain severity proves to be psychologically untenable," said study co-author Loran Nordgren of Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.


"People who aren't actively experiencing pain ... don't understand how transformative it is," Nordgren said in a telephone interview.   Continued...