The Birth of Soft Torture
CIA interrogation techniques—a history.
At least officially, the CIA ended its behavioral science program in the mid-1960s, before scientists and operatives achieved total control over a subject. "All experiments beyond a certain point always failed," an operative veteran of the program said, "because the subject jerked himself back for some reason or the subject got amnesiac or catatonic." In other words, you could create a vegetable or a zombie, but not a robot who would obey you against his will. Still, the CIA had gained reliable information about how to derange and disorient a person who was reluctant to cooperate. An enemy could quickly be made into a confused and desperate human being.
Since 9/11, as government documents and news reports have made clear, the CIA's experimental approach to coercive interrogation has been revived. Last week, as the Washington Post revealed the existence of secret CIA-run prisons—"black sites"—in Eastern Europe, Vice President Dick Cheney continued to campaign to ensure that the agency will not be prevented from using "cruel, inhumane, and degrading" methods to elicit intelligence from detainees. The operatives of the 1940s would approve.
Correction, Nov. 18, 2005: The article originally referred to the CIA's Technology and Science Directorate. The correct title is the Science and Technology Directorate. Return to the corrected sentence.
Rebecca Lemov, a recent Woodrow Wilson fellow, is the author of World as Laboratory: Experiments with Mice, Mazes and Men, to be published next month.
Illustration courtesy of the American Psychological Association.