John Woo, a fellow University of California professor and self-identified neurological expert on methods of interrogating prisoners argued that recommended methods of interviewing prisoners (like ‘water-boarding’, sustaining a detainee in an agonizing posture for extended periods of time, or long bouts of sleep deprivation) were acceptable, because experience with former prisoners of war have shown that such procedures had no enduring neurological impacts on them.
Which brings several questions literally leaping to mind:
1) How about REPEATING a water-board procedure — which leads to the almost certain belief that you are about to die — 183 times in the case of one individual? Do you think that THAT might have an enduring effect on the brain of that individual, John?
2) Is it interesting to you to hear that this very enthusiastic interrogation resulted in the gathering of no additional useful information?
3) Have you awoken, late at night, in mortal fear of drowning? Or, perhaps, Mr. Woo, in mortal fear of going straight to Hell?
4) Was the doctor assigned by the regulations that you defended to ‘stand by’ in the event that this questioning might lead to a medical emergency well versed on the Hippocratic Oath? Where on this Earth did the government locate this particular class of specially qualified medico?
5) Had any of those former American prisoners-of-war — who you declare would testify, and would show by careful medical examination had no enduring consequences of having endured these procedures — actually been exposed to them 30 or 50 or 100 or 200 times? I doubt it. After all, who COULD be that cruel.
PTSD arises from psychological trauma. It grows as a direct function of a) the number and b) the severity of horrific exposure events. I could grow it in YOU (your brain), with a far milder course of training than our own governmental authorities apparently sanctioned for suspected, detained terrorists. How many times would YOU like to endure repeated near-drownings? How many times would YOU like to be frozen naked, in an agonizing posture, for many hours for each exposure? How many times would YOU like to be kept awake, forcibly prevented from sleeping for y11 consecutive days, and suffering the near-madness and near-death that are known to result from it?
In this observer’s opinion, the infliction of PTSD on an otherwise-innocent soldier or civilian, resulting from inescapable exposures to the horrors of war, or all to often, to our uncertain and dangerous civilian lives is a horrible harvest of our modern circumstances. However, the deliberate, calculated genesis of PTSD, achieved through intensive training, as a strategy for interrogation, is something very different. It is one of a hundred very powerful ways in which the plasticity of your brain expresses great and potentially tragic vulnerability; it’s mis-use, especially by governments, cannot be tolerated.
This observer asks that any governmental agency considering any extraordinary procedure that can wound a brain in future times confer with REAL scientific authorities — for example as represented by our National Academies of Science and our Institute of Medicine (identified as the highest and best-informed scientific authorities advising our government on issues of human neuroscience and neurological and psychiatric medicine). It is very discouraging (and a little embarrassing for my scientific colleagues and myself) for a scientist to read pseudoscientific arguments applied to support a medically ridiculous position drafted by a legal hack. A government that does not operate on the basis of ‘best evidence’ is likely to make MANY serious blunders like this one. Let us learn an mportant lesson from this example — AND NEVER REPEAT IT.