The overly restrictive US definition of torture set forth by the “torture memos” in the early aftermath of 9/11 has been widely criticized for excluding “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) and thereby creating loopholes for impunity. In the light of the US Senate Intelligence Committee Report on CIA’s detention and interrogation program confirming the use of EITs to induce “learned helplessness” in detainees, this article reviews the scientific basis for the US definition of torture and its interpretation in the “torture memos.” These memorandums clearly indicate that EITs are designed for use in combination with specific intent to induce learned helplessness – a point also supported by descriptions of actual cases in the US Senate Intelligence Committee Report. Abundant research evidence shows that learned helplessness is mental harm that is severe enough to qualify as torture even by US standards. While the US definition of torture does seem to create potential loopholes for impunity, it suffers from certain logical inconsistencies, scientifically unfounded assumptions, and perhaps even ‘loopholes’ that may well render legal cover for use of EITs difficult, if not impossible – at least not in a way that can be justified by logical reasoning or scientific evidence.
The full article is no longer available in this blog. A revised and updated version will appear as a chapter in my forthcoming book on Torture and its Definition in International Law: An interdisciplinary Approach to be published in August 2017 by Oxford University Press New York.