The enhanced interrogation techniques, or basically torture, that have been applied by the Turkish police in the post-coup investigations overshadows the facts about the coup attempt that happened on the 15th of July 2016 in Turkey.
Police interrogations aim to elicit information about criminal events from suspects, victims, or witnesses. Several techniques have been developed around the world to enhance the effectiveness of police interrogations. During the last few decades, scientific research has focused on finding more humanitarian and effective investigative interviewing methods that can prevent the violations of human rights, false confessions, and wrongful convictions while enhancing the effectiveness of the interviews. Despite these efforts and centuries of developments on the respect for human rights there are still supporters of enhanced interrogation techniques to apply in serious criminal investigations or gathering intelligence in high-stakes cases.
In his book, Torture and Democracy, Darius Rejali suggests that torture is used for three reasons: (i) to intimidate people, (ii) to elicit false confessions from people and use them as a propaganda tool, and (iii) to gather intelligence that cannot be obtained through legal means. The torture techniques, in other words enhanced interrogations, that have been used for these purposes include but not limited to physical abuse, mock executions, threats to the family members of the suspect, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, physical isolation, constant noise, and locking up in too hot or too cold jails. Most of these techniques have been used by the Turkish law enforcement officials in the post-coup crackdowns according to the news reports and Amnesty International reports.
Psychological theories and research has shown that coerced interrogation techniques are ineffective and misleading. A recent report by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence demonstrated that the application of physical, psychological, and emotional torture result in unreliable information. Among the reasons behind this ineffectiveness are the likeliness of such techniques to increase the resistance of suspects instead of facilitating cooperation, the damage given to the human brain through these harsh methods which will make the retrieval of memory much more difficult, and the difficulty of detecting deception through the limited and coerced account given by a tortured suspect.
A quote from the book Why Torture Doesn’t Work by Shane O’Mara, who is a professor of experimental brain research at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, helps us better understand how unreliable the information gathered through torture is. A 60-year-old who was tortured by Cambodian police “told his interrogators everything they wanted to know, including the truth. In torture, he confessed to being everything from a hermaphrodite, and a CIA spy to a Catholic bishop and the King of Cambodia’s son. He was actually just a school teacher whose crime was that he once spoke French.”
Since the coup attempt in Turkey, more than 130,000 public officials have been sacked from their positions including police officers, soldiers, doctors, teachers, and academics without any substantial evidence. In addition, based on their alleged relationship with the coup attempt more than 100,000 people have been detained, 50,600 people have been arrested, 4,424 judges and prosecutors have been dismissed, 160 media outlets have been shut down, and 231 journalists have been arrested. The family members of some of these people have been detained as hostages until they surrender. More than 30 people have been found dead in custody due to torture and/or mistreatment since July 15th. There were dozens of pregnant women among those who were arrested. One of them delivered her baby while she was in custody and she was handcuffed just an hour after the delivery. There have been also senior, disabled, and seriously ill people among these arrested suspects.
The latest news from Turkey are more worrisome. There are reports from different cities about abducted people who are public officials or academics recently suspended from their posts, probably to interrogate without any legal arrest warrants and torture them to gather more information and intimidate others.
According to Amnesty International, there has been an increase in cases of torture and other ill-treatment reported from around the country since the immediate aftermath of the coup attempt. The decrees issued during the state of emergency, which still continues two months before the first anniversary of the coup attempt, allowed officials to violate the rights of suspects during police investigations. To name just a few of these violations, the maximum pre-charge detention period was increased from four to 30 days, the access of detainees’ to lawyers in pre-charge detention have been either blocked or limited seriously, the conversations between client and lawyer in pre-trial detention have been recorded, detainees’ right to consult with their choice of lawyers have been restricted and they have been forced to consult with state-provided lawyers, medical examinations of detainees have been either completely blocked or limited. In fact, 301 lawyers have been arrested and 967 of them are under investigation since the coup attempt, and the lawyers who defend the suspects of the post-coup investigations are intimidated with these further arrests.
The alleged link of these people with the coup plotters are not supported with any concrete evidence. The police have used torture techniques to fabricate the evidence to support their theory about the coup attempt and used them in their propaganda through mass media which is completely controlled by the ruling Erdogan government. There are several question marks in the minds of people in and out of the country who critically think about the facts behind the coup attempt. The allegations on media and the press releases by the government do not help to clarify the dark points about the night of July 15. More importantly, the torture techniques used by the police deepen the suspicions rather than disclosing the facts behind the coup attempt and identifying the real plotters of the coup.
Davut Akca studied Forensic Psychology and Criminology. He completed his BA degree in the Turkish Police Academy. After working for five years in the Turkish National Police he received his MA in Criminology at University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) in Canada. His master’s thesis was on the spatial influence of risk factors behind open-air drug markets. He is currently a PhD candidate in the Forensic Psychology department of UOIT and studying on the relationship between personality traits and interviewing success of police officers. His research interests are investigative interviewing, police psychology, and crime mapping.
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