Sleep expert's book cited in US torture defence

April 23, 2009

A top-secret US memorandum on the use of sleep deprivation against al-Qaeda suspects cites a book written by a British academic decades ago to justify the technique.

Jim Horne, director of the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University, was shocked to discover that his book Why We Sleep (1988) had been used by the Bush Administration.

The memo, which is addressed to a senior figure in the Central Intelligence Agency, discusses depriving suspects of sleep for up to 180 hours. Citing the book, it says: "The longest studies of sleep deprivation in humans ... (involved) volunteers who were deprived of sleep for eight to 11 days ... Surprisingly little seemed to go wrong with them physically."

Although noting the differences between sleep deprivation as an instrument of interrogation and its use in controlled experiments, the memo concludes it would not cause "severe physical pain".

Professor Horne told Times Higher Education that the memo, dating from 2005 and published on the orders of President Barack Obama, understated the differences.

"Prolonged stress with sleep deprivation will lead to physiological exhaustion and physical collapse, with the potential for various ensuing illnesses," he said. "To claim that 180 hours is safe ... is nonsense."

He added that a person subjected to this level of sleep deprivation would be unlikely to produce credible information "unaffected by delusion, fantasy or suggestibility".

"I am appalled that my book has been used in this way," he said.

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