Last night President Obama unequivocally declared that the U.S. will
not engage in torture. That's welcome. Torture is bad policy for several reasons, including its tendency to produce false
confessions. But we must not get the idea that anything short of torture is a legitimate interrogation tool. To the contrary,
modern interrogation techniques, relying on bullying and deception, cause false confessions. It's good that we will no
longer be torturing suspected terrorists. But we need to change the way we interrogate all suspects.
The Innocence Project reports 232 cases of post-conviction DNA exoneration,
including 5 already this year. In roughly 25% of those cases, the person wrongly convicted made incriminating admissions,
pled guilty, or gave an outright false confession.
Earlier this month, the New York State Bar Association released a report
based on study of 53 overturned convictions. The study found the usual causes of wrongful conviction, including
faulty identification, mishandling of forensic evidence, and reliance on false confessions. Critically, the report calls for
electronic recording of all interrogations of felony suspects.
As the cases of perjury against baseball stars Barry Bonds and Roger
Clemens move forward, it's worth keeping in mind that ideally the presumption of innocence extends beyond the court of law
and to the court of public opinion. Just as there are many false confessions, there are many false accusations, and often
for the same reason -- pressure from law enforcement authorities.