In a word, yes, assuming they had lots of help from the CIA to deliver their persuasion.
I would not have said this was possible five years ago. But in 2017, cognitive scientists know how to reprogram a human brain fairly effectively. They have weaponized what hypnotists have been doing for decades.
As luck would have it (sort of) we can test persuasion ideas at Guantanamo Bay without any cruelty whatsoever. There would be no hardcore “brainwashing,” just a series of pleasant experiences engineered to get a certain outcome.
The key to making all of this work is what businesses call A/B testing. The idea is that you rapidly test one approach after another until you get the best result.
I believe that current facial recognition technology can tell us how a subject is responding to a suggestion. When one approach works well, we don’t stop – we keep testing until we find the one that works best. And different approaches would work with different personality types. So we need a number of persuasion approaches. The A/B testing would be perpetual by design, so our results would improve over time. Once we can reliably reprogram the Guantanamo Bay prisoners, we take that weaponized persuasion to ISIS.
Regular readers of this blog have seen me discuss lots of examples of persuasion at work. But you haven’t seen anything yet. Your opinion of free will will evaporate in the next few years. I had that experience when I trained to be a hypnotist. Once you see a subject’s brain get reprogrammed in real time, you never believe in free will again. That’ll happen to you within five years – you will see examples of brains being reprogrammed right in front of you. The science on how to do it is super strong now. It will be everywhere. And it is totally legal. We used to call it “marketing” when it didn’t work that well. This new stuff is something else. It works so well it makes your ethical alarms go off.
I’ll make a prediction, just for fun: If President Trump orders the release of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners in 2-3 years, it won’t be as risky as you think.
You might enjoy reading my current book because I’m writing a new book and you never want to read the second book first.