Tuesday, November 23, 2010


     Torture should be abolished because it's unethical, is against the founding principles of the United States, and has been condemned by former CIA agents for its ineffectiveness.  In its simplest terms, torture is the intentional use of violence on an individual to make him or her suffer.  The intent is to get the tortured individual to believe his life is at stake and could be deprived if the torturer's requests are not fulfilled.  The torturer's ultimate goal is to get complete power over the victim potentially causing him to give away useful information.  A "Top Secret" CIA report called "Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities (September 2001- October 2003)" that was published on May 7, 2004 was released to the public on August 24, 2009 in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit (Thomas).  This report outlined two types of interrogation techniques, "standard interrogation techniques" and "enhanced interrogation techniques".  Methods of torture falling under the "standard" category were not supposed to "incorporate significant psychological pressure", including "isolation, sleep deprivation not to exceed 72 hours," and "loud music or white noise."  Under the "enhanced" category (EITs), the torture was intended to "incorporate physical or psychological pressure," including attention grasp (slapping), walling (slamming a detainee against a wall), stress positions, sleep deprivation beyond 72 hours, and simulated drowning through "waterboarding" (Thomas).  The US's torture policies are in direct contradiction with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" (Macmillian Social Science Library).

     One major reason why torture should be abolished is that it's unethical.  The practice does not only betray the professional ethics of the physicians and psychologists involved, but also deprives the tortured individual of his most fundamental human rights (Merriman).  After 9/11, psychologists revised their ethics code to be in accordance with changing political tides.  This change disregarded the ethics set forth in the Nuremberg Code after the conclusion of World War II.  The adoption of "post 9/11 ethics" by the American Psychological Association created uproar both within and outside the association.  In the name of national security, the American Psychological Association failed to remain immune to political influences when the Bush Administration decided to engage in torture.  As seen from the drastic ramifications of torture over the last few years, ethical values and civil liberties must be upheld regardless of the ever-changing political tide.  It is clear that some ethical values, such as torture, are too fundamental to discard despite emerging dangers or risks.

     Contradicting the ethical arguments against torture is the following viewpoint by Henry Mark Holzer, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School.

It is likely that a clear majority of Americans would support torture in cases where it can prevent massive loss of life. The use of torture in such situations is not only morally permissible, but also morally necessary. A legal precedent for torture can be found in a Florida case where police officers threatened and physically abused a kidnapping suspect in an attempt to locate his victim, and were lauded in both state and federal court rulings. Most would consider this use of physical abuse acceptable because it saved the victim's life. If it is acceptable to use physical abuse and threats to save lives, then it should be acceptable to use nonlethal torture—particularly when dealing with a terrorist's "ticking bomb" scenario, where countless lives may be at risk (Holzer).

     Holzer says that when a life can be saved, we should disregard the ethical criticisms of torture.  According to Holzer, it is a moral necessity to take whatever means is necessary to harness valuable information, in the absence of a viable alternative, to save a considerable number of innocent lives.  In Holzer's viewpoint, he cites the "Ticking Bomb Scenario" as an instance in which it would be a moral necessity to execute torture.   One plausible variation of the "Ticking Time Bomb Scenario", is when a suspected terrorist implants a secret weapon of mass destruction that is known to detonate in the near future, at an undisclosed location.  In a situation such as this when law enforcement is certain that the suspect won't give away any information in the absence of torture, Holzer claims executing torture would not only be justified, but a moral necessity.

     The reason it remains unethical to torture in the extremely improbable "Ticking Time Bomb Scenario" is that torture is indefinitely "elastic" (Roth).  If the terrorist can be tortured, why not torture those close to him such as his neighbor or friend who could potentially yield valuable information about the attack?  It is essential that our actions are not driven by fear in the wake of a threat of terror, but on the rational and ethical views we have in times of peace when all the odds are carefully considered and debated.  Through multiple international treaties, many countries have recognized and committed to stop the usage of torture because it's always cruel, inhuman, and degrading in times of peace or in times of war.  Although Holzer's viewpoint that torture is justifiable in certain situations may seem reasonable at first, as we'll explore next, torture is an ineffective method to harness valuable information.

      Another major reason torture should be abolished is that it has been condemned by CIA veterans for its ineffectiveness.  The reality of torture is that it almost always fails to yield true or useful information.  In law enforcement's pursuit of valuable information to combat terrorism, the usage of abusive and degrading torture is counterproductive.  When subjected to unbearable and inhumane treatment, anyone will say what is expected of him, true or not, to end the degrading treatment.  Even in the rare situation when a hint of marginal value is obtained from the practice, it does not by any means outweigh the loss of national pride and strained diplomatic relationships due to violated international treaties.  When informed of America's usage of torture, Allies are less likely to provide support in the fight against terrorism.  History has showed us time and time again of the ramifications of torture and its failure to yield valuable information in almost every instance.

     Contradicting the evidence that torture is an ineffective method to obtain information is the following viewpoint by Richard B. "Dick" Cheney.

"To call this a program of torture is to libel the dedicated professionals who have saved American lives.... To completely rule out enhanced interrogation methods in the future ... would make the American people less safe" (Berlatsky).

     In his viewpoint, Cheney expresses his belief that criticizing the psychologists and interrogators involved with torture during the Bush Administration is unacceptable.  He insists that their actions were driven by their ongoing commitment to keep America safe and ensure the highest level of security within the country's borders.  Cheney firmly believes that the legalization of torture in response to the devastating 9/11 attacks was absolutely necessary to prevent a tragic event from recurring.  The former vice president contends that valuable information was obtained through the practice and claims only a small number of terrorists of the highest intelligence value were ever subjected to waterboarding (Berlatsky).  Cheney is outraged by recommendations to charge those who approved torturous interrogations with war crimes and thinks such action would thereby indicate that political differences are a punishable offense.  Cheney believes that the US's incorporation of torture after 9/11 was necessary to combat terrorism and condemns views proclaiming torturers should be punished with war crimes.

     As previously addressed, torture is an ineffective method to obtain critical information.  Because it is in human nature for a torture victim to surrender whatever information is expected of him, true or not, when presented with unbearable amounts of pain, torture almost always fails to yield valuable or truthful information.  Even in the rare case when it does provide a hint to law enforcement, it is marginal in value at best.  It is profoundly wrong to say that only a few terrorists were subjected to waterboarding.  Furthermore, the intentional destruction of videotapes of terrorists undergoing simulated drowning by the CIA before US investigators could see them is further evidence that the practice is still alive and well, perhaps more used today than ever before.  As we will see next, torture truly is a war crime and is against the laws of the United States.

     Perhaps the biggest reason torture should be abolished is that it is illegal and against the founding principles of the United States.  In our pursuit to curb the threat of terrorism, we cannot continue to fight terrorists while being violators of international law ourselves.  Torture is a war crime because it violates both domestic and international laws.  One federal law addressing torture is the Torture Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2340 (Haerens).  In addition, the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment signed by President Reagan states that "just following orders" is no defense and that "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever" will be considered when it comes to torture (Haerens).  Finally, under the Convention Against Torture, the United States, among other countries that signed the treaty, committed to make "all acts of torture offenses under criminal law" and prosecute cases that are determined to be torturous to the maximum extent allowed by the law.  Among others, the 8th Amendment of the US Constitution prohibits the usage of cruel and unusual punishment.  Torture is clearly unconstitutional, against federal laws, and against international treaties and agreements and it is unquestionable that the interrogation techniques cited in the Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities (September 2001- October 2003) report violate the laws and treaties described above.

     Although the United States government in conjunction with the CIA probably participated in torturous activities with the best intentions, it is clear that the resulting activities have caused far more harm than good.  Torture is truly one of the worst things we can do to fellow human beings.  Ethics aside, history has showed us time and time again how ineffective torture really is.  When presented with the greatest extent of brutality, anyone will say what is expected of him or her to cease the violence.  Besides that, torture is clearly a violation of the US Constitution, federal laws, and international treaties.  In our struggle against terrorism, we must cease our violations of domestic and international policies before we can fight the terrorists that imperil our lives each passing day.  It is for these reasons that torture should be abolished with all deliberate speed.

Works Cited

"Enhanced Interrogation Helps Keep America Safe." Presidential Powers. Noah Berlatsky. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2010. Opposing Viewpoints. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web.

“Bush Administration Officials Who Authorized Torture Should Be Tried for War Crimes in the ICC." War Crimes. Ed. Margaret Haerens. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2011. Opposing Viewpoints. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 

Holzer, Henry Mark. "Torture Is Sometimes Justified." Front Page Magazine (29 Nov. 2002). Rpt. in Is Torture Ever Justified? Ed. Tom Head. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2005. At Issue. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web.

"Torture." Current Issues: Macmillian Social Science Library. Detroit: Gale, 2010. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 23 Nov. 2010.

Roth, Kenneth. "Torture Is Never Justified." The Washington Post (13 May 2004): A29. Rpt. in Is Torture Ever Justified? Ed. Tom Head. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2005. At Issue. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web.

Thomas, John. "Mental health professionals in the 'enhanced' interrogation room." Psychiatric Times 26.11 (2009): 1. General OneFile. Web. 23 Nov. 2010.

1 comment:

  1. It is a slippery slope from the high ground and today the rules of the Geneva Convention seem to be paper-thin. Now all you need is a waiver from the U.N. and you can be just as evil as the enemy you fight.


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