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Justifiable Torture Essay

Torture is the act of inflicting physical and psychological pain. The three main purposes that Democratic governments use torture are to intimidate, to coerce false confessions, and to gather accurate security information. Torture is not only a method that has been used in countries notorious for corrupt government dictatorships such as Russia, Japan, and Germany but has also been prevalent in democracies. The use of torture in democracy is a shame, not only do secret CIA kidnappings, and the indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay go against the basic elements of a democracy, it has also been proven to be ineffective or less effective than traditional intelligence gathering, and it creates a slippery slope effect. The four basic principles of a democracy are having a political system where people can choose and replace officials through free and fair elections, the active participation of the people as citizens, in politics and civil life, the protection of the human rights of all citizens, and a rule of law where all laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.

Physical torture techniques (strikes to the body and using everyday instruments to inflict physical torture) were first recorded in “military punishments, especially among British lists of punishments; in the context of American slavery; in penal institutions; or during policing and military operations in French and British colonies” (Rejali 4). France, England, and the United States are the main democracies of modern history prior to World War II. The use of torture is highly used in Democratic governments; torture will be examined in a democratic system. Torture is a very right and left handed issue; those on the right side argue that it goes against the very values that Democratic Governments try to instill in their citizens such as equality, human rights, and liberties. Those on the left side like to refer to the ticking bomb scenario and point out terrorist acts such as 9/11 and Pearl Harbor.

Critics on the left side argue that Pearl Harbor was due to the fact that the United States did not have a strong intelligence agency Congressional probers basically blamed the disaster on a lack of imagination and watchfulness on the part of the American commanders on the scene, combined with poor coordination and exchange of intelligence in Washington… In the view of President Harry S. Truman, the Japanese attack might have been prevented “if there had been something like coordination of information in the government.” President Truman observed in his memoirs: “In those days the military did not know everything the State Department knew, and the diplomats did not have access to all the Army and Navy knew. (Intelligence throughout history).

Torture is a method that is commonly used by the CIA, “After the attacks of 9/11, former President Bush authorized the creation of extralegal detention camps where Central Intelligence Agency operatives were told to extract information from prisoners who were captured and held in secret” (On torture and American Values). Torture is highly used and many believe that torture is an effective method of gathering intelligence; however this does not address whether it is justified in a democratic system.

Torture is actually not as effective as many people think and it is never justifiable due to the fact that, “the United States has historically incorporated these international definitions into its military manuals. The 1992 U.S. Army Field Manual, for example, instructs soldiers that both the Geneva Conventions and U.S. policy prohibit acts of violence or intimidation, including physical or mental torture, threats, or insults as a means of interrogation” (Torture).

Torture was first used in Roman times, judges used this technique to unearth crimes “In 1612, the Italian jurist Sebastian Guazzini likewise defined torture “as the distress of body devised for extracting truth. It was invented by the Civil Law, as a mode of discovering truth, for the sake of the public welfare, to the end that crimes might not remain unpunished” (Rejali 36). Examining past torture accounts one comes to the chilling conclusion that not all torture victims were actually terrorists and even though some may be criminals or terrorists they are only suspects. It is hard to look at torture methods, accounts of victims, the pictures that arose from Abu Ghraib, or Guantanamo Bay detainees and be able to say that the methods used on these people were justifiable and morally ok.

The injustice is not only being applied to democratic principles but to moral principles also. Abu Ghraib is a U.S. detention facility located in Iraq, it is famous for the pictures taken by U.S. military guards which showed graphic proof of abuse to its prisoners Major General Antonito M. Taguba wrote a 53 page report on the incident; the report listed “Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee” Such abuses of power are completely impermissible; the graphic pictures taken by U.S. military police guards included pictures of naked men being humiliated.

In Islamic law homosexual acts are condemned and it is embarrassing for men to be naked in front of each other. One picture shows a female soldier with a cigarette in her mouth giving the thumbs up as a naked detainee masturbates. Another picture shows two soldiers standing behind seven naked Iraqis that have been piled on top of each other to make a pyramid. The founding fathers of the United States created a constitution that demanded equality for all men, as the Supreme Court famously said in 1866 “The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances.” It is important that the United States and all democracies oblige to the laws set by their founders.

One of the most common beliefs about torture is that it is effective. In reality torture is not as effective as people perceive it to be “accuracy in torture is exceedingly poor, in some cases less accurate than flipping a coin, the key successes in gathering information in known cases come from other methods, most notably cultivating public cooperation and informants” (Rejali 24). Senator John McCain said in a speech on the senate floor

The trail to bin Laden did not begin with a disclosure from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was water boarded 183 times…. We did not learn Abu Ahmed’s real name or alias as a result of waterboarding or any ‘enhanced interrogation technique’ used on a detainee in U.S. custody. None of the three detainees who were water boarded provided Abu Ahmed’s real name, his whereabouts, or an accurate description of his role in Al-Qaeda. In fact, not only did the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed not provide us with key leads on bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed; it actually produced false and misleading information…Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti’s real role in Al-Qaeda and his true relationship to Osama bin Laden — was obtained through standard, non-coercive means, not through any ‘enhanced interrogation technique.’

“In short, it was not torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees that got us the major leads that ultimately enabled our intelligence community to find Osama bin Laden (Knapp) Khalid Sheikh Mohammad is the self-described mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks and was captured in 2003 he was water boarded 183 times and confessed to masterminding the September 11 attacks, the Richard Reid shoe bombing attempt to blow up an airliner over the Atlantic Ocean, the Bali nightclub bombing in Indonesia, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and various other attacks. Mohammad told the International Committee of the Red Cross that “I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear.” (Outside the beltway) Not only has torture been proven to go against basic moral and democratic principles it is also proving to be ineffective.

Ali Soufan an FBI supervisory special agent from 1997-2005 stated “Almost all the agency officials I worked with on these issues were good people who felt as I did about the use of enhanced techniques: it is un-American, ineffective and harmful to our national security” (Ali Soufan). The United States is known for urging nations to obey the international treaties and protect human rights and liberties. It is important that our government oblige to these treaties that they so consistently advocate. A former republican presidential nominee and an ex FBI agent both agree that torture is not necessary to gather intelligence. Traditional methods such as informants and regular interrogations have been proven to be more effective then torture.

Using torture in a democratic system creates three slippery slopes “Torture increasingly takes in more suspects than those approved, leads to harsher methods than are authorized, and leads to greater bureaucratic fragmentation” (Darius Rejali 24). What Rejali is talking about, is that every person that has been tortured has not been proven to be a confirmed terrorist and is only a suspected one. Such is the case of Khalid El-Masri, a car salesman from Germany whose name resembles Khalid Al-Masri who is a confirmed terrorist. El-Masri was kidnapped by the CIA, taken to a ‘black site’ in Afghanistan, and was allegedly tortured. He was then released after four months, when it had become apparent he was not a terrorist. He had been confused with Khalid Al- Masri; the confusion was due to the fact that the names are spelt the same way in Arabic script. Torture also leads to greater torture because if a person is being tortured and will not confess to a crime that he is suspected of, what’s to say that the person administering the torture will not continue to apply harsher methods.

He has already crossed the set boundaries presented by peace treaties and laws. Once a person has crossed the line and has committed to the act of torture what will stop him from going down the slope until the confession is given? The last slope torture leads to is bureaucratic fragmentation, torture is kept secretive and when it is not law makers push the boundaries to make it acceptable during the Bush administration laws were bent and given new definitions, lawyers and attorneys worked together to redefine torture, the “Justice Department even declared that those acts did not violate the lower standard of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” (On Torture and American Values). Americans never authorized secret kidnappings, or the dehumanization of men, or the indefinite imprisonment at jails such as Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib. Such secretive acts only create a wall between American citizens and its Government.

Along with all the negatives of torture many also believe it to have positive effects also. The ticking bomb scenario is when a terrorist is believed to know the location of a time sensitive bomb that will be set off in a matter of time. The question that arises from this scenario is, is torture morally acceptable under special circumstances? Many believe yes because obviously they care about national security. Patrick J. Buchannan states “The morality of any act depends not only on its character, but on the circumstances and motive. Stealing is wrong and illegal, but stealing food for one’s starving family is a moral act. Even killing is not always wrong. If a U.S. soldier had shot Mohammed to save 50 hostages, he would be an American hero.”(Buchannan) Buchannan is referring to Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and discussing how he is an example of a “special circumstance” Another point is that under President Bush’s administration enhanced interrogation techniques did not arise to the level of torture “The former president firmly believes that enhanced interrogation techniques were necessary to obtain much-needed intelligence information in the war on terror” (Torture).

Many believe torture is crucial in gathering information that could lead to the prevention of terrorist acts. An Associate Press ipsos group interviewed 1000 adults; “the” poll results indicate that support for justifiable torture is highest in southern Korea and the United States. There is also strong support in the United Kingdom and France with borderline results in Germany, Canada, and Mexico. Italians and Spaniards are opposed” (Peterson). Since the terrorist attacks took place in September 11, 2001 torture has been a method more commonly used. Many Americans accepted this notion by simply ignoring it, growing a stronger sense of nationalism, or believing that the criminals needed to be punished as shown in the poll that was taken many people from different countries supported torture.

The ticking bomb scenario is a fantasized situation that those who support torture like to bring up. Information that comes from enhanced interrogation techniques as opposed to traditional methods has proved to be less accurate. Buchannan Makes a valid point on torture being acceptable because of the morality of it that torture is being inflicted to gather information that could save the lives of people, however as stated earlier torture techniques are not needed to gather the information, traditional methods can be used and are more effective. Although after 9/11 many Americans supported torture it still conflicted with our values.

Torture has proven to go against basic moral and democratic principles. It has also proven to be less effective than traditional methods of interrogation or intelligence gathering. And it has not only proved to create one slippery slope, but it has created three. The case of Abu Ghraib and Khalid El-Masri proved the slippery slope theory because humans were sodomized with a broomstick; men were humiliated, forced to touch themselves in front of other naked men and were dehumanized. El Masri was an innocent German citizen and was held in a prison somewhere in Afghanistan and was allegedly tortured for nearly five months.

The example of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad proved that torture is less effective than traditional methods of interrogation because as said by John McCain it led to false information and the accurate information that led to the capture of Bin Laden was obtained through standard non coercive means. Lastly, torture completely goes against the constitution and even though law makers have bent the law and redefined torture so it does meet the legal standards of torture it is still unethical because as stated earlier “The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace, and covers with shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances.” Even in times of national crises we must still follow the constitution which was meant to guide us through hard times with our principles secure and values intact.

Works Cited
Buchanan, Patrick J. “Torture Is Moral When Inflicted for a Greater Good.” Torture. Ed. Debra A. Miller. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2009. Current Controversies. Rpt. from “The Case for Torture.” World Net Daily. 2003. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web 22 Nov 2012. Hersh, Seymour. “Torture at Abu Ghraib.” The New Yorker.com. The New Yorker, 10 May. 2004. Web. 22 Nov 2012

Knapp, Alex “An FBI Interrogator on the Effectiveness of Torture” Outside the Beltway.com. Outside the Beltway, 10 Sept. 2009. Web 23 Nov 2012
“On Torture and American Values” The New York Times.com. New York times, 7 Oct. 2007. Web 23 Nov 2012
Petersen, Kim. “Torture Is Morally Reprehensible.” Torture. Ed. Debra A. Miller. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2009. Current Controversies. Rpt. from “Elementary Morality and Torture.” Dissident Voice. 2005. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web 23 Nov 2012. Rejali, Darius. Torture and Democracy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007. Print. Soufan, Ali. “My Tortured Decision.” The New York Times.com. New York times, 22 April 2009. Web 22 Nov 2012

“Torture.” Current Issues: Macmillan Social Science Library. Detroit: Gale, 2010. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web 24 Nov 2012.
United States. CIA “Intelligence Throughout History: The Impact of Pearl Harbor.” US CIA , Dec. 2010. Web 26 Nov 2012


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