In a post-9/11 world, where it seems that terrorism is rampant and increasing numbers of extremists threaten the safety and wellbeing of American citizens, is it ever justified to bend the rules of legality and morality while fighting the war on terror? Whether or not the use of torture as an interrogation tactic is justified in these circumstances is questionable because of controversy about its legality, morality, and effectiveness; the use of torture would violate several international and domestic laws as well as compromise American morals and beliefs.
Despite this controversy, the United States has employed these tactics in recent years to questionable effect; however, the use of it is illegal, immoral and ineffective. Torture should not be used in any circumstance because it violates American morals, political treaties, and laws, would diminish the reputation of the United States in the world, has not been proven effective by scientific evidence, and would create a future of uncertainty regarding the use of torture. Torture is never justified because it defies moral values of both humans and the United States.
Humans have the obligation to “respect the honor and dignity of other human beings” (Fried), even if that respect and dignity is not returned. Once tactics such as torture are resorted to, which compromise the dignity of another human, the dignity of the person performing that act is also compromised (Fried). There are some things, such as torture, that should never be done simply because the right to “call ourselves decent human beings” depends on not doing them (Jacoby).
If humans sink to the lowest level that is torture, the essential abilities to feel empathy, respect, and honor are lost, all core parts of humanity that separate man from all other animals. As a country, the United States also has distinct morals that hold it above resorting to torture. Found in the Declaration of Independence, America was founded on the principle that all men have a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Applying torture to even the worst of criminals undoubtedly takes away these rights.
It takes away the liberty because the victim is held against his will, pursuit of happiness because they are being physically and mentally tortured, and in severe cases, even will take someone’s life. It’s evident that employing torture tactics would compromise one of the most sacred documents in America’s history, one that has set many precedents in the United States. Additionally, as a democratic republic, it is essential to this country’s identity to refrain from torture in order to “retain our character” (Fried).
By resorting to torture, a democratic republic, in which the power of the people holds, contradicts its own definition. The United States, as a superpower and developed country, should also be held to higher moral standards and act as a role model to other countries (Cohn). Governments around the world respect the United States for the values it upholds (“On Torture and American Values”). By using torture, the US “undermines the values we are defending” (Knickerbocker), values of justice, freedom, and human rights.
Using torture would also lessen the reputation of the United States in the world (Knickerbocker). As a nation viewed as a leader in ethics and moral standards, this country would be stooping to the level of its enemies and also diminish its stature by using inhumane practices like torture. In addition, torture is also not permissible because of its illegality, contradicting both domestic and international laws. Torture should not be adopted because it violates United States treaties and laws, such as the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Convention against Torture.
Both of these treaties are ones that the United States has signed, and therefore they have become the law of the country. The Geneva Conventions only ensures the humanitarian treatment of war prisoners (Jacoby), but the UN Convention against Torture applies to all, even “terrorists and enemy combatants” (Jacoby), and states that torture is not justified even in exceptional circumstances of war and threat and that it is a criminal offense in all countries that ratify it (“Convention Against…”).
In an indirect way, another law that prohibits the use of torture in the United States is a Supreme Court case. In the 2006 case of Hamsdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court ruled that Article Three of the Geneva Conventions applies to all detainees, no matter where they are held, and that cruel and inhumane punishment of any kind, including torture, is illegal (“Terrorism and civil liberty…”). According to the Constitution, the rulings of the Supreme Court are law; therefore, treating a detainee with torture is illegal.
One of the longstanding ideals in the United States is rule of law, the idea that the law applies to everyone, even the President of the United States. These treaties and court ruling define the law, meaning that no one is an exception to the law, and to break it would be illegal and unjustified. However, all moral, political, and legal arguments are irrelevant if the use of torture has not been proven effective to a certain degree. Torture is also not justified because it has not been supported by scientific evidence to be effective.
The use of torture is not justified because it is unreliable and has not been proven by science; in fact, scientific evidence exists that shows how torture is detrimental in obtaining information from detainees. A major reason of torture’s unreliability is that victims of torture are likely to say whatever they think the torturer wants to hear in order to make the physical or psychological pain stop (Whipps). This would result in false information being collected, which may cause more harm and endanger more lives than collecting no information at all.
Secondly, there has been no science to prove or support the legitimacy of torture, only subjective reports. A 2006 Intelligence Science Board stated that “the scientific community has never established that coercive interrogation methods are an effective means of obtaining reliable intelligence information” (Horton). This report contradicts the popular assumption that torture is the most effective way of obtaining useful information from a detainee (Robbins).
If the method has never been established to be effective, and there are many ethical and moral issues surrounding it, it is not justified to be used. In addition to there not being any scientific evidence proving the reliability of torture, there is also evidence that shows why torture is ineffective. The human memory is affected by many factors, but overall, it can be agreed that it is not perfectly accurate. Memory becomes even more inaccurate when the person in question is subjected to severe stress, confusion, and sleep deprivation, all characteristics of torture (Robbins).
Memory is also affected by two major structures in the brain, the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex (Horton). Stress induced by torture releases the hormone cortisol that can impair the functions of both of these structures, therefore affecting memory accuracy. Neurobiologist Shane O’Mara states that stress caused by torture, especially waterboarding (which is employed by the US government), causes impairment of previously learned information (Horton). Damage of the prefrontal cortex by the hormone cortisol can also cause confabulation, or false memories.
A person under torture interrogation techniques experiences confabulation would not be able to distinguish between real memories and false ones, resulting in false, and ultimately useless information (Horton). Torture has also been seen to be unreliable in practical cases where it was used by the government. Further proof that torture is unreliable and ineffective, therefore unjustified, is shown by the waterboarding and torture of detainee Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who then misled interrogators about crucial information.
Mohammed, a key planner in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was captured and subjected to waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and other physical violence, for information on Osama bin Laden, an enemy of the highest level (Shane). Mohammed told interrogators that a man named Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti was of little importance and who had retired, although the truth was that Kuwaiti was an important courier and crucial to revealing the location of bin Laden. This shows that though Mohammed was subjected to torture of the harshest kind, he still misled his interrogators about terrorism activity, showing the ineffectiveness of torture (Shane).
This case is astounding because if its extremity. Mohammed, a leading planner in the most infamous attack on American soil of all time and exactly the type of dangerous extremist torture is meant to be effective against, was subjected to torture and still managed to further lie about information that could have led to the capture of Osama bin Laden. Yet though it has been shown to be ineffective, the United States government continues to implement torture, setting the country on a path of dangerous precedent. If it continues to use torture, it will set a hazardous example as to when torture can and cannot be employed for the future.
The use of torture is not justifiable because it is a slippery slope, meaning that is too difficult to determine when torture is allowed to be used, and too easy to gradually apply torture to less than extreme situations. It may be said that the use of torture saves lives, but it is difficult to specify what kinds of means are justified by the ends. If, for example, electric shocks and beatings fail to yield the information to prevent a terrorist attack of the scale of 9/11, it is too easy to move on to cutting off a finger, to cutting off a hand, blurring what can and cannot be done in the name of saving lives (Jacoby).
In another way, torture is a slippery slope because once the precedent of using torture has been set, it is more easily applied to less and less extreme criminals, even applied indiscriminately (Bazelon, Carter, and Lithwick). Drawing from a historical example, in 63 BC, Julius Caesar refused to kill a group of Roman traitor citizens for plotting to overthrow the government because the Roman law prohibited the execution of citizens.
He argued that though justified under the specific circumstances, the execution would create a dangerous precedent of giving the Senate the power to kill citizens (Greenwald). This anecdote is relevant to the modern torture debate because similarly to Rome in 63 BC, though the use of torture may be permissible in the famous ticking time bomb scenario, the use of it creates a radical precedent that sets the government to fall down the slippery slope in the future.
In its brutal quest for information, the US government may turn to torture more often, to the point where it is no longer a cause for concern and may even seem normal (“What’s lost when exceptions…”). The problems that plagued ancient Rome will continue to plague America in the future; however, if America makes the wrong choice and allows itself to permit slavery once and then become more and more lenient in allowing its use, it will cause serious problems in the future.
Torture is never justified because it is too challenging to determine the situations it is permissible under now, and it will be too effortless to take advantage of in the future; allowing its use now will place the United States in the path of a slippery slope. The use of torture is never permissible because it does not uphold the moral standards of humanity and the United States, it breaks political law and treaties, is too easy to be used in less extreme situations, and has not even proven to be effective by science.
The human and American principles of maintaining dignity and respect for other humans is compromised by the use of torture, and several treaties ratified as well as the Supreme Court decision are contradicted. Placing the power of using torture in the government’s hands make it hard to determine when torture can and cannot be used, and to what extent. Finally, there is both scientific evidence disproving torture and a lack of evidence to support it. The use of torture is unjustified, and if the United States continues to implement it, its values and stature in the world will be betrayed for little or no value.
Courtney from Study Moose
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