Just Another Guy with Opinions

Why Torture?

Posted by shadmia on October 4, 2006


When the war in Afghanistan started and prisoners were being captured, I thought to myself:

These prisoners were taken out of the “action” and now sit in a cell somewhere getting three square meals a day. If they held any vital information maybe a long, long time in isolation would convince them to divulge it. Besides, what else can we do to them? We are the Americans (the Good Guys!). Even the worst criminals in our prisons are treated humanely. They don’t, under normal circumstances, undergo undue physical abuse. They have access to medical facilities if needed, they are encouraged to workout to stay fit, they have the option to further their education. This is how we treat the worst of the worst in our society. So this is how we will treat the terrorists, right!?

I guess I was living in a fantasy world. The first real shock was, of course, Abu Ghraib Prison. Then came Guantanamo Bay. Then the secret prisons in foreign countries.

Then came the admission that torture (however you define it) was considered a legitimate way of extracting information from certain detainees, who were not “prisoners of war” in the traditional sense and were therefore not protected by the Geneva Conventions against torture and inhumane treatment.

Well there go all my beliefs in a justice system for all. It is almost as if these detainees were not really human beings and did not deserve to be treated as such. It makes me think that racism may have something to do with this. Since they don’t act like us or look like us then maybe we don’t have to treat them like we would one of our own. They hate us and are willing to die for the opportunity to kill us. They don’t need to be treated like human beings because they are not human beings. So torture can be justified in the name of preventing future attacks.

So what constitutes torture? I have read many articles and news reports on this subject and I am not really sure what kinds of methods of extracting information would be considered torture. It just seems so broad a term that it could mean anything. I have heard of Waterboarding, Sleep Deprivation and other terms that seem to be at the very least harsh and may even be called cruel. But is this really torture?

I looked up the definition of torture in Wikipedia

Torture is any act by which severe pain, whether physical or psychological, is intentionally inflicted on a person as a means of intimidation, deterrence, revenge, punishment, sadism, information gathering, or to obtain false confessions for propaganda or political purposes. It can be used as an interrogation tactic to extract confessions. Torture is also used as a method of coercion or as a tool to control groups seen as a threat by governments. Throughout history, it has often been used as a method of effecting religious conversion or political “re-education.” Torture is almost universally considered to be an extreme violation of human rights, as stated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Signatories of the Third Geneva Convention and The Fourth Geneva Convention agree not to torture protected persons (enemy civilians and POWs) in armed conflicts, and signatories of the UN Convention Against Torture agree not to intentionally inflict severe pain or suffering on anyone, to obtain information or a confession, to punish them, or to coerce them or a third person.

That very first sentence seems pretty clear to me. It defines what torture means and that is:

“Severe Pain”, Physical or Psychological.

Only lawyers would try to dilute its meaning. Torture is torture and there can’t be different kinds of torture (some good, some bad etc…). Torture is contrary to the Geneva Conventions and the US has signed this document. But this is not enough for the Bush Administration which has convinced Congress that regardless of what is said in the Geneva Conventions and the US Constitution, we need a law that will allow the President the freedom to:

  • Authorize the capture and detention of anyone, anywhere in the world who is considered a terrorist (by his own definition) and deny them not only access to the courts but also access to any evidence against them.
  • Authorize interrogation procedures (torture) to discover any plots, that they may or may not know about, against the United States.

Are they CRAZY? That kind of power should belong to no one. You can’t just go around globe-trotting looking for people to arrest and detain indefinitely and on top of all of that, torture them if you think it is necessary. This is the kind of legislation that I hope will be brought before the Supreme Court on the grounds that it violates the US Constitution. Everyone has the right to defend himself in court. Everyone has the right to know what evidence there is against him. Nobody has the right to torture anybody. Why is this so hard to understand?

If this bill becomes law, as I am sure it will, the US will have lost what little moral leadership it had left in the world. We will have given our President legal authority to arrest and detain anyone, anywhere and not have to prove just cause. How can we criticize other countries on their human rights if we don’t lead by example? How can we expect our troops to be treated humanely by other countries? and have we set a dangerous precedent for others to follow?

This does not mean that I don’t want to see terrorists captured and detained. I want to see terrorists captured, detained and convicted in a court of law and in a timely manner, if they are guilty. That is what our legal system is there for; to determine innocence or guilt. Torture is not a part of this equation. We are the most powerful country on earth and with that comes the responsibility to uphold the democratic values and institutions upon which this country was built. To do any less is to make a mockery of our very own Constitution. How can we expect the respect of the world if we ignore the values upon which we were founded? This bill holds us up to the ridicule of the entire world.


Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the House, raised some very serious issues in her speech against the passage of this bill. She also predicted that it would end up before the Supreme Court on constitutional grounds.


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