Talking to myself about foreign policy, US politics, technology, &c.

Counterpoint: Or Not to Torture

The moral compass of the United States is spinning like a top when one can even imagine a point-counterpoint on the validity of torture. The question “Are you pro- or anti-torture” seems as ludicrous as asking on World AIDS Day if one is pro- or anti-HIV. In the end, if one has any claim to being a decent human being, one has to admit that some things are simply wrong and best left to nightmares out of the Dark Ages. Torture is pretty high on that list. For any budding Torquemadas for whom moral repugnance is not a good enough reason, let’s go over why it is that torture is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea.
Torture doesn’t work to get information. Ironically, the base of torture techniques appears to have come from US Special Forces training for how to withstand potential torture in enemy hands, such as in North Korea or Iran. Authoritarian regimes such as these make good use of torture largely to force confession, not to extract information. It’s well understood that people under torture will say whatever they think you want to hear to get the pain to stop; that’s why it is worthless as an information gathering technique, but wonderful for extracting propagandistic admissions of treason against, say, the Ayatollah or Dear Leader.

Torture always affects more people than even apologists could justify. Those being tortured aren’t worthy of being treated like humans, we are told; they are terrorists, less than animals. However, the problem with such concepts is that if you don’t have clear instructions from the get-go it’s pretty hard to decide where to stop in the heat of the moment. Techniques intended for the worst of the worst have since been unleashed upon innocents rounded up by mistake, as was horrifically clear in the atrocities from Abu Ghraib. Bright lines are required in wartime; our soldiers are under constant threat from IEDs and suicide bombers, and with superiors screaming for intelligence ambiguous limits may as well not exist. Further, those who abuse prisoners are victims too, and are frequently mentally scarred by their participation in such acts.

Torture does not need a legal exception. The most laughable argument pro-torture people use to justify their actions is the “ticking bomb” scenario. “If we don’t have the right to tie people up with their hands over their heads for days while dousing them with cold water in a dark cell” armchair inquisitors hysterically pant “we might not be able to find out where a hidden nuclear device is!” First, apart from this season of ’24,’ that scenario doesn’t happen. Period. Second, if it actually did, anyone can make the judgment that it is better to go to prison for abuse of a prisoner than to have New York go sky-high. Third, no jury in America would convict under those conditions. Such an exception can only be intended for much wider use.

Torture is an embarrassment to the United States that destroys one of the strongest bases of our power: our ability to inspire. A recent State Department report on China decried the “torture and mistreatment of prisoners, leading to numerous deaths in custody; coerced confessions; arbitrary arrest and detention; and incommunicado detention” that take place there. Do those abuses sound familiar? Thuggish governments world round are laughing all the way to the rack; it’s not that we don’t have a moral leg to stand on anymore; we cut it off and are busily bludgeoning ourselves with it.

Under George Bush’s watch, America has destroyed the moral credibility that has made the nation a role model for world. One might wonder why, if torture wasn’t an embarrassment, we aren’t proudly stating what we’re doing to those damn SOBs. If it’s so effective, why not use it in domestic law enforcement? Shouldn’t we withdraw from treaties such as the Convention Against Torture? Make new branding irons that proudly state USA? The reason is that, apart from toadies to the Imperial Presidency, we all know torture is indefensible.

But don’t just take my word for it; ask some people who know something about torture, like John McCain. The US Senate voted 90-9 on Oct. 5th to make sure that no branch of the US government was subjected people in their custody to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” This ain’t some anti-war free-love peaceniks Code Pink book club, folks; no one would mistake most Senators for Michael Moore (usually equally fat, but better groomed).

Fifty years from now when all the records are out the American people will be ashamed of the shocking abuses that took place under this administration. Beat the rush- there’s plenty to be ashamed of now. According to the Department of State, “The United States condemns unequivocally the despicable practice of torture” That’s good news. Now we just have to convince the Republicans in power to make sure it is not occurring at our own hands.

Chris Doten (MALD 07) is currently a first-year student at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Next edition will be be Chris’ first as the new Editor-In-Chief of the 2006 Fletcher Ledger

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