Should Torture Be Illegal

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Last updated: April 19, 2019

On January 27th George Bush, in an interview to The Times, declared, “ torture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that do tortureThe use of ‘torture’ as an effective tool of interrogation has received mixed responses, where a section of society has endorsed its use; the other violently condemns ‘torture’ as an abomination and a violation of man’s basic rights.In the quest to unearth the truth, man has often resorted to the use of physical and mental torture to get relevant information. With the change in international affairs, ‘Terrorism’, has raised its ugly head, all over the world, warranting the use of torture to get the suspects to confess.The use of torture has been, unequivocally supported by Clinton R Van Zandt, specially, in situations, which he describes as a “ticking time bomb”(758). It is during these ‘time bomb’ instances when a suspect refuses to divulge the case-sensitive information, impacting the lives of thousands of unsuspecting and innocent civilians, that the use of torture becomes mandatory.

The use of coercive techniques in interrogation, have been a part of the US legal system its use and intensity however has multiplied tremendously in the past few years. Infact, US has often coached fellow countries on the use of the ‘stress and duress’ method of interrogation. This interrogation strategy was devised in order to psychologically drain the suspect while trying to impress upon him the rationalization of cooperation.But with Terrorism crossing all limits and manifesting itself as a huge threat to security these methods have given way to ‘torture’, as a more effective tool.On moral and humanitarian grounds the United Nations strongly condemns the use of torture by any state. According to the United Nations, no situation, be it war, a threat of war, political instability or public emergency, can warrant or justify the use of torture. The fact that these terrorists themselves use torture was not considered.

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According to Gary Cohn, Mark Mathews and Ginger Thompson in their article on ‘Torture was taught by the CIA’ the US has often used torture in the past. A testimony to this fact is the ‘Human Resource Exploiting Manual’- 1983, which was printed in response to a Freedom of Information Act, request by The Baltimore Sun in May 1994. The manual explicitly stated that the US torture tools involved stripping the suspect naked and keeping him blindfolded. The room where the suspect was kept should be dark, windowless, soundproof and without a toilet.

The interrogation or the ‘battleground’ as it is often referred to was where the ‘questioner’ had complete command.Owing to the pressures generated on the release of this manual, the US inserted a covering page that any form of torture whether mental or physical is considered illegal and not authorised by either the international or domestic laws.. In 1994, the term implied severe physical or mental pain and suffering which resulted in prolonged mental harm. However, the interpretation of the meaning of the term ‘torture’ has undergone massive changes to aid the war against terror. To effectively gather information from terrorists the threshold for torture must now be equivalent to severe physical pain accompanied by physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily functions or even death. These broadened parameters allow interrogators to use torture on a larger scale.

In modern times, where even seconds are important in avoiding the impending terror attacks there often arise situations when the Government is forced to use terror to extract the necessary information. In this context, Government Officials state, that there should be courts where the Government can present the overwhelming importance of using Torture tactics in order to save the lives of innocents. The Court under such circumstances, must issue a “ Duress Warrant” (Clinton Van Zandt, 758) which allows the Legal authorities to undertake any measure it deems fit to get the suspect to reveal facts which are of fundamental importance. The Courts’ ruling in this situation would be absolute and there would not be any appeal process by either a member of the public or the Media. It is in these precarious situations that ‘ public safety’ takes precedence over individual human rights.

In the immediate aftermath of the September 11th 2001 bombings, Attorney General John Ashcroft proposed the most stringent laws empowering the courts to issue warrants for legal authorities to arrest any person they considered suspicious and gave the courts authority to try cases relating to terrorism where their judgement would be absolute. However his rules were met with severe criticism as people accused him of sowing the seeds of communal disharmony.Taking into account the magnitude of the threat, Clinton remarks that without the “duress warrant” (758), authorities would be left with only the conventional methods of interrogation while watching the seconds on the time-bomb clock tick away as the one person who knows how to stop it chooses to remain silent about it.However a section of society including people like, Vincent Iacopino, believe that the ‘use of torture in interrogation should not be permissible’ (759). They uphold the use of torture as a violation of the basic human rights of man. They state that strong psychological methods of interrogation are as effective as the terror tools.

Moreover they point out that under the rules of the United Nation’s ‘Convention Against Torture’, America is forbidden to use the ‘torture tool’ by virtue of being a member of the UN.Besides the arguments against the use of torture, the events of mass destruction like the September 11th Attack on the Twin Towers and in other parts of America compelled the authorities to resort to torture in order to prevent a similar disaster in future.The global scenario is rapidly changing and Terrorism is the biggest threat to global security in the present times. There have also been times when the Government has uncovered facts using torture, which would have otherwise never been divulged. Subsequently, there have also been instances when many an innocent has been severely tortured on the basis of mistaken identity.

A country, always tries to gain as much information as they can about their adversaries, both of immediate and long-term strategic value. In the war against terrorism, the problems are manifold because one cannot identify or see the face of the enemy. They operate in a secret and dark world using ruthless terror mechanisms and never differentiating about whom they hurt and what damage they cost. To them, their ends justify the means. To deal with such a ruthless enemy it becomes imperative that to use torture, for that is the only language they seem to understand.

Bearing in mind that the use of torture does not stretch to inhuman levels of degradation, as seen in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, ‘torture’ can prove to be an effective method of interrogation. A person is most likely to divulge the truth when he knows that non-compliance could lead to further mental and physical pain.Hence the use of torture should not be made illegal. Doing so would only paralyse the interrogation procedure, and incapacitate the legal authorities to access the information that would have otherwise been accessible to them. Torture must also never be used to an extent that it results in false confessions.Post September 11th attacks United States was in a state of shock and Americans looked out at a world that no longer seemed safe. Torture seemed to be the only tool to get to the information they needed, from the suspected terrorists in order to avert future disasters of the same kind.

Torture can be permissible provided it is kept under checks and within boundaries of ‘reasonableness’. To follow the policy of doing unto others as they do unto us would simply unleash anarchy and chaos in the world.Hence we need to clearly draft out the rules limiting the application of torture. The standpoint of America on this issue can be summed up with the words of John Radson, former CIA lawyer, “As a society we haven’t figured out what the rough rules are yet.” He further added, “ There are hardly any rules for illegal enemy combatants. It is the law of the jungle that prevails and right now we happen to be the strongest animal.”( quoted by the New Yorker in July 2005, in the article Annals of Justice: Outsourcing Torture)Yes, torture must be permissible but the ‘Law of the Jungle’ based on might should never be allowed to prevail. It is a known fact, that, ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.

A human being is a conglomerate of varied emotions. As a wielder of torture in interrogation, one must never allow their emotions to rule. An instance of misuse has been shown in the Abu Ghraib prisons, where detainees have been tortured simply for avenging personal vendettas rather than to get information.

‘Torture’ as a tool is extremely volatile and its use in interrogation must be carefully monitored.

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