The question of whether torture is ever justified in interrogations can be approached from several different angles: Is it effective? Is it legal? Is it moral?
The use of torture in interrogation is a highly effective method to achieve one specific aim: to obtain false confessions. Any trained professional in interrogation will tell you that information obtained through torture is highly unreliable since the victim will say anything to make the abuse stop. Therefore, if the goal of the interrogation is to obtain valuable and accurate information, the use of torture is an absolutely ineffective and counterproductive method.
This is well understood within the U.S. political, military, and intelligence establishment. As just one example, interrogation techniques taught at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba were based on a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese interrogation methods. The study upon which methods were taught to interrogate prisoners at Guantanamo – methods which were exported elsewhere, as well, such as to Bagram Air Force in Afganistan and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq – was entitled “Communist Attempts to Elicit False Confessions From the Air Force Prisoners of War”.
The use of torture is illegal under both U.S. and international law. It is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. It is forbidden by international treaties to which the United States is a party, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Under the U.S. Constitution, such treaties are “the supreme Law of the Land”. Moreover, the U.S. has additionally codified the principles contained in such treaties outlawing torture into domestic law, including the War Crimes Act of 1996. Members of the military who mistreat prisoners may be prosecuted under additional laws, including the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
White House and Justice Department lawyers have worked tirelessly in an effort to work around the fact that torture is illegal and numerous documents have come to light revealing the evolution of their arguments to justify torture. One of these is to use a very limited definition of the word “torture” itself. Another is to deny that certain detainees are afforded the protections of the law, such as under the Geneva Conventions. In the end, the convoluted arguments of those seeking to justify torture, such as John Yoo and Alberto Gonzalez, demonstrate an astonishing disdain for the law and the moral principles upon which that law is founded.
It is moral principles that are the foundation of the laws forbidding torture. Torture is forbidden under law precisely because the principle that defines it as immoral are so universally recognized by populations and governments around the world. Of course, the question of the morality of torture remains subjective. After all, one may reject universal norms of what is regarded as civilized behavior for enlightened societies and condone a return to barbarism.
The use of torture as an interrogation technique is an outrage that no American should be willing to tolerate, particularly when the party guilty of engaging in the crime is their own government.
The fact that there is even a debate within American society about whether torture is okay or not is a further outrage and stands as a testament of the complicity of the American people in the crimes of their government.
The time has long since come to end the debate. The time has long since come to end the use of torture as an interrogation technique used by the military and intelligence services of the United States of America.