American Foreign Policy
Prof. L. J. Carlson
The Torture of Terror Suspects
The word “torture” comes from the Latin tortura, which means “the act of inflicting excruciating pain, as punishment or revenge, as a means of getting a confession or information, or for sheer cruelty”. Also, the 1975 World Medical Association Declaration defines torture as: “Thedeliberate, systematic, or wanton infliction of physical or mental suffering by one or more persons acting alone or on the orders of any authority, to force another person to yield information, to make a confession, or for any other reason.” The 1984 United Nations Convention Against Torture expands upon this definition, distinguishing the legal and political components typically associated withtorture:
“Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination ofany kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”
This method has been used by many countries throughout history, and this history goes back to great empires like the Roman, Persian and Greek. It was seen many times as the most effective technique to getinformation from prisoners and slaves.
When we hear torture, we go back to the inquisition that was the Roman Catholic tribunal for discovery and punishment of heresy, which was marked by the severity of questioning and punishment and lack of rights afforded to the accused. This political instrument became widely used after its effectiveness was showed. However the use of torture is not always necessaryas other methods can be used, for example cultivating public cooperation and informants.
Many debates and arguments have shown the complexity of the term as it involves the dilemma of applying it for self-defense and the moral implications that such practice entails. One of the arguments evaluates how “allowing torture in a limited context can increase the situations in which it will be used”and this sounds logical because when some situations or methods that once were seen as highly impermissible begin to being practiced normally it becomes easier to ignore its moral implications. The famous saying “the ends justify the means” is a clear example of this argument as it defends one’s right to use anything in order to protect oneself and guarantee security to a country’s population.The use of torture is a reality; it is practiced all over the world and by many liberal democratic states whose main goals are to promote human rights and freedom. The employment of torture brings disadvantages like bad publicity affecting a nation’s public image, “legitimacy, commerce and foreign aid on which it depends.”
The second debate suggests that the practice of torture will eventuallydehumanize society. The use of violence has been spread all over the world through the power that the media has on people, images and videos of violence are usually on our T.V. screens. This debate may somehow exaggerate the real facts as the society has already proved that the use of violence nowadays is normal everywhere. Torture doesn’t make any difference in this case as all nations permitindividuals and security officials to inflict levels of harm in order to provide safety.
The third debate doubts whether torture is effective or not, as examples suggest that in some cases “the victim did not actually have the relevant information” and in other cases like when the use of torture enabled the French to foil terrorist attacks in the Algiers. This duality concerning the debate makes it...