Arguing Effectiveness: the Misguided Torture Debate
On hindsight, maybe torture did work. After all, we forced false information that led to an illegal war – anyone remember that Iraq-Al Qaeda link jargon? It also convinced American citizens that “those people” are so terrible, so vile, that we must torture them as extensively as possible. Then and only then can we protect our citizens from them. Last month was probably one that the pro-torture lobby would like to forget. President Obama released Bush-era documents green-lighting the use of harsh interrogation methods (the so-called “torture memos”). Countless human rights groups who consider the interrogation methods – which included sleep deprivation, face slapping, and waterboarding – to be illegal forms of torture have finally gotten what they wanted: a public debate.
From FOX to CNN and everywhere in between, pundits are asking the million-dollar question: does torture work? That question can be answered relatively easily: if by some miracle torture had produced life-saving information, that very fact would have been touted by neocons in every television studio and newspaper.
On hindsight, maybe torture did work. After all, we forced false information that led to an illegal war – anyone remember that Iraq-Al Qaeda link jargon? It also convinced American citizens that “those people” are so terrible, so vile, that we must torture them as extensively as possible. Then and only then can we protect our citizens from them. The pro-torture attitude of the previous administration led to scandals such as Abu Ghraib, where most of those held were innocent civilians caught in the crossfire between the US soldiers and Al Qaeda terrorists. As Major General Wodjakowski, at the time the second-most senior army general in Iraq, stated, “I don’t care if we’re holding 15,000 innocent civilians. We’re winning the war.”
Comments like those by Wodjakowski and those thrown around by pro-torture pundits clearly spell it out for us: we as a nation seem to have lost our capacity to be shocked by torture. Instead, we are becoming indifferent to the idea that human beings, most often innocent ones, such as the children held in Iraq, can be and are denied the most basic of all human rights: dignity. Instead of rejecting torture, two years after the shocking pictures of torture in Iraq, Congress passed legislation legalizing most “alternative interrogation tactics” – the sexual humiliation and stress positions that had shocked us months before were now legal. Then again, once you’ve allowed waterboarding, hoods, and wiring people together and letting dogs attack them, having someone hanging off the wall for 16 hours can’t be that much worse, right?
The current torture debate is completely wrong. Not only does it stand as a testament to how desensitized we are becoming about human rights violations, it assumes torture is legal. We have moved right past the ethical and moral dilemma and into one of efficiency. We no longer ask if torture is legal; instead, we ask, does it work? Those on both ends of the spectrum will not deny that torture violates US and international law. Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights lays it out pretty clearly, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” The Bush administration tried, although unsuccessfully, to redefine what torture was.
Torture, harsh interrogations, or whatever people like to call it stands against the American constitutional ideals. It trespasses the Geneva Convention and the international treaties and laws that banned torture after the atrocities of WWII which the US helped draft. The media continues to tout public polls that supposedly claim the American public supports “torture”. Those polls don’t matter. Torture is not some popularity contest. It’s illegal. Once the public debate dies down, it will be interesting to see what moves, if any, President Obama will take to end the human rights abuses carried out. So far, all we are hearing from the current administration is empty rhetoric. Ambitious statements and promises will not get us anywhere; indeed, such tactics were also employed by the previous administration to justify this very same use of torture.