March 3, 2024

To torture or not to torture

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 11 December 2014


Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

To torture or not to torture

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – With the release by the U.S. Senate of the report on the CIA’s use of torture during the George W. Bush presidency, a complex debate has been renewed. It is a complexity that brings an unexpected twist to our conclusion.

First, there is the legal issue. Terrorists – the people subjected to torture – are not soldiers, and, therefore, not covered by the Geneva Conventions that dictate the manner in which prisoners of war are to be treated. On the other hand, if they are criminals, it is argued that they are entitled to legal representation and their day in court, except that they are not U.S. citizens, and they were not captured on U.S. soil, hence they are subjected to rendition, the practice of interrogating prisoners off shore or in foreign countries. However, all this legalese has a hollow ring to it, a ring that smacks of circumvention.

Next is the reality check: What would you do if you had in captivity a depraved zealot who had been party to all manner of heinous and despicable crimes, and you suspected he had information about crimes about to be committed, crimes that could cost the lives of U.S. citizens, including children and infants, or even of your loved ones? It is then that high ideals are supplanted with survival instincts. Is there not a point at which anyone would do anything to protect their loved ones? This is the age-old justification for torture.

Next is the question of value. The Senate report claims that information extracted through torture is often false and misleading. The CIA disagrees. The CIA has a point. During World War II, it was widely understood that anyone captured by the Germans could be made to talk, just as all the brutal types from Genghis Khan to Attila the Hun could make their captives talk. While it is true that there are many non-torture techniques employed to extract information, this fact does not negate the benefit to brutes gained by torture. As a result, it is self-defeating for opponents of torture to claim otherwise.

Next is morality. The question here is whether it is moral to forego a technique that is likely to save lives? Or is it moral to engage in an act that is counter to our basic beliefs and culture? The problem is that the philosophy of the matter can rapidly dissipate when faced with the reality of the matter.

Next is the whole concept of prisoner taking. The clear purpose is for interrogation. Otherwise, they would have been killed when found or at least incarcerated for life. But civilized people do not kill simply because they can. And so, prisoners are taken. If they were prisoners of war, they would not be released until exchanged or the war ended, which in the case of terrorists, is never. Yet, those held at Guantanamo are being released at an accelerating pace. And whether or not they were tortured, it is quite likely they will quickly rejoin the fight. And at present no protocol exists to do otherwise with them. Should they face military trials and execution or permanent incarceration? They are not soldiers. Should they receive trials in civilian courts? On what legal basis? Or should there be a new designation, such as Terrorists of War, that allows for permanent captivity?

In the end, all of the arguments fail for one basic reason: Without the benefit of due process, what person determines who is a terrorist and who is not, who should be subjected to torture and who should, and who should be released due to rehabilitation and who should not? America is a nation of laws and a moral beacon to the world, and we undermine both by engaging in torture and incarceration without trial.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.


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