Sunday, 8 July 2007

A Case Against Torture

The Iron Maiden

According to the United Nations Convention Against Torture, torture is defined as:

"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 of any 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."
In today's humanized society, one finds it extremely deplorable, even in the most extreme of circumstances, to justify torture, one of the most ancient forms of information-gathering tools ever devised (and an extremely cruel one at that too).

When under the duress of torture, the wretched prisoner, in the midst of severe, mind-boggling pain, ceases to keep his mouth shut: He or she divulges information, allegedly truthful information, be it the admission of being one of those erstwhile, plague inducing witches during the Inquisition Era, or the admission of guilt involving high treason or assassinations.

Of Terrorists And Nuclear Bombs

The Dreaded Scenario

In today's context, the argument for torture has began to creep back into our human conscience with the advent of the "War on Terror". Even the atheist author, Sam Harris, advocates torture in singularly impossible scenarios: A terrorist has been caught. You know he has the answer to where a nuclear bomb is hidden, which, according to intelligence, is hidden somewhere in the middle of New York City. Do you torture this man to get the information you want, or do you simply try to interrogate him, as secs, mins, and hours tick away, inching towards the dreaded detonation?

Pain, it seems, is a great way to ensure loose tongues. The question here, is this: How much information gathered from such a dastardly device can actually be authenticated as true?

The Case of Guy Fawkes

While post 911 America has often brought up the case of terrorism to justify the use of force to coerce information out of suspected terrorists, the idea that torturing someone somehow makes a person spew out fountains of truth may be somewhat misleading, or even delusional.

If history is any guide, torture is a very poor tool for extracting valuable information from its victims.

Guy Fawkes, a rather contentious British rebel, is notorious for his involvement in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

The plot, masterminded by Robert Catesby, was an attempt by a group of English conspirators to kill King James I of England (VI of Scotland), his family, and most of the aristocracy in one fell swoop by blowing up the House of Lords building in the Houses of Parliament during its State Opening. Because of his experience in explosives, he was to be handed the responsibility of executing the deadly plan.

Before he could carry out his plan, he was caught red-handed in his cellar with his weapons of mass destruction.

Hoping that he would divulge the names of all his conspirators, the authorities wasted no time in torturing him: While the torture did coerce him to name his conspirators, all the names of the conspirators he divulged were either dead, or already made known to the authorities. In the end, he was executed for his role in the plot.

USA: An Exclusive Haven For Torture?

Beastly Mania: A Photo From the Now-Infamous Abu Ghraib Prison

According to the Red Cross, terror detainees once held in the CIA's secret prisons were kept and questioned under highly abusive conditions.

In a confidential report based on interviews with 14 high-value terror suspects, the Red Cross said the techniques reported by the 14 prisoners, including sleep deprivation and the use of forced standing and other so-called "stress positions," constituted a sadistic sort of combo that was deemed “harsh” by Red Cross standards.

According to the CIA, The detention methods were designed to "soften" detainees (Kind of like making ice-cream???), making them pliable during interrogation.

The End Result? Only one detainee (Out of more than 700 detainees since the detention program commenced in 2002), an Australian by the name of David Hicks, and that after five miserable years of incarceration without being charged officially with any damn crime.

Torture Does Not Work for the Stoic, Much Less the Weak-Minded

While Sam Harris and other pro-torture advocates have a point in stating their case for torture, the truth is, the use of torture to gain information is a highly unreliable technique.

Contrary to popular belief, obtaining information through the torture of a weak-minded person may be more difficult than a stoic one, since the latter is far more likely to throw up false information under duress, so as to earn temporary respite from the regime of torture. Even if the weak-minded individual is sufficiently convinced to reveal true information, his current state of mind, after having been wrecked by severe pain, may be in no condition to reveal any coherent information, however truthful he may be, hence rendering such leads useless for the interrogator.

A stoic-minded person, hell bent on keeping his evil deeds a secret, would remain silent even under extreme physical pain. He may also divulge false information as a means of throwing his interrogators off-trail, rather than a means of relief against torture. Added to that, the urgency to obtain information, or the sheer impatience or anger of the torturer may hasten the victim’s death, hence rendering the torture as nothing more than cold-blooded murder.

If anything else, torture is one of the most ineffective, archaic methods of coercing information out of prisoners, which is precisely why most police forces around the world no longer advocate torture as a viable means of information collection.

"The strong will resist and the weak will say anything to end the pain."-Ulpian


tina said...

When will we learn......

Marty said...

Good points, and one more - it's absolutely despicable. "The end justifies the means" leads to a very slippery slope. Already the Bush government and its rabid attack dogs, former Attorney General John Ashcroft and current AG Alberto Gonzales, have lost all moral high ground in their illegal treatment of prisoners.