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To Torture, Or Not To Torture?

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Accepting this notion is tantamount to accepting a policeman torturing a suspect after arriving on a crime scene simply because he believed the suspect was the perpetrator of the crime. One is, for instance, left with the impression that it is just fine to torture the "bad guys," as if guilt or innocence decides whether a particular suspect deserves to be tortured or not.

Clearly, the policeman would, in this case, be charged with a crime. In fact, the US and international laws are clear on this point, leaving no ambiguity with respect to the illegality of torture under "any circumstances."

Conditioned to accept torture

Now, one may ask why have our societies become conditioned to accept torture, or at least view it as "understandable" in certain situations? The main reason is that intelligence agencies and politicians have mastered the "art" of demonizing terror suspects by leaking unsubstantiated allegations about them to the media.

Take the case of Guantanamo detainees for example: despite the fact that many former US administration officials had repeatedly said that the majority of Guantanamo detainees had nothing to do with terrorism, these detainees were always vilified in the media as "bad apples," "worst of the worst," and recently described as "crazy bastards."

This explains why no public or media uproar is expressed when Adnan Abdul Latif, a long-time Guantanamo detainee, dies in ambiguous circumstances.

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Obama's stand on torture has been disappointing, to say the least. Not only he reneged on his promises to hold people who authorized and practiced torture accountable, he, in fact, shielded them from any future accountability. Obama's main argument was that it was about time to "look forward" and not "look backward."

One can only scratch his head on why Obama didn't apply this same argument to shield CIA torture whistleblower John Kiriakou from prosecution. Kiriakou was sent to jail for two years for revealing details to a reporter with respect to the CIA's torture program.

One can reasonably conclude that Obama, contrary to the public image he has been trying to project, helped normalize the use of torture. Obama's actions also reveal that there is "good torture" -- one we inflict on others for a good cause -- and then there is "bad torture" -- one that others inflict on others (or on us) for a bad cause.

The debate with respect to torture should not be about whether torture produces "sound" or "false" intelligence, or whether torture is "bad" or "good" depending on who is practicing it: the debate should be about whether torture is moral or immoral.

Lastly, torture is not the way to fight terror, or as wonderfully put in the words of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan: "Torture can never be an instrument to fight terror, for torture is an instrument of terror." It is about time our government realized that torture inflicts moral damage on our society, as severe as the pain felt by the people who are physically and psychologically tortured. Our reputation has been stained and tarnished enough.

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Prism is an online not-for-profit magazine that provides in-depth coverage and analysis of security related issues that are often not in the mandate of the mainstream press. Accountability, transparency and good governance are also part of (more...)

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