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Torture is Not a Matter of Opinion

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As the Bush administration memos have been released, and Congressional reports and investigations become available, the cable news stations have spent a lot of time on the issue. I am finding that the basic focus has become two pronged. One, is what has been uncovered really torture? Two, is torture effective? Both of the questions set my blood boiling. We are in an age where it is implied that everything is a matter of opinion. Well, "everything" is NOT a matter of opinion. When it comes to "torture," it is not a question of "opinion" or "effectiveness" as to whether the "enhanced interrogation" methods are torture or not. It is a matter of law. The United States is a signatory of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It was ratified by the U.S. Congress in 1994. The Convention is clear on a number of pertinent issues. Below are Article 1 and 2:
Article 1 1. For the purposes of this Convention, torture means 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. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions. 2. This article is without prejudice to any international instrument or national legislation which does or may contain provisions of wider application. Article 2 1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction. 2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. 3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.
Further, a person cannot be sent to a nation where he or she might be tortured. Hence, there is no question that the "enhanced" interrogation techniques are torture. Further, engaging in "extraordinary rendition" programs was illegal when it was used to send prisoners some place else to be tortured. This is why George W. Bush, regardless of the opinions of counsel expressed in the released memos, removed the United States from the International War Crimes Tribunal. Whether the United States has engaged in "torture" or not, or whether "enhanced interrogation" techniques were "really" torture is not debatable. It is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of law. Whether those who may have authorized or participated in these actions are guilty under the Convention and U.S. law is a matter for legal investigation. The spin from many Republicans and most recently by Dick Cheney is that torture was "effective" in protecting our safety. There are a number of issues with such a position, but there are three main points. 1. It makes no difference whether it was "effective" or not, because the use of torture is illegal - both under international and U.S. law. 2. There is no proof that it was effective, and virtually all professional interrogators argue that it is NOT effective - including the U.S. military. 3. To say that it was effective implies that the "information" extracted could not have been gotten by legal means - or that even more reliable information may have been obtained. We then have folks saying that the "techniques" used are "uncomfortable" but definitely not torture. Some point to SERE training and say they've been "waterboarded" and it is not torture (others with the same training vehemently argue it is torture). However, as noted by Senator Carl Levin in his statement regarding Senate Armed Services Committee investigation, SERE training is prepare troops for conditions they might experience as prisoners of those who have not signed the Geneva Convention. This does not mean that troops (or others) received training in doing "enhanced interrogations," or that the military approves or recommends such methods. Indeed, it rejects the use of such methods - until the Bush administration and Rumsfeld issued different orders. So we have two issues. First, the legality of torture is not debatable; nor is what is torture debatable. Second, whether torture is (or is not) "effective" is a moot point since it is illegal. The corporate media's continued presentation in this mode is at best an effort to generate "audience" and at worst a deliberate effort to mislead and misinform the public. Addendum The Obama administration has made clear their reluctance to pursue an investigation of possible authorization and use of torture. This is not the President's call, nor is it Congress' call. It is the Department of Justice's call. If pressure is placed on the DoJ to not investigate, then that is political meddling. The memos and investigations, and the reports and investigations of the International Red Cross - among others - clearly point to the need for a formal, legal investigation. We do not want the shame of the international community, or the International War Crimes Tribunal, doing this for the United States. Comments from Philip Zeikow and Dennis Blair as reported in Effectiveness Of Harsh Questioning Is Unclear (Joby Warrick & Peter Finn, Wa. Post, 4/26/09):
"The systematic, calculated infliction of this scale of prolonged torment is immoral, debasing the perpetrators and the captives," said Philip D. Zelikow, a political counselor to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who reviewed secret Bush administration reports about the program in 2005. "Second, forfeiting our high ground, the practices also alienate needed allies in the common fight, even allies within our own government. Third, the gains are dubious when the alternatives are searchingly compared. And then, after all, there is still the law." ... "There is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means," Blair (current Director of National Intelligence) said in a statement. "The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security."
Links of Interest Patrick Coburn. Independent/UK, 4/26/09. Torture? It Probably Killed More Americans than 9/11. From the NY Times Torture Memo Guide From the ACLU collection of torture memos 2009 Report of the Armed Services Committee President Obama's statement on the release of the memos (4/16/2009). Interrogation Documents from the National Security Archive - 7/13/2004 Armed Services Committee 2008 Executive Summary - Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody. Statement of Senator Carl Levin on the report.

 

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Rowan Wolf is an activist and sociologist living in Oregon. She is the founder and principle author of Uncommon Thought Journal, and Editor in Chief of Cyrano's Journal Today.


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