Is Torture Ever Justified?

Torture can be one of those issues where people have very strong and differing opinions. The problem with the debate over torture is the same problem with many other controversial issues — it looks good on its face value. I mean torture only makes sense right? If you had the choice between torturing one “evil” person or letting thousands, or even millions, of innocent lives perish in a terror attack, who wouldn’t choose torture? Harm one ‘bad’ guy to save millions of lives. It seems like such an easy decision — but unfortunately it is never that easy. Most people can agree that torture is immoral, but if it is the better of two evils, then people can find justification in it.

But let’s set aside the moral aspect of torture for a moment. Now, have you ever wondered how many people have been wrongly convicted in the US? Over TEN THOUSAND EACH YEAR! Not, ten thousand in the history of the US, ten thousand EACH YEAR. Oh, but sometimes the law fails, but we would never torture someone who might be innocent and would make absolutely sure they are guilty, right? We would make absolutely sure that if someone is tortured, they were 100% absolutely the right person and it is necessary right

Well let’s compare it with another morally questionable form of punishment, the death penalty. No matter if you agree or disagree with the death penalty, everyone agrees that an innocent person shouldn’t be executed. Except that in the history of the United States over 150 people were found innocent after their executions. Now imagine if instead of being executed, those people were tortured.

Imagine if that was you. Imagine if someone comes and takes you in the middle of the night, transports you to the middle of bumfuck nowhere, and puts you in a tiny dark cell where for the next several years of your life, you are tortured day in and day out until your body can no longer withstand the torture and gives out. No matter what you say, the torture doesn’t stop. You can’t tell your captors anything because you don’t know anything! You are innocent, but the legal system would never allow an innocent person to be tortured or executed so you must be guilty. For the next few years that you manage to survive you are subjected to torture techniques like the ones the CIA uses.

Let me paint a picture of those techniques for you by taking a page out of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA Interrogations, “But it also documents the appalling costs of coloring outside the lines, starting with the real nature those “enhanced interrogation techniques”: not just waterboarding but beatings, threats of mutilation with cordless drills, forced rectal feedings, ice-water baths, and prisoners stuffed in what amounts to dog carriers or chained to walls in a standing position for 17 days at a stretch. Small wonder that one detainee, left half-naked in a near-freezing cell following a typical round of such non-torture, died of hypothermia.” Forced rectal feedings. Starving someone and only providing them nourishment by shoving food up their ass. This isn’t something our enemies used a long time ago, this is something that the CIA does today. And that man, who was left half-naked and died of hypothermia, well as it turns out, that was a case of mistaken identity. The CIA had the wrong guy.

So not only has the legal system failed and let innocent people be executed, but it has already let an innocent person be tortured to death. Just take a moment to let that soak in. An innocent person was tortured and died in CIA captivity. Where do you draw the line? How many innocent people have to be subjected to the despicable activities before it is no longer worth the cost?

What would you say to someone who you had tortured for the past 5 months and then you find out they are innocent. When someone is wrongly imprisoned, there is monetary compensation to try and make it right. You can never give someone back the time they lost, but it is attempted to be rectified with monetary compensation. What do you give someone who was wrongfully tortured? A sorry, some money, and a pat on the back? A quick death to end their suffering? Spending time in prison for something you didn’t do is one thing, but wrongful torture? There is nothing you can give them to make up for what you did. When the best type of compensation for someone who was wrongly convicted is an end to torture and a quick death that needs to ring some alarm bells.

Now that’s some scary shit. But people don’t want to hear about innocent people being tortured. People don’t want to be told that there are flaws in the legal system that can allow an innocent person to be tortured and/or executed, so let’s look at a bit milder of an aspect of torture — does torture work? Is torture effective? Well of course it is! It happens all the time in the movies. Like Jack Bauer in 24 does it all the time and look at all the people he saved!

Ok, now let’s get back to reality. The short answer, no, it doesn’t work. Of course it works in the movies because they need something to propel the plot along. Jack Bauer in 24 wouldn’t be very popular if the guy he tortured told him lies and he wasn’t able to save anyone.

Lies?! But but but, if you cause someone pain they will tell you whatever you want to know! That seems to be the public opinion these days, but no, that’s not how it works. It makes sense in theory, but in practice it doesn’t work. Yes, they will tell you whatever you want to know, but they won’t tell you what they actually know. People will say anything to make the torture stop. They don’t tell you the truth, they tell you what they think will make the torture stop. Out of the 50 different stories the detainee tells you while being tortured, even IF one of those is the truth, how do you figure out which one is the truth?

“In fact, prisoners who were harshly interrogated were more likely to offer misleading information. CIA director Leon Panetta reported that there was no one essential piece of information that led U.S. intelligence agencies to bin Laden and no evidence that enhanced interrogation had been key to the effort.”

“Truth is, it’s surprisingly hard to get anything under torture, true or false. For example, between 1500 and 1750, French prosecutors tried to torture confessions out of 785 individuals. Torture was legal back then, and the records document such practices as the bone-crushing use of splints, pumping stomachs with water until they swelled and pouring boiling oil on the feet.

Most of the time, the torturers were unable to get any statement whatsoever.

And such examples could be multiplied. The Japanese fascists, no strangers to torture in their field manual from WWII, described torture as the clumsiest possible method of gathering intelligence. Like most sensible torturers, they preferred to use torture for intimidation, not information.

In fact, the problem of torture does not stem from the prisoner who has information; it stems from the prisoner who doesn’t. Such a person is also likely to lie, to say anything, often convincingly. The torture of the informed may generate no more lies than normal interrogation, but the torture of the ignorant and innocent overwhelms investigators with misleading information. In these cases, nothing is indeed preferable to anything. Anything needs to be verified, and the CIA’s own 1963 interrogation manual explains that “a time-consuming delay results”

I could sit here for days and cite US generals, foreign governments, psychological studies on torture, actual examples, and the entire history of torture and how it doesn’t work, but by now if you are still certain that torture works, then I’m not sure if facts can change your mind.

And all of this is setting aside how WRONG and IMMORAL torture is. Besides the fact that it is a war crime and internationally illegal. Innocent people have been tortured in the US. Torture doesn’t work. Torture hasn’t provided any crucial information for the security of the US.

Does it still seem obvious to torture one man to save millions? Considering that you might have the wrong man, that man might not have the information you need, there is a good chance that whatever you are told is a lie, and torture has never saved millions in the past. Oh and it is a war crime, internationally illegal, constitutionally illegal in the US, and immoral.

And the reason we are still talking about this? It seems good on its face value, but if you think about it for a minute or even spend 30 seconds googling it, you will see that it doesn’t work. But people don’t like to think. People don’t like to listen to facts. People like to believe what makes sense, and torturing one person to save millions makes sense, except that it never does save millions and that’s just not how torture works.

“Truth About Torture.” Christian Century 128.12 (2011): 7. Academic Search Complete. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.

“EDITORIAL: Senate ‘torture report’ reflects an angry, fearful era.” News Tribune, The (Tacoma, WA) 10 Dec. 2014: Points of View Reference Center. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.