Posted by: Staff | 10.23.2007

On Torture

JESSICA PENZIAS ’08

In America, all people are entitled to human rights and basic protection under the law no matter what their beliefs. Torture is inhumane and unethical. Torture compromises not only the human rights of the person being tortured but also the foundation of our legal system. An American who is empowered to pursue justice should abide by the high standards he is working to protect. By torturing another human being, he is lowering himself to inhumane standards. He is degrading himself, and as an American, he is degrading American integrity as well.

The United States is fighting a war on terror. Therefore, our country needs to clearly define its position against the terror and fear instigated by torture. As a prosperous nation, the United States serves as a role model to other nations. Outside nations follow our example. If we want to continue to be a role model, we must avoid torture at all costs and in doing so, not only set a moral precedent for the rest of the world but also protect our own troops. We should not subject anyone from any country to torture if we, in turn, do not want our troops to be treated brutally and to be stripped of their human rights. Currently, our troops are overseas. Our country would be devastated if our own soldiers were subjected to electric shocks or other popular forms of torture. We must safeguard our moral values in order to safeguard our country.

We can try to gain information ethically using informants. However, in Trevor Paglan’s Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA’s Rendition Flights, Paglan discusses the fact that because of our efforts to gain information through torture, we have a harder time gaining voluntary information through informants. Informants do not want to fight for a hypocritical country that condones torture and fights terror at the same time. By defining and keeping an unwavering stance against the degradation of human rights we will clarify our position in the world and set a precise example for other nations.

Despite my personal beliefs, I do understand and respect the rational argument to torture a person when innocent lives are at stake. However, one must ask, where do you draw the line? Indeed, it is clear that torture might prove beneficial in a limited number of situations. However, torture is not always a rational solution. For instance, torture is not humane when it is used to acquire information from a person after a crime is committed. In this situation, we are neglecting the process of a fair trial and also using torture as a means to punish a criminal. If America allowed the use of torture for limited ethical cases, how can we place necessary restrictions on the law? What situation truly warrants torture? In Michael Levin’s essay promoting torture entitled, “The Case for Torture,” he writes about many hypothetical situations that would cause torture to be acceptable. While I agree that these imaginary situations would warrant torture if they came to pass, who would authorize this torture?

When reading an editorial from The Economist, I was intrigued by the idea of “torture warrants.” Many people who condone torture believe that it would be effective for warrants to be given to certain people in restricted situations in which torture is deemed necessary. But what constitutes a moral case in which torture is acceptable? Where could the authority figures who are handing out these “torture warrants” draw the line? If these warrants are only requested in situations where human lives are in jeopardy, who has the right to decided when one life is more important than another? Furthermore, after the time it takes for a warrant to be issued, would the innocent victims still be alive? While Levin’s cases are valid, I question whether or not he truly examined the situations he proposed to their full extent. Later in his essay, Michael Levin draws his own line by writing, “torture only the obviously guilty, and only for the sake of saving innocents, and the line between Us and Them will remain clear.” One must question how one would determine who the “obviously guilty” are. In the hypothetically dire situations he describes, there is no time to pursue a fair trial in the American court system that we, as a nation, pride ourselves on. In America, we say, “Innocent until proven guilty.” When protecting our country from dangerous terrorists it is important to also protect these core values. For these reasons, it is clear that condoning torture in America, outright or with limitations, is an irrational and poorly developed idea.

Another important idea that I would like to present is this: torture does not always provide correct information. Putting human beings through excruciating pain, we are liable to obtain false information. There have been situations when the United States has had guilty people in custody who, under torture, provided incorrect information. A situation such as this, arouse before the current war on terror. In Torture Taxi, Paglen mentions a circumstance when a person being tortured corroborated the fact that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. This assertion helped instigate a war, even though the information was false. Similarly, when torturing a member of Al Qaeda, the United States gained false information that Saddam Hussein was helping Al Qaeda. Colin Powell then addressed the United Nations with this incorrect information. In cases like these, torture once again proved ineffective and it even created new problems for our country.

America is a country founded upon strong moral values. It is important for us to abide by our morals by refusing to torture other human beings Doing so only degrades both them and ourselves. We must continue to set a high standard for the rest of the world and live by our unwavering values. Torture cannot be condoned without jeopardizing our nation’s values and national well-being. By outlawing torture, we are simultaneously protecting the innocent and asserting our values.

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Image from: http://www.whitehouse.org/

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