Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Torture: The Problem

Government Sanctioned Torture: The Problem

This is a vague follow up to a question I posed some time ago to friends on Facebook; “Do you agree/approve with the state sanctioning torture as a form of interrogation on persons who may be a threat to national security?” The comments that were returned - public and private (as a result I will not name any names) – proved interesting, for there seemed to be no definite consensus on whether it was agreeable or not. A lot of people seemed to raise the logical issue as a major point that it has not been proved to work; that the victim will tell the interrogator anything in order for the ordeal to stop. The question of morality seemed to follow next, which seemed to take into account the concept that if the torture was guaranteed to get results, then it was harming those who intend to harm you, and therefore was perhaps a little more forgivable, but still diminished your side’s argument. I even had a couple of opinions come in that it was okay given that “the enemy” had murderous intent toward Westerners and our way of life and thus they essentially excused themselves from any kind of Geneva convention type reprieve (though I’d wonder what these peoples opinions on Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay would be).

My two cents are as follows: Torture as a form of interrogation is wrong. Any information gained through methods of torture during an interrogation should be disregarded.

My reasoning: The concept and act of torture in any form Is and should be reprehensible, from both a physical/psychological and moral standpoint to any civilised person. Morally, I believe it reduces the West’s self regarded position as a force of good to absolute rubble. We cannot preach to and lecture other countries about the importance of recognising human rights acts and Geneva Conventions when we turn a blind eye to them whenever we find it to be in our own interests. The only way to claim the moral high ground is to prove you have sufficient morality to be there, and not just when it is convenient.

I honestly believe that we have to have to moral and testicular fortitude to resist such cheap forms of interrogation. I honestly believe that we open minded, progressive members of a liberal, (partially) free, democratic and Western society owe it to ourselves to reject the notion that any kind of torture as an acceptable method of interrogation at every turn. Just because organised people in other parts of the world want to kill us does not mean that we should stoop to their level in a way of defending ourselves. Fire is not fought with fire, as many people would argue; it is quenched and defeated with water – its antithesis. For example, they force hostages to commit horrendously degrading acts, make them endure solitary confinement, beat and physically abuse them. So we resort to solitary confinement, sensory deprivation and water boarding. In response they begin decapitating hostages, so we incarcerate them on a desert island near Cuba and throw away the key. They line babies clothes with semtex to create mobile, remote bombs to assasinate unsuspecting victims (regretfully, this is no exagerration; this was how militants attempted to blow up the late Benazir Bhutto on the day she returned from exile to Pakistan), so what do we do in response? We have already lost any semblance of moral high ground, we are already plumbing the same barbaric depths that they are, so do we just carpet bomb a city? Kill all our prisoners in the most gruesome, fear inspiring way? What do we do? While this idea remains hypothetical, the events mentioned are, of course, real on both sides of the conflict. Violence only begets more violence, and the West imitating its enemies not only destroys its moral credibility, but also turns it into the exact same thing it is attempting to prevail against.

On the Western side of the torture debate, the practice of waterboarding is regularly mentioned; a process in which the victim is subjected to an experience where they believe they are drowning. The toughest suspect has lasted a little over thirty seconds under this practice before cracking, and defenders in the U.S, U.K and Israeli Governments (which have all used the practice, or information gained from the practice) have repeatedly asserted that it is not torture as it inflicts no physical injury on the victim and leaves no long lasting mental trauma. Now, in the first instance this is where the fundamental problem of the victim telling the interrogator exactly what they want to hear raises its head, as anyone who thinks they are drowning will confess to anything in order to end the ordeal (and will probably be pretty traumatized as well). But the second instance, which comes in the form of a question, is far more important, and far more revealing about the true opinion on the matter; for those who may sympathise with the concept allow yourself to answer this question: Would waterboarding - the method where you believe you are drowning and about to die - be torture if someone did it to you?

I think we both know the answer, and that is where the argument for torture – particularly water boarding - as an interrogative method crumbles. If it were done to any Westerner, civilian or military, by any Middle Eastern nation, it would be decreed as torture outright. It would be declared as brutal, cruel and horrific. There would be no shades of grey, it would be simple black and white. It was when the Nazis and the Viet Kong used it in the World War II and the Vietnam, and it still is now. Just because some prime real estate in New York was destroyed changes nothing. If you want to call yourself ‘right’, ‘good’, a ‘liberator’ and a ‘bringer of freedom’ you have to act like it. All the time.

Nothing can be more abhorrent to democracy than to imprison a person or keep him in prison because he is unpopular. This is really the test of civilization.
Winston Churchill

A patriot supports his country all the time, his Government when it deserves it.
Mark Twain

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