Torture is a line that should be drawn clearly in the sand, however the Bush administration has actively worked to distort this line. With the now infamous line of the current administration’s rhetoric “The Gloves are Off1,” US led interrogation has led to unlawful detainment of individuals for years without trials, due process or, in many cases, basic human rights.
In 2002, the US Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel had issued a memo defining torture as “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death2.” If history has taught us anything from either Stanley Milgram’s study on Obedience to Authority or Philip G. Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment, it is this: placing people in direct control and authority over others without clear guidelines for conduct and independent oversight with lead to an abuse of power. As Zimbardo said, “It’s not that we put bad apples in a good barrel. We put good apples in a bad barrel. The barrel corrupts anything that it touches3.”
In 2001 during the original Afghanistan invasion, three British men from Tipton (a.k.a. the Tipton Three), were caught in the midst of the invasion on their way by road to Pakistan. In the confusion, they like many others who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, were detained as “enemy combatants” for nearly three years without charge or legal representation. They were continually interrogated with questions about their links to al Qaeda which they denied. They were chained to the floor in stressful crouched positions for up to ten hours at a time and forced to listen to devastatingly loud music. Not being able to move, they were forced to defecate on themselves. They were not allowed to talk to each other, kept in fenced in outdoor cells barely large enough for them to stand in and had their Koran’s taken from them4.
The big question though is does torture provide useful information? Have these techniques actually given the US and its allies information that has increased domestic and global security?
US Senator John McCain has first had experience with torture as he was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam Engagement. Not only does McCain believe torture is wrong, but counter-productive5. However McCain did admit that torture worked, at first. In his 1999 autobiography Faith of My Fathers, he wrote “Demands for military information were accompanied by threats to terminate my medical treatment if I did not cooperate…I thought they were bluffing and refused to provide any information beyond my name, rank and serial number, and date of birth. They knocked me around a little to force my cooperation.
“Eventually, I gave them my ship’s name and squadron number, and confirmed that my target had been the power plant…The information was of no real use to the Vietnamese, but the Code of Conduct for American Prisoners of War orders us to refrain from providing any information.”
However in the same book he goes on to say “Finally, I reached the lowest point of my 5 1/2 years in North Vietnam. I was at the point of suicide, because I saw that I was reaching the end of my rope…I signed it [a document confessing to war crimes]…It was in their language, and spoke about black crimes, and other generalities6.” It is a clear example of how under four days of duress and continual inhuman treatment, a person can be forced to say what is necessary to satisfy his or her captors. To this day, McCain can not raise his arms above his shoulders due to the injuries he received and inadequate medical treatment during his internment7.
In US media we try to downplay the reality of some of the interrogation techniques used by our intelligence officers. On a recent broadcast on Fox news Brian Kilmeade said “I am pro waterboarding, I would run on that platform…It’s putting a washcloth on someone’s face” and Steve Doocy added, “You don’t really dunk them in the water, you just splash some water on their face8“
In April 2006, in a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, more than 100 U.S. law professors stated unequivocally that waterboarding is torture, and is a criminal felony punishable under the U.S. federal criminal code9. It is a technique which involves restraining an individual and covering their face, either with plastic or a fabric, and pouring water over them to simulate drowning. Unlike the many people who have simulate the technique on American News channels and on Internet videos, those who really undergo waterboarding do no know whether or not they are really being drown; if they will really live to see the next day.
We have made some progress recently. California Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher recently commented on Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was deported to Syria where he was detained and tortured. He is stilled banned from entering the country despite the Canadian government clearing him of any terrorist connections. Rohrabacher said, “Our country made a mistake and has been unwilling to own up to it. It reflects an arrogance I don’t like to see in our government10.”
Still we have much further to go. It was less than a century ago when the United States imprisoned US citizens simply because they were Japanese. Although we were also at war with Russian and Germany, we failed to imprison any US citizens of German or Russian descent. It wasn’t until 1988 when President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which provided $20,000 to surviving detainees, a nominal sum for men and women who were removed from their homes and had all their possessions taken from them.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness11
The supreme court ruled in Rasul v. Bush that the writ of habeas corpus applied to US non-citizens allowing the detainees to bring suit challenging their detention as unconstitutional12. However the Bush administration took a narrow view of the decision. Although the detainees may have been granted the permission to file suit in federal court, they still had no “legal rights” and specifically, no right to counsel13.
We are unable to truly judge the information that has come from abusive interrogation techniques. To say that it has prevented terrorist attacks in the US is like selling a person tiger repellant in the US and proving it works because they won’t get attacked by tigers. Even if any useful information may have potentially been gleamed via torture, the information is tainted with a mix of truths and lies; anything interrogators want to hear to end months or even years of suffering. On the previous presidential election in 2004 in which media pundits claimed the election was won on moral issues, the use or torture and illegal detainment has crushed the US’s moral creditability in the world as our leaders blatantly disregard not only the Geneva Convention, but our own laws and constitutional foundations of due process and unalienable rights that should know no bounds of religion, ideology or nationality.
If you were taken from your home one day and held without charge, without access to lawyers and told repeatedly that your captives knew you were working for the enemy, how would you react? What if people you knew were being arrested, simply for openly protesting the practices of our government? You may say our laws wouldn’t allow it; that we have the freedom of speech and protest. Obviously our laws didn’t extend to the enemy combatants, some of which were foreign nationals of counties that had due process laws. With revelation of recent government domestic surveillance programs and redefining terms such as “torture” and “prisoner of war,” we are on a slippery slope.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who give up essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither their liberty or security.” Today we have not only given up our essential liberty, we have taken essential liberty from others. We have taken their rights under the presumption of increasing our own security with no evidence to support such claims, and we should be outraged. If American Citizens truly cared about the rights of other human beings; if you care about the basic human rights of individuals around the world—We should all write our lawmakers. We should make so much noise that it would drown out the rhetoric and false justification that comes from our elected officials, and we should not stop screaming until everyone under the control of our sovereignty has the same basic rights that we take for granted everyday.
1 Lieberman and McCain on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press.’ Washington Post. Sunday, October 21, 2001
2 Two questions for Mukasey. Los Angeles Times. retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/editorials/la-ed-mukasey17oct17,0,3310551.story?coll=la-news-comment-editorials on October 17,2007
3 How Psychology Can Help Explain the Iraqi Prisoner Abuse. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/topics/iraqiabuse.html on October 22, 2007
4 Road to Guantanamo (2007). Film.
5 Amnesty International’s Full Page Ad from USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.amnestyusa.org/pdf/10_17USA_Today.pdf on October 22, 2007.
6 John McCain: Torture Worked on Me. Newsmax. Retrieved from http://archive.newsmax.com/archives/ic/2005/11/29/100012.shtml on October 22, 2007
7 NNDB. John McCain. Retrieved from http://www.nndb.com/people/914/000023845/ on October 22, 2007.
8 FOX & Friends First. Fox News. October 26, 2007. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ddc8EToGh4I
9 Open Letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Human Rights News. Retrieved from http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/04/06/usdom13130.htm on October 23, 2007.
10 U.S. lawmakers apologize to Canadian torture victim. Reuters. Retrieved from http://today.reuters.com/news/articlenews.aspx?type=topNews&storyid=2007-10-18T221623Z_01_N18276959_RTRUKOC_0_US-USA-CONGRESS-TORTURE.xml on October 22, 2007.
11 The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of American. Paragraph 2. First Sentence. July 4, 1776
12 Rasul v. Bush. Oyze. Retrieved from http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2003/2003_03_334/ on October 23, 2007.
13 Naming Names at Gitmo. New York Times. Tim Golden. October 21, 2007.