Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

With the current state of the world and the ongoing War on Terror, the topic of torture has been appearing everywhere. Is it right? Are there any exceptions? Should the ones guilty of committing these actions be held responsibly? All these are questions people have been asking and debating particularly after 9/11. The most debated question however is the one for exceptions. For the most part people in the United States believe that torture is wrong. It is against US Law to torture any captive or detainee within US boundaries. However, what are we to do if national security is at risk of an imminent attack and we have a criminal in custody that has vital information to stop it from happening. For the most part these people are probably not going to rat out everything if asked nicely; this being the problem as to what to do.

Each side of this debate represents themselves with “moral” beliefs and “responsible” actions for protecting society. These sides are also represented by first hand experiences, world peace advocates, and government officials who all add a more complicated argument to the table. In this blog I will be representing both side of this issue and let the reader decide what is right and what is wrong.



For starters, the definition of torture that the United States follows is, an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering upon another person within his custody or physical control (18 U.S.C. § 2340). The US has banned all forms of torture in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). With the War on Terror being fought in the Middle East, there have been several cases where the use of “excessive force” took place with captured known terrorists. One place in particular where these allegations come from is Guantanamo Bay Naval Base located in Cuba. On the base is a military prison where captured terrorist are held and not protected under the Geneva Convention. However, our current President Barack Obama has said that he will be closing Guantanamo Bay within the next year.

Content Analysis:

As stated above, I gave the United States definition of “torture” and described the significance of Guantanamo Bay, however there are more words related to this topic which I feel should be defined in order to grasp a better understanding when reading about it. One that seems to come up a lot during discussion is “waterboarding”, which consists of immobilizing a person on a downward incline and placing a rag over their face and pouring water so that they feel like they are drowning and causes them to believe that they are about to die. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri are terrorist in which the CIA has released information stating that waterboarding was used on these individuals in order to obtain information. Another common term found is the “time ticking bomb scenario”, which is the scenario that a bomb is about to go off in a major city causing thousands of casualties and we have the terrorist who created the plot in custody. This is the “justified” scenario where torture is viewed as okay by one side in order to save thousands of lives.

The term “enemy combatant” is also present among this debate and it severs as the definition of these terrorists whom we are fighting. The reason we call them “enemy combatants” is because they are not fighting for a country in this war, but rather for an organization whose main goal is loss of innocent lives. They are not considered Prisoners of War because they are non-uniformed and pass through the lines for the purpose to wage war by destruction of life or property. The two most prevalent terrorist organizations are those in al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Problems of Understanding

Problems of Fact
 For this controversy the ultimate authority that oversees and has the most knowledge is our Government. With all the research available, both sides of this debate can gather facts to help prove their point. We find these two sides to be, 1) those who are opposed to all forms of torture and see that there are no exceptions ever; and 2) those who still oppose torture, but find that exceptions can be made when vital information is crucial to protecting our country. Throughout my research I have not found anyone who has publicly supported all forms of torture, and who hopes that it will be made legal for any situation. The closest and most extreme case I have been able to find is that of the head of Deakin University's Law School, Professor Mirko Bagaric, and a fellow Deakin law lecturer, Julie Clarke. These two openly support the means of extracting information in a “forceful way”, even death of the captive as long as the people are protected from a dangerous threat. They justify their position by stating, “I think as a society we would accept that one person being killed to save thousands is legitimate.” (Bagaric). Contradicting this is German Chancellor Merkel, during an interview before meeting with former President Bush, this was stated:

SPIEGEL: The US government feels it is legitimate to hold prisoners under water until they believe they are drowning. Is this acceptable to you?

MERKEL: There was a similar debate in Germany over the 2002 
kidnapping of Jakob von Metzler, the banker's son. The issue then was whether it is legitimate to threaten or use torture to save the life of a child. The public debate showed that the overwhelming majority of citizens believed that even in such a case, the end does not justify the means. That is also my position.”

So what are we to do? Do we let guilty criminals stay in prison until they eventually die giving us no information? Or do we persuade them to talk with more “forceful techniques?”

The first side has taken their research to the conclusion that all forms of torture are illegal and unconstitutional (which it currently is). Also, they believe that all those responsible for performing these “harsh interrogation techniques” should be prosecuted and convicted if found guilty. The other side has taken this same information to the conclusion that there should be exceptions to the law in extreme circumstances.  Former CIA director Hayden stated on January 15 about the interrogational techniques performed at Guantanamo Bay saying, “These techniques worked.” (Hayden). These are considered “enhanced interrogational techniques” in which non-lethal force is used upon these “enemy combatants” in order to intimidate them into giving information. Both sides have a difference of opinions in that one views this as torture and the other does not.

Problems of Value

Are these “enhanced interrogational techniques” ethical? This is almost impossible to determine. As for the side number one, they feel that if torture were to be an exception in certain circumstances that it would ultimately become abused and we would find more and more cases of torture coming out in even petty crimes. They feel that it could spin out of control and that we would turn into a dictatorship state where all forms of authority could use torture as a method of obtaining information. On the contrast, side number two feels that torture will go on no matter what so by putting in very strict laws and allowing for only extreme exceptions is the right thing to do. Some suggest that a “torture warrant” should be allowed only if signed by a judge (Alan M. Dershowitz). The case being made here is so that we will stop all torture that goes on under the radar and only allow it in instances of the extreme. As one can see this battle between these sides has been going on for years and we have yet to draw a conclusion on what is right or wrong. Certainly ever since 9/11, the second side of this argument has been able to make its case stronger in the sense that Americans don’t want another attack like that to ever happen again. Before this, the majority of people looked at this side as if they were crazy and an attack of that scale was nearly impossible. Inevitably, this has only made this debate even more heated and has intensified the arguments making it a huge controversial topic over the past seven years. 


The break down of this argument goes on a wide scale, touching many different meta-problems along the way. However, simply put I have found that for the most part we see many liberals as the ones representing side one. As for side two, conservatives manly make up the opposing side. This fits perfect into the labels society has given these two parties, such that liberal are much more peace/antiwar, and conservatives have a great deal of support and funding toward our military and national security. Currently with the Bush administration having concluded its eight year representation we can see changes being made by the Obama administration. One significant change is the closing of Guantanamo Bay.

As for some of the meta-problems one question that has also come up is what is torture vs. “enhanced interrogational techniques?” For one, these “E.I.T” do not use lethal force. It does not consist of cutting off fingers or mangling the body in any way. The techniques mainly focus on intimidation and feeling as if they are about to die, when in reality they are far from it. President Obama stated clearly in his inaugural address that, “The United States does not torture.” So are these techniques considered torture? As every leader knows they will be faced with many tough decisions and with this debate having no real conclusion, it is ultimately up to the discretion of our President to determine what is right and what is wrong. Who knows, President Obama may be challenged with the decision where “enhanced interrogational techniques” may be the only option. But I’m just adding more fuel to the fire so that every side of this debate is represented.


The debate of torture has been going on for over a decade and continues to go on today. September 11, 2001 served as a catalyst for this argument along with the War on Terror. Both have made this issue much more personal and “heated” when discussed. Both groups are of course trying to find some sort of middle ground, however for the most part this has not yet been met, especially with the change in leadership to a more liberal government. People such as Bill O’Rielly, Tammy Bruce, and Glen Beck all try to approach this issue from a logical perspective with America’s safety in mind. Others such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and even MSNBC’s Keith Oberman tend to point their fingers at the ones who they feel are responsible for the “torture” of “enemy combatants.” Unfortunately, this issue will continue to be argued upon due to its differences of opinions, so its up to people of the United States to view both sides and decide where they stand.

Against Torture

Slackman, Michael. (Spring, 2004). What's Wrong With Torturing a Qaeda Higher-Up?. New York Times. Retrieved March 29, 2009 from

Stephens, Maura. (Fall 2005). Why Torture is OK. Retrieved on March 29, 2009 from

Lithwick, Dahlia. (Summer 2008). The Fiction Behind Torture Policy. Retrieved on March 29, 2009 from

Lobe, Jim. (Fall 2004). Amnesty: No Change in US Torture Policy. Retrieved on March 28, 2009 from

By Alterman, Eric, Zornick, George. (Spring 2008). Think Again: The Media (Finally) Talk About Torture. Retrieved on March 22, 2009 from

, Eric. (Fall 2005). Exception Sought in Detainee Abuse Ban. Retrieved on March 19, 2009 from

Ramsey, Mike. (Fall 2007). Torture not allowed from anyone, bill should restrain CIA actions. Retrieved on March 12, 2009 from

Browne, Harry. (Winter 2005). Should the US Military be Allowed To Torture People? Retrieved on March 25, 2009 from  

For The Use of Torture

Minchin, Liz. (Spring 2005). Make torture legal, say two academics. Retrieved on March 30, 2009 from

Unknown Author. (Spring 2008). Should Waterboarding Be Illegal? Retrieved on March 27, 2009 from

Unknown Author. (Spring 2005). Torture acceptable, says former NCA chief. Retrieved on March 29, 2009 from 

Loven, Jennifer. (Fall 2007). Bush Says Torture is Good. Retrieved on March 24, 2009 from

Barber, La Shawn. (Fall 2005). Torture is Good. Retrieved on March 26, 2009 from

Palmer, Alasdair. (Winter 2009). The use of torture will test Barack Obama's idealism. Retrieved on March 11, 2009 from

Young, Cathy. (Winter 2005). How Much Torture is OK? Time ticking bombs and slippery slopes. Retrieved on March 20, 2009 from

Elder, Rob. (Summer 2004). Bomb is Ticking: Do you OK Torture. Retrieved on March 18, 2009 from

Scott, Kristi. (Winter 2005). Government use of Torture Should be Allowed in Extreme Circumstances. Retrieved on March 5, 2009 from

Gross, Oren. (Fall 2005). Is Torture Ever Justified? Retrieved on March 9, 2009 from