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Why Torture Should Not be Legalized

The purpose of this paper is to argue why torture should not be legal to use in prosecution of the War on Terror. Starting point is a definition of torture. The UN Convention Against Torture gave this definition of torture in Article 1: “...any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions” (UN Convention Against Torture)

The torture is a system of measures used in ancient Greek and Roman Law, and it remained valid in Europe until the period of Enlightenment. People were aware of the problems of false testimony caused by the threat of torture, but torture was not meant to make a person confess something, it is used to gather details of the crime, which only the person suspected guilty would know. One of the worldwide known examples of usage of torture in Middle Ages is the Spanish Inquisition, where people were tortured under allegation of heresy. In early modern times, torture was practiced in England, but only in certain circumstances. The abolition of usage of torture in Europe came with French Revolution, and it has spread through other European countries (such as Portugal and Switzerland).

In a modern world, torture is unacceptable (Article 5, UN Convention Against Torture). It is regarded to be a violation of human rights. The Geneva Conventions (four of them) were supposed to provide protection to people during the war. The third and fourth Geneva Conventions are most important when it comes to treatment of victims in war circumstances. It is clearly stated that usage of torture and cruel treatment to a person is prohibited and considered as a disgraceful act. 

However, what really happens now, in the 21st century? How do we really look at torture? We despised it and thought savages, in foreign countries, did this. And then-the September 11…

After September 11, many of people changed the way they looked at torture. Horrible news, fear, panic, smoke, ash rising to the sky, fire and desperate cries of the survivals… In addition, you could see this on a daily basis, on many TV channels. Raising the fear from terrorist attack and insecurity that citizens felt after the September 11 looked like it could be used for other purposes. The September 11 was the trigger for the Government to speak in public about “things” that are necessary to do in order to keep the World Peace. In some way, the Government needed to make torture a valid way of gathering information, with World Peace as an excuse.

Urgency to make this happen could be seen in Government’s attempts to avoid the propositions and declarations of rights stated in Geneva Conventions. Scaring the citizens with new terrorist attack, bringing fear and confusion into our homes through News, made this moment of crisis a fertile soil for attempts of torture legalization. In addition, it was done “in the name of justice and peace”. Killing in the name of justice, spilling guts and crushing bones... In the name of “Peace”. Who shall listen to the moral compass and a voice of humanity? Is justifying the usage torture as a necessary mean in a war to “prevent” terrorists from striking again legal? The September 11 has, in a way, contributed to the justifying this immoral acts as just another “weapon” in war on terrorism. The thought process probably was “Well, you can’t kill them. You cannot let them go. You cannot process them legally as a normal person. What should we do?”

I do not want to be misinterpreted – the torture existed long before the September 11, but this fact was kept as a secret. Many people ignore the fact that torture exists in a modern day societies. Why should they worry about some people having their fingers broken, when it does not exist in their own country? That is why our citizens trusted the Government to solve these problems. However, one of the things that changed after the September 11 was a view on a usage of torture as a legitimate way of gathering information. The interpretation of a law on torture and violence was under the influence of terrorist attacks, so it can be said that attitudes that are more flexible arose, and the number of torture-supporters started to grow.

That meant hundreds and hundreds of people who approved the worst types of humiliation and many broken fingers with bones sticking out and the pain you with you never felt. That meant letting the trained, raged dogs at the prisoners, who are usually standing or sitting in a clothes filled with feces, surrounded by terrible smell of urine and fear from death. Can you imagine craving and begging for your own life, while that same smell burns your nostrils and blackens your vision? Can you imagine the intensity of shaking from fear and weakness, trying to stand up, no matter that you can see parts of your bones striking out from your bloody, dirty skin? “Bringing terrorists to justice.” Is it a right thing to interrogate humans with such savage interrogation techniques? Can we say that duck taping, boot camps, hidden facilities and prisons a legitimate way of “knowing the truth”? Is it, maybe, shipping the prisoners to unknown locations through the world and interrogating them in smelly, dirty chambers, filled with filth, which you think can crawl upon your skin and darken your soul?

“Oh, you are just being disgusting.” Am I? In addition, the growing thirst and hunger, that look minimal in comparison with interrogation brutality, sadism that was stated not to be authorized, this is not disgusting? Can someone say this is not an act, which provokes the feeling of disgust in our bodies? Is it? Imagine those people naked, lying in cold, overcrowded chambers, being whipped, looking at the “justice” with bloody eyes and with deformed faces. Imagine what happens when they do not receive the needed medical attention, and the wounds start to develop growing infections. Maybe the delirium they fall in is better than what awaits them in reality… Bags over the heads, thirst, unhealthy conditions... Geneva Convention has a detailed instruction on how to treat war prisoners. You can only be asked questions and you can decide do you want to answer or not. Nothing else. However, the codes of justice and humanity seem easy to forget when it comes to collecting valuable information in war. Just inform yourself what happens in Afghanistan, camp X-ray, camp delta… They are just some examples of what could happen if we forget our humanity. Is the question of innocence ever asked in those situations? Maybe the person standing in front of the interrogator is actually the innocent one, without any information or knowledge about subjects that are interrogators interest. Is the torture of an innocent justified? It looks like it is easier to break bones than to prove someone’s innocence, but doing that in the name of “honor” and “freedom” is what worries me.

Michael Kinsley wrote this: “…arguments made by Charles Krauthammer in the Weekly Standard: 1)No rational moral calculus could possibly justify sacrificing a million innocent lives in order to spare the would-be mass murderer a few minutes of pain. And 2) once you accept that torture would be justified in one situation, avoiding the use of torture on other situations is no longer a moral imperative. The question becomes where you draw the line” (retrieved from ... ). The dilemma does exist, but who will draw the line?

Why are we so eager to legalize the torture, without knowing what the torture really means? Can we really understand the amount of pain, humiliation, fear for own life and lives of a family members when a gun is pointed at a forehead? Can we really understand what is like to be tortured and without any hope that our human rights are going to be respected, and that these people who conduct the torture are doing this “in the name of Peace and Truth”? Are we really so sure that we want to live in a world where World Peace is standing on the top of the pile of dead, deformed, bloody bodies? Think again.

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