Torture Again: Why It Is Always Wrong and More
I know that I have written about torture here before, so some of you long-time readers of my blog may be bored with the subject. But it has been quite a long time since I wrote about it. And there’s a specific reason for this new post about the subject.
I recently read a news wire report about President Trump’s appointment of a woman to lead the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). She is “the first woman” to serve in that role. But she has been a CIA officer and worker bee for many years. (Yay that a woman is picked to lead a major government agency! But….)
According to the news agency’s wire story (picked up and republished in my local newspaper) the new head of the CIA once operated (oversaw) a secret prison in Asia where suspected terrorists were tortured—which would have been illegal in the U.S. and its dependencies.
News junkies especially will remember the controversy over these secret prisons set up and used by American intelligence people in the aftermath of the “9-11” attack on the Twin Towers in New York and on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
What was practiced in these secret prisons was called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” not “torture.” But most of us who read about them called them torture. I certainly would call them that. When the news media published this, many Americans groaned with sadness and disgust—including yours truly. To me, torture of anyone is a first step down the road to barbarity.
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
Here, for purposes of this particular argument, I am not going to appeal specifically to Christian ethical norms; I will only say that if I were pastor of a person who engaged in torture of another human being (or even of an animal) I would confront him or her and ask him or her to stop, repent, and undergo a restoration process. Torture is so obviously contrary to Christian love that it cannot be justified under any circumstances.
However, in addition to Christian love, there are excellent, powerful secular reasons why torture is always, unconditionally wrong and even evil.
First, however, something else needs to be pointed out about this specific action (as described above). That the CIA had to use “secret prisons” set up in countries where, apparently, torture is not illegal, to “interrogate” American prisoners (by which I mean people taken into custody by Americans—wherever, whenever) demonstrates a lack of concern for U.S. law. It was a way around it; a circumventing of the clear social contract that we Americans have among ourselves and with our government.
Second, and getting more to the point, torture (including “enhanced interrogation techniques” which is just a euphemism for torture) is always wrong because one can never know with absolute certainty that the person has the information in his or her head that the torturer wants. It is an extreme measure for attempting to gain needed, perhaps even necessary information, that assumes the person being tortured knows that information. It is simply impossible ever to know that with absolute certainty.
Third, torture is always wrong because it is simply barbaric, a crime against humanity. Almost all civilized countries of the world have known this for a very long time and have outlawed torture to protect and preserve themselves from falling into the same barbarity of the person(s) they want to interrogate.
Fourth, torture is always wrong because the person being tortured will always say whatever he or she thinks the torturers want to hear. In other words, there is no way to know if the person being tortured is giving the right needed information or whether he or she is simply succumbing to the pain of torture and offering up false information.Fifth, torture is always wrong because…it steps over a line into territory at the top (or part-way down) of a slippery slope that could very well justify much worse. Explanation: What if the person being tortured does not give the information being sought by the torturers—even under the worst torture? What if “time is of the essence” to avoid some catastrophe and the suspect is not forthcoming? Torturers could eventually (and I predict will eventually) give up torturing the individual and bring in his family—wife, children—and torture them in front of him.
You say “Well, that hasn’t happened.” I say “Once you step over that line into justifying torture as evil but necessary you make that justifiable. And I’m sure it has happened somewhere, at some time.
Finally, torturing people WE suspect of having needed information gives our enemies and everyone permission to use torture as well—even against our own citizens captured by them. It is simply duplicitous for us to say “We can use torture, but you cannot.” And the “you cannot” will be ignored.
Torture is a barbaric practice and against the law in almost all civilized countries for very good reasons—both philosophical/ethical and practical. When our government fell into the practice post-9/11 it knew full well it was violating international laws and norms of civilized behavior.
Here is something to think about in relation to this. During World War 2 even Germany did not use chemical weapons such as were used during World War 1. Without doubt Germany had such weapons, but even Hitler held back from using them—even when Berlin was under siege and being invaded by the Soviet Union. The inhumanity, the devastation of lives, the horror of nerve gas warfare during WW1 changed a lot about warfare. Yes, some countries have used chemical weapons since WW1, but when they do there is near universal condemnation from the international community.
Torture should go the way of chemical weapons—even when everything seems to be at stake.
I have often hoped that as more women enter into government service and come to lead government departments and agencies they, the women, would contribute something distinctive to government at a higher level: compassion, respect for all human beings, compromise when possible, empathy. How can a woman not look at someone being tortured and not think “This is someone’s son?” (I could ask the same about men, but many men are hardened by their socialization to resist empathy in a way most women are not.)
So what would I like to see happen in response to this woman’s appointment as leader of the CIA? I would like to see an outcry—especially from women—that this particular person is not qualified to lead an intelligence service of a civilized country. If she can offer plausible deniability of her claimed involvement in secret prisons and torture, let’s hear it. I hope and pray that at her congressional hearings women in Congress will subject her to insistent questions about torture and her possible, claimed involvement in it. And I hope if she was, indeed, involved in leading a secret prison where suspects were tortured, her appointment fails even though I want to see more women in government. She would not be a good model for what women can do in government.
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