Having just finished my graduate course on terrorism the release of the summary of the report regarding the CIA’s interrogation activities is particularly interesting to me. [NPR coverage here.]
A lot of words have been written about whether the treatment of prisoners was “technically torture.” First, I think it should be seen as a clear sign that you’re doing something wrong when you have to spend that much energy arguing over whether something is technically torture or not. If the best you can do to defend your actions is to say “it wasn’t ‘technically’ torture, so it was okay” then you’re doing something wrong.
Second, instead of spending pages and pages (as the Department of Justice did) analyzing the legal definition of torture and whether you’ve violated it; let’s use a much easier route. Sample the population and describe the actions as having been committed against U.S. civilians captured by, let’s say, North Korea. If we consider it torture for North Korea to do that to our citizens then it’s torture for us to do it to anybody else.
The argument then usually falls back to, “well, so what if it was torture, we needed the intel it resulted in.” Despite this being a highly disputed claim (especially within the new report) it’s irrelevant. Torture is wrong. Efficacy does not matter. Why? Why is torture wrong? The simplest argument is that it’s wrong for the same reason that capital punishment is wrong. At some point you’re going to do it to someone who is completely innocent and there’s no taking it back. But it’s wrong beyond that. It’d be wrong even if you absolutely knew without any doubt whatsoever that the victim was guilty. Despite the copious quantities of evidence that torture probably doesn’t work, results in backlash, alienates allies, and radicalizes enemies we need no data points here. This is moral conviction. Treating another conscious, living thing that way is wrong.
The only thing I find more disgusting than the fact that these actions were carried out in our names is that no one will be held accountable for it. No one has been or ever will be charged with violating human rights or international conventions. They did these disgusting things and told the world they did it for us. Your name, my name, my daughter’s name, our flag, our country have been slapped on the use of torture claiming “We Approve!”
I do not approve.
It was wrong.
We as a country need to change. We need to apologize to the victims and their families. Yes, even though the prisoners most likely were awful people, what we did was unacceptable. The idea that the victim was a bad person does not excuse mistreating them. We need to do something to ensure it doesn’t happen again. We need to show why the United States is better than a terrorist organization, not stoop to their level. If we’re going to claim to stand for freedom and justice then we need to actually practice what we preach.
We need to be better.