It’s three in the morning, and you’re sleeping soundly when the authorities bust your door in. In a state of panic you’re cuffed blindfolded, stuffed in a van with many others and driven out to the middle of nowhere. You’re unloaded on top of each other into a pile of bodies, and prodded like cattle into a dimly lit building where you’re taken to a room with a chair and table as others get shoved in cells or pulled out of sight. You hear screams from a short distance behind as two men enter the room and tell you they just need a little information and you can go back home. As they begin questioning it becomes obvious that you’re not there because you did something illegal, or wrong at all. You’re not handcuffed to a table because someone has a vendetta against you. It’s not a cruel joke. You’re just there by accident and you don’t have any answers. What would you say to get out? What would you do to be free? It sounds like a movie scene, but it’s the unfortunate reality of people all over the world.
Sadly, we have too close a history with that reality because of decisions made by our national leaders after we engaged in war with Iraq in 2003. Now, almost twelve years later the Senate Democrats are at a stand-off with the White House, who they accuse of siding with the CIA in an attempt to dilute a 6,000 page report on torture during the Bush Administration. The House argues that the names—though pseudonyms—must be changed to protect those in the C.I.A. who carried out and approved torture. Democrats insist, “blacking out the names distorts the report’s narrative and hides the fact that some of the abuses were carried out by the same people who continued to be promoted within the C.I.A.” (Mazzetti). If that’s allowed to happen then it will be nearly impossible to stop corrupt people from moving up the ladder, and perpetuating violence from the comfort of a closed-off corner office.
Torture, or enhanced interrogation, whatever we choose to call it, brings up many feelings for everyone. Although I think the media has largely dropped the discussion, torture is still normal for people all over the world. Americans still mourn the loss of soldiers, journalists, and other brave people who’ve been captured and subjected to extreme abuse and the ultimate price—death.
Some believe that our enemy’s actions justify the use of torture, that the abuses committed at places like Abu Ghraib and many others pale in comparison to the atrocities committed by those we fought. But if one must become a monster to stop another, then we’ll never a see a peaceful world. One of the core reasons for Bush’s war was to find and kill Osama bin Laden, but torture didn’t lead to bin Laden’s demise. Torture is an embarrassment to our military, whose policy is strictly not to engage in the act because it makes an enemy fight harder—prolonging the war. Using torture for any reason is against international law, but that doesn’t seem to bother the CIA or too many others.
Some think torture is justifiable in some situations. A classic example of such is the “ticking time-bomb” scenario. A thought experiment that goes something like this: You have a man in custody who has planted a time-bomb somewhere in the city. It’s going to go off in the next 10 minutes, but he won’t tell you where it is. Is it justifiable to torment the information out of him? Basic reasoning should raise an eyebrow to the entire notion. How did we get the information about bomber’s whereabouts, but with no connection to the bomb’s? Are we to just assume the captive we have is guilty, and beat that person in hopes they have some, any, answer? So much for innocent until proven guilty. This scenario also makes an unspoken and incorrect claim: torture works.
Given its long list of drawbacks, it makes good sense to find out if it’s even worth using. And, not without irony, the CIA, those who write the books on enhanced interrogation, admit it’s pointless: “physical abuse or other degrading treatment was rejected, (by their interrogators) not only because it is wrong, but because it has historically proven to be ineffective,” and the FBI also backs that claim stating, “harsh methods produce unreliable information from people who will say anything to stop the pain” (Dominguez). We have it on good authority that brutality doesn’t work, but it does do something odd to the perpetrator.
An investigative report put out by ABC listed six interrogation methods used by the CIA: the attention grab and slap, the belly slap, longtime standing, the cold cell, and water boarding (Ross). Self-explanatory, on-the-books, non-lethal tactics used by agents to get confessions. Then there is Abu Ghraib, where whose detained—most of them civilians—were beaten, stripped, stacked in pyramids, and sodomized with various objects. A very different list than the latter. What went wrong? According to Stanford psychology professor Philip G. Zimbardo—renowned for the Stanford Prison Experiment—we all have the capacity to do incredibly good or vile things given the right social environment. With many studies Zimbardo shows how dehumanization, anonymity, and labeling can alter our perceptions of right and wrong (Dittmann). Not only is torture a failure, its use comes with the cost of our humanity.
There’s a better way to gather information and find terrorist cells, although it’s the subject of controversy as well because of the information leaked by whistle-blower Edward Snowden. While many obsess over meta-data, many others act like we’re the only nation with cellphones and internet, while everyone else is still chiseling letters in sandstone, but that’s not the case. Terrorists load their videos on YouTube, plan attacks in online forums, and text messages. If innocent Americans are under constant government surveillance, then I think it’s safe to assume our enemies and assets in the Middle East are as well. Thanks to Snowden, there is no need for assumption. Documented in the leaks was a secret facility in an area run by Britain, collecting all kinds of internet traffic and phone calls for the NSA and others (Campbell).
Last year we didn’t read about torture revealing the location of Osama bin Laden. Advanced drones, DNA comparison, and satellites are what found and confirmed our enemy (Whitlock). If saving lives, establishing democracy, and stopping terrorism are really the goals then they’ll only be reached with reliable relevant data, not the ramblings of a terrorized, psychologically unstable, victim of abuse. It seems like common sense, but according to the report Torture in 2014 by Amnesty International, “Between January 2009 and May 2013, Amnesty International received reports of torture and other ill-treatment committed by state officials in 141 countries, and from every world region. This only indicates cases reported to or known by the organization and does not necessarily reflect the full extent of torture worldwide.”
It’s not going away. Torture is useless, unethical, and illegal, yet it continues. This is why we can’t turn a blind eye to the 6,000 page report the CIA wants to bathe in black Sharpie. It’s another silent nod of approval. If we allow agencies to get away with murder then they’ll do just that. We can’t let the CIA continuously sweep every terrible deed under the rug while promoting those responsible for the mess—when where they really belong is prison. But that’s only going to happen if we really want it.
As individuals we can’t stop torture. We can’t save those confined against their will, kept in some hell-hole far out of sight. But we can change our mindset, and we can change each other, then society. It starts with anger—we should be upset that the establishments that claim to have our best interests in mind go to such great lengths to keep those interests secret. But it must end with action. Our nation, culture, and government are ultimately only as good as our involvement in them. Without direct action and outcry the status quo will flourish. Innocent people will be carried away to face unthinkable torment, and even the guilty deserve a fair trial—not brutality. But the choice is ours.
Dittmann, Melissa. “What Makes Good People Do Bad Things?” http://www.apa.org. American Psychological Association, Oct. 2004. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.
Dominguez, Trace. “Does Torture Work? Ask the CIA. : DNews.” DNews. Discovery, 3 June 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.
Campbell, Duncan, Oliver Wright, James Cusick, and Kim Sengupta. “Exclusive: UK’s Secret Mid- East Internet Surveillance Base Is Revealed in Edward Snowden Leaks.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 23 Aug. 2013. Web. 25 Nov. 2014.
Mazzetti, Mark, and Carl Hulse. “Senate Democrats Clash With White House on C.I.A. Torture Report.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 20 Nov. 2014. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.
Ross, Brian, and Richard Esposito. “CIA’s Harsh Interrogation Techniques Described.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 18 Nov. 2005. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.
“Torture in 2014.” (n.d.): n. pag. Torture in 2014. Amnesty International Ltd, 2014. Web.
Whitlock, Craig. “To Hunt Osama Bin Laden, Satellites Watched over Abbottabad, Pakistan, and Navy SEALs.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 25 Nov. 2014. Web. 25 Nov. 2014.