5 Reasons Torture Is Always Wrong
"Three Marines in Mahmudiya used an electric transformer, forcing a detainee to 'dance' as the electricity coursed through him."
International Committee of the Red Cross, February 2004
A former Iraqi general "died of asphyxiation after being stuffed head-first into a sleeping bag
at an American base in Al Asad."
The New York Times, October 23, 2005
"Al-Qatani was forced to perform dog tricks on a leash, was straddled by a female interrogator, forced to dance with a male interrogator, told that his mother and sister were whores, forced to wear a woman's bra and thong on his head during interrogation, and subjected to an unmuzzled dog to scare him."
Newsweek, November 21, 2005
The word "torture," tellingly, comes from the Latin torquere, to twist. Stine Amris and Julio G. Arenas, who have done extensive studies on the effects of torture, define it as "the infliction of severe pain (whether physical or psychological) by a perpetrator who acts purposefully and on behalf of the state" (italics in original).
The debate in our nation today concerns what measures can legitimately be taken to extract information from prisoners held by us in the "war on terror" and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As such, it is a debate about the proper use of government power in a liberal democracy. Can that power ever rightly extend to the use of any form of torture?
Few people disagree that a liberal democracy has the right and responsibility to take prisoners and interrogate them during a war or police action. This is part of the government's biblical mandate in Romans 13:1-7, a mandate to deter violations of peace and justice. Most would even agree that interrogators should have some flexibility in applying pressure to encourage prisoners to reveal information that could save lives. The question is whether torture can be included among the forms of pressure that can legitimately be employed.
As to the exact kinds of acts that constitute torture, there is no single definition, but this does not mean that the term is infinitely elastic. Almost everyone condemns the examples above. And international agreements have repeatedly sought to define torture as they have denounced it. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment." Article 17 of the Third Geneva Convention (1949) asserts that "no physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war," but, instead, "persons taking no active part in the hostilities shall in all circumstances be treated humanely." The 1985 U.N. Convention Against Torture defines it as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person." The United States is a signatory to all of these international declarations and has historically incorporated their principles into military doctrine. For example, the 1992 (current, though under revision) U.S. Army Field Manual tells soldiers that "[Geneva] and U.S. policy expressly prohibit acts of violence or intimidation, including physical or mental torture, threats [or] insults, as a means of or aid to interrogation."
The kinds of acts most often classified as torture make for a dreary catalog of pain. They include physical torture, beatings, use of electric shock, employment of mind-altering drugs, sexual assault, and various other inventive ways of harming the bodies and minds of other human beings.