There is no arguing the fact that society and moral thinking have undergone a transformation in recent decades. The very concept of substantial human rights, those that rest upon a foundation of universality, was one that did not gain momentum until the latter half of the twentieth century. With the evolution of modern thinking, debate has been reinvigorated on many key issues, one of which has become pivotal: torture. But how is torture defined? In great part, offering a definition is a subjective process, and varies depending on corresponding cultural landscapes. What is viewed as gruesome and unjust in one region of the world may be accepted as commonplace in another.
While discussion on the topic tends to be subjective, there are some key aspects where we reach a consensus: the practice of torture is implemented with intent to cause severe bodily or psychological harm, is typically carried out by authority figures, and it is undoubtedly a process that circumvents all bounds of human morality. Keeping such principles in mind, how can we expect to reap the benefits of human rights advancements if such terrible acts endure?
Many point to the perceived benefits of such acts, claiming they are effective in extracting vital pieces of information in relation to developments such as criminal activity, or even terrorist activity in certain instances. The latter notion gained great popularity after the events of September 11th, in which national alarm and emotional turmoil reached an all-time high. However, it is important to note that everybody has a different threshold for pain – a key component of torture practices – and once this threshold is crossed, a person is liable to say almost anything to bring an end to their suffering.
Not only is the quality of the information inconsistent and marred, but also one who is innocent may confess to having a part in something with which they had no association. This is problematic on multiple fronts, and offers no substantial progress when it comes to obtaining valid intelligence.
Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times stated in his piece, “C.I.A. Report Found Value of Brutal Interrogation Was Inflated,” that the agency conducted an internal review, coined the Panetta Review; the ensuing report was compiled in order to look into the day-to-day interactions between prison guards and detainees. In particular, this analysis examined the usage of torture practices against inmates under the Bush administration. Accordingly, it was revealed that the value of information obtained during “brutal interrogations” of these detainees was repeatedly overstated, especially in the case of waterboarding. How can torture continue to be a popular form of gaining information when results often carry such little reliability and accuracy?
Perhaps it would be helpful to look at the motivations behind these practices; are we merely trying to extract a confession as a means-to- an-end solution to finding a guilty party? Is the aim of this action to gain truly correct information? That argument is separate, and the answer varies from one scenario to another. However, if the largest argument for torture is flawed at its core, there exists a major problem with how intelligence agencies and authority figures handle inmate interrogation. Henceforth, there is no practical justification for performing such atrocities, as the human rights violations amount to minimal gain – should these violations even occur to begin with.
International human rights standards take clear stances against the use of torture. As stated in Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The term “torture” is referred to explicitly in the body of the article. Such sentiments are echoed in the United Nations Charter, as protections have been put into place specifically to quell these violations.
There has been a shift in international focus that emphasizes the preservation of individual freedoms. Accordingly, states have been handed the responsibility of protecting citizens within their borders effectively from such abuses; should officials stray from this ideal, intervention from external forces becomes a possibility. From this evidence alone, the use of such coercive practices stands in direct violation to fundamental modern human rights goals. Even one such violation is grave enough to warrant reprimand.
As Yousef Munayyer proclaimed, “acknowledgment of torture is not accountability for it.” It is not enough to simply recognize these inhumane events are occurring; there must be an active international effort to eradicate such practices from both governmental and justice systems. The public needs to be more critical of government and its practices, and we as a global community must be guided by our collective morality and ethics in the elimination of such cruel punishment.
Once everyone is educated about the gruesome nature and violations torture carries with it – and this is true at every level of society –global justice will improve, leaving such heinous aspects of past society suspended in memory.