Torture — necessary evil or indefensible wrong?

The executive branch has delivered a legal opinion that denies the protections of the Geneva Conventions to non-Iraqi citizens captured by American forces in Iraq. This denial of basic human rights protections also applies to suspected members of terrorist groups being held in Guantanamo Bay.

The Geneva Conventions protect combatants in a conflict as well as civilians from such crimes as sentencing and executions without the judicial guarantees of civilized peoples. They also protect against torture, bodily mutilation and humiliating treatment.

The administration’s denial of the Geneva Conventions allows the military to deport non-Iraqi suspects from Iraq to secret locations where they are questioned using methods tantamount to torture. Among these methods is a form of torture in which the suspect is made to think he is drowning.

It is clear that the military engaged in a government-sanctioned breach of international law and then, after the fact, established a legal doctrine dissolving that law. Yet, the more troubling question is whether or not the U.S. government should use torture to extract information from suspected terrorists. The administration’s rationale is clear: by whatever means necessary, we must uncover all terrorist plots before they take effect.

If torture is an effective method to extract information that can save American lives, then it must be used. It is clear and simple, easily understood by the average American, and few would be so bold as to deny the doctrine of “by whatever means necessary.” However, the clear and simple answer is not always the best answer. What are the other significant effects of torture left unstated or unanalyzed by the Bush administration?

Torture undermines the American justice system. Established American law would not allow for the torture of American citizens in order to extract information.

If torture can be used on terrorists, then it should be used on terrorists both foreign and domestic. Surely, if Timothy McVeigh, executed for the Oklahoma City bombings, had been subjected to torture prior to his conviction, not to mention prior to the application of formal charges, there would have been an enormous breach of law. Lawyers and judges who respect American law and the rights of the defendant would have been up in arms at such a horrendous human rights violation within a nation that prides itself on its system of justice.

Yet, when these same violations are applied to non-citizens, there is a passive acceptance. Even in the law of war, there ought to be a standard for human decency.

Torture has the potential to lead to entirely false information. In a world determined by the color scale of terror alerts, it is absolutely imperative that correct information be collected by the military and U.S. intelligence.

It is highly likely that anyone, whether or not that person actually is a terrorist, would lie under the pressures of torture when any information given relieves the psychological trauma or physical pain. This false information extracted by torture, when used to heighten national terror alerts, only serves to further terrorist agendas by creating unneeded fear and paranoia among the American public.

Torture produces a cult of depravity and perversity. The psychological implications of torture for both the tortured and the torturer are significant. If American men and women are employed as torturers, there is an inevitable level of desensitizing that must take place. How can someone of moral character dehumanize another person in such a grotesque way and suffer no traumatic consequences?

These Americans will undoubtedly suffer psychological damage when they are trained to gain satisfaction from the suffering of others under the guise of patriotism. It forces men and women in our armed forces, the sons and daughters of good Americans, to torture members of the human race. This breeds situations like Abu Ghraib.

Torture against one racial or ethnic group produces feelings of racial or national supremacy within the torturer. Torture breeds hatred for the tortured, not only hatred for the individual subject to the torture, but also hatred for all for which the individual stands. In the case of those now subject to torture, it can be assumed that 99 percent – if not more – of these suspected terrorists are Arab and claim to practice Islam.

If military and governmental officials extract information from these people through torture on a daily basis, then it is inevitable that they will be subject to unconscious hegemonic repercussions. In their role as torturers, these officials act inhumanely towards an exclusive ethnic and religious group. This may breed hatred for all Arabs and Muslims and infuse the torturers with feelings of ethnic and religious supremacy.

Torture is anti-Christian. I hate to mention the Christian religion in any political argument, but it does seem hypocritical for an administration that so strongly associates itself with Christianity to be so blatantly unchristian. If conservatives claim to be the arm of morality and religion, then supporting an exception to the Geneva Conventions is the most hypocritical action they could take.

The Geneva Conventions allow for the very lowest common denominator of humane treatment. If any conservative claims that his or her policy guide is Jesus Christ, then surely that person does not endorse the torture or bodily mutilation of one’s enemies. If that person does endorse torture, then he or she is only a nominal Christian.

If scholars of philosophy, international bodies and the justice system consider torture inhumane, then what does this say about America? By utilizing inhumane methods, we either believe we are above all other forms of humanity or we are simply a cruel and inhumane nation.

But of course, cruelty and inhumanity are sometimes necessary in desperate situations such as war.

Torture may be necessary in the fight against terror. There is always the possibility of gaining useful information to protect American lives.

However, there are also other less positive effects for Americans, our soldiers and our government. A responsible citizen should recognize torture as un-American and unpatriotic according to our moral national character. It reduces us to the level of terrorists engaging in medieval acts of depravity.

It denies the absolute nature of morality and ethics, applying inhumane treatment to particular cases determined by arbitrary methods. It denies the basic tenets of justice, torturing suspects who are neither charged with crimes nor convicted of crimes.

However, there is still the essential and possibly overriding benefit of torture: to extract information and save American lives. I only stress the fact that there do exist some less savory implications of torture that any American who endorses the practice must accept.