Can torture ever be admissible

Torture has been used as an instrument to crush the will of the enemy through millennia. The intensity and bitterness it has created has through the ages, evoked public outcries; to no avail. The 21st Century has begun with the world’s only Super Power using torture in the war against terror, which has justifiably sent shock waves throughout civilized societies. The issue of use of torture as an instrument of State policy is being hotly debated from the pragmatic, legal, philosophical and religious perspective.

The thorny issue of torture as an instrument of State policy to extract information and use it as a tool to interrogate potentially dangerous terrorists or bad elements in society has come into sharp focus in the aftermath of horrendous images in the international media of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq. That Americans, the conscience keepers of nations, were involved in acts of utter barbarity has shocked the world. Religious and human rights groups have made common cause to enlighten the ‘enlightened’ of the inherent danger of letting loose terror as an instrument of State policy.

A fiery debate rages.According to Scott Allen, M.D. of Physicians for Human Rights, torture has led to false and misleading testimony with devastating consequences. “The idea that torture yields reliable information is highly questionable as victims will often say whatever it is they think their interrogators want to hear to stop the torture”.In a brilliant expose of the apologists of torture, Kenneth S. Pope in a chapter titled “Torture,” in the Encyclopedia of Women and Gender: Sex Similarities and Differences and the Impact of Society on Gender, edited by Judith Worell and published by Academic Press, has listed and countered every argument of the apologists of torture.

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The most common strategies of accommodation, acceptance, or justification of torture rely on:i.        State authority and formal orders: The UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, states, “An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.”ii.      Use of abstraction and linguistic transformation: The horrors of torture can be obscured by achieving a sufficient level of abstraction, euphemism, and other forms of linguistic transformation. Repeatedly in the Nuremberg trials, the most heinous forms of torture carried out by Nazi doctors, concentration camp guards, soldiers, and others were characterized dismissively by the defendants as medical matters.iii.    They don’t count: This strategy creates the illusion that the people targeted for torture are not actually people but rather genetic or cultural trash, of no inherent importance.iv.    Justice is possible only when those who have caused great suffering are made to endure great suffering: Torture is seen as righteous and well-deserved revenge. In some instances, this is portrayed as an eye for an eye philosophy.v.      Torture is appropriate not because of what people have done but because of what they will, might, or can    Torturers as the relatively helpless victims of external forces beyond their control.vii.  The most common rationales for engaging in torture are to obtain information that supposedly could not be gathered by other means. Those supporting torture may claim that subjecting an individual to a relatively brief experience of torture may be necessary for a greater good: preventing the loss of a great many lives.viii.           Those who are aware of torture may come to accept its presence in their community or state by viewing it as something that is none of their business.ix.    One of the bluntest ways that people can accommodate torture in their midst is to deny that it exists, usually by dismissing any signs, reports, or evidence of torture as lies, exaggerations, or mistakes.Pope has cautioned that while “understanding and preventing torture requires countering effectively the strategies of acceptance, accommodation, and justification, they may well carry special appeal in the context of inertia, noninvolvement, and the costs of recognizing torture’s realities”.Pope has quoted Harvard psychiatrist Judith Herman:It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.Pope has raised two pertinent questions: What are we doing to understand and prevent torture and help its victims? If we are not doing all we can, why?Democrat Patrick Leahy, US Senator from Vermont, in an article titled, “There is no justification for torture” published in the Boston Globe of June 28, 2004, has rebuffed arguments centering on necessity and self-defense as justifications for torture.If torture is justified to obtain information from a suspected terrorist, why not from his wife or children? Do we really want to usher in a new world that justifies inhumane, immoral and cruel treatment as any means to an end? We must reject the dangerous notion that torture can be legally justified.”Amoral pragmatism should be shunned. The question each one of us should ask ourselves is: Can our country adopt the high moral ground against another if it uses torture to gather information? It would not be inappropriate to muster an array of quotations from philosophers and thinkers, good souls, who have left an indelible imprint on history and whose thoughts have the power to raise sunken spirits.The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons (Fyodor Dostoyevsky).Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it (Albert Einstein).To sin is a human business, to justify sins is a devilish business (Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy).Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of government. The history of liberty is the history of resistance. The history of liberty is a history of the limitation of governmental power, not the increase of it (Woodrow Wilson).In the light of the foregoing, only an insane voice would plead for the admissibility of torture as a deliberate instrument of State policy.Scott Allen in a question-answer session hosted by Amnesty International described the symptoms of torture on victims as depression, anxiety, difficulty with concentration and memory, hypersensitivity to external stimuli, hallucinations and perceptual distortions. “In severe cases, these symptoms can lead to personality changes that can interfere with daily function and the maintenance of social and intimate relationships. Persistence of symptoms and recovery can vary widely from case to case, but often may take years and even decades.”Torture, says Scott Allen, is clearly dehumanizing and damaging to the victim, but it can be just as damaging to the mental well being of the torturer.Here it would be appropriate to quote Booker T. Washington, “You can’t hold a man down without staying down with him.”And Friedrich Nietzche: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you”.Pope Johan Paul II has written:The thought of Jesus being stripped, beaten and derided until his final agony on the cross should always prompt a Christian to protest against similar treatment of their fellow beings. Of their own accord, disciples of Christ will reject torture, which nothing can justify, which causes humiliation and suffering to the victim and degrades the tormentor.George Hunsinger, professor at Princeton Seminary, and a leading voice in the Presbyterian movement to oppose torture, delivered a pointed sermon in 2006 in response to theologian and Nazi fighter Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s eye-opening question, “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?”  Hunsinger’s answer is that Christ today is found among the victims of U.S. torture ( has quoted from the Holy Scripture: “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured (Heb. 13:3)”.He closes with an interpretation of I John 4:20:  Those who say, “I love God,” and torture their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who torture a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen; and the same holds true for those who turn a blind eye to torture or otherwise condone it.No religion condones torture.Hinduism: This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you (Mahabharata).Islam: No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother what which he desires for himself (Sunnah).Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful (Udana Varga).Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not to your fellowmen. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary (Talmud).Zoroastrianism: That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself (Dadistan-i-dinik).Torture is the very essence of evil. Sooner of later, woe would befall a society that condones torture. Here three quotations are appropriate and self-explanatory:The government is the potent omnipresent teacher. For good or ill it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself, it invites anarchy. To declare that the end justifies the means, to declare that the government may commit crimes, would bring terrible retribution (Justice Louis D. Brandeis).Give government the weapons to fight your enemy and it will use them against you (Harry Browne).A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves (Edward R. Murrow).Skeptics, who entertain apologists of torture, have no place in civilized society.

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