Poetry of the Soul

Come See What's Within

Shining a Light On Darkness: Torture

This essay basically highlights the points of how torture isn't always a bad thing and how it should sometimes be used. Do note that I chose the topic because it presented me a challenge. This doesn't personally reflect my own ideas.

Shining a Light On Darkness: Torture

Torture is defined by Webster as “anguish of the body or mind” and the practice of torture has existed for thousands of years. As long as it has been in existence, there has also been a debate surrounding the use of torture. The very basic question is if the end justifies the means. Many people believe that torture is an inhumane practice, due to its physical brutality, long-lasting mental effects, and a loss of basic moral fiber for the torturer. However, these people don’t take into consideration the cases in which acts of terrorism were foiled through the use of torture. They also don’t take into consideration the different types of torture, some being more humane then others. In many cases, physical torture isn’t even needed. Simply the fear of torture and self-injury is enough to encourage a captive to talk. Despite strong arguments against torture, the benefits do outweigh the criticisms when the United States is dealing with nations that use torture against American solders, plan to attack American borders, and when tactics are used that don’t cause permanent physical harm.

The widely accepted document on torture is the 1984 U.N. Convention Against Torture. This document, as of June 2008, had been signed by one hundred and forty-five nations. The document defines torture as meaning, “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions” (Convention against Torture). Some people consider torture to only include physical pain and dismemberment of limbs. It’s nearly impossible to set a definition for torture due to the different opinions individuals have as to what is ethically and morally correct. However, torture should be thought of in a different light. In the end of the debate, only one question remains: Is torture an effective means of extracting information out of an individual?

Many individuals believe that torture is effective. Joe Martin, a crack interrogator who discovered that a top al Qaeda leader was really freed when he was suppose to be held, shared an account in which simply the fear of torture evoked such deep emotions in the captive that he confessed. Martin asked a young Afghan if he thought the situation was a joke and what he expected to have happen to him. When the man promptly replied torture, Martin knew that he had the element of fear on his side. The man was forced to stand for hours, before eventually being met face to face with Martin, who screamed, “What do you think I’ll do next?” It was at this point that the man lost any sense he had about maintaining a government secret and self-preservation kicked in. The Afghan was exhausted, lost all sense of time and location, and had an impeding fear of death. He quickly provided all the information that Martin was looking for. And what price was paid? Nothing more then making a man stand for a long period of time (Greenburg). The man came of no physical harm, neither would he have any long-term physical or mental effects. Torture proved to be useful and humane at the same time.

Fear has often been the downfall of mankind. When someone is faced with his or her own greatest personal fear, it’s only natural that the individual would do whatever it takes to avoid it. While being a fictional novel, George Orwell’s novel 1984 shows just how far someone would be willing to go. In the falling action of the novel, Winston, the main character, has disobeyed the orders of his captive and is sent to Room 101, a room in which the individual was faced with their greatest fear. For Winston, that was rats. A box that contained a starving rat held back by a screen was held down over Winston’s face. He was told that the rat would be set free and would eat off Winston’s face. At the last moment before the rat was freed, Winston wished the torture upon his female lover instead of him. His torturer knew that when he was willing to sacrifice someone he loved, that he had truly been broken (Orwell). It’s important to remember that the body has a natural “fight or flight” reaction to a situation. This essentially means that either the individual is going to fight off whatever situation he or she is in, or the body is going to try to flee from it(Neimark). In the case of torture, the body simply has no means to fight back. The fight option is all but taken out of the equation. What’s left is flight, and in most torture cases, the only way to escape alive is to tell the truth and admit to anything that the captive says. Fear is an extremely powerful emotion and a perfect tool to aid in gathering information.

There are many different types of torture, and each leave different impressions on the subject. Waterboarding is one of the most well-known and highly discussed techniques. Waterboarding essentially runs an endless flow of water over the subject’s face, while they are covered with a cloth. This creates the feeling and illusion that the subject is being drowned. Even though individuals would run the small risk of death, the vital signs are watched closely in order to ensure that the victim doesn’t die as a result of the technique. There is much debate as to if this is torture or not. The advantage to waterboarding is that there are no physical scars left and no long-term injury is inflicted. The military performs waterboarding on its survival school students and has never experienced a death as a result. Starving the victim, forcing them to stand for long periods of time, long sessions of interrogation, and other psychological treatments are also popular and frequently used techniques used even by our government. This use of torture is almost impossible to notice and usually wears the victim down to the point that they break and confess to whatever is being asked of them. The public frequently doesn’t hear about these techniques, because the media enjoys stressing the sheer brutality of torture, such a hitting and kicking, electrical shock, dismembering bodies, and other violent techniques. In reality, there are many other ways to evoke an answer out of someone who is unwilling to give it up.

According to Amnesty International, torture is practiced in more than 100 countries to silence opponents, extract information or confessions, and terrorize individuals. The State Department's “2002 Human Rights Report” says most of the countries that torture is used is Asia, Africa and the Middle East (Masci). Now, there is an argument that we shouldn’t use torture because we wouldn’t want people using torture on our soldiers. But, with so many countries using torture, is it realistic to believe that they will show us mercy when they have a sergeant held captive? It is a lost hope to say that just because the United States doesn’t use torture that it wouldn’t be used against us. When torture becomes a constant danger for soldiers all over the world, it seems that this country should be allowed to use torture back. While revenge isn’t always the best option, when it comes to the protection of those serving this country overseas, every amount of protection should be allowed.

Not everyone sees torture as an effective means of extracting information. There are many historical cases in which torture and the threat of death proved to be ineffective. Joan of Arc was tried for witchcraft and because she said that she was being led to do certain actions by Godly voices. She was told to admit she heard nothing or be burned: She chose death. The Romans threatened Christians with crucifixion, burning, or facing the dangerous events that took place at the infamous Colosseum if they didn’t choose the Roman Gods over their own: Thousands would die at this time. William Wallace, of Braveheart popularity, was tortured because he refused to pledge himself to King Edward I. The threat of certain and painful death was ineffective in these situations and their deaths ended up doing right the opposite: the killings of Christians helped to convert Rome; Joan of Arc is widely remembered for her bravery in the face of danger and unfair treatment, unlike the evil king she refused to serve; and, the death of William Wallace was enough to get rid of the English from Scotland (Milavic). While these examples are strong and historically accurate, it’s not representative of all cases historically. After all, what do all these situations really mean if the Unites States can prevent even one terrorist attack on U.S. soil? Just because certain people were willing to lay down their lives, that doesn’t mean everyone is as strong.

There is one specific case that clearly shows that moderate torture techniques, ones that leave no long-term effects, can derive the information that U.S. intelligence officers are seeking. In a story published by Time, Gerald Posner, who wrote Why America Slept, talks about Abu Zubaydah, who was one of the biggest terrorist targets of the time. He was a leading member of bin Laden's inner most circle Involved with the millennium bombing plot, 9/11, and attacks after that. It’s described how after he was injured and captured, U.S. interrogators used drugs—an unnamed "quick-on, quick-off" painkiller and Sodium Pentothal, a classical truth serum—in a chemical version of reward and punishment to make him spill his secrets. In the end, Zubaydah would end up giving up a list of phone numbers and a detailed description of bin Laden’s innermost workings (Mcgeary).Through the repression and forthcoming of pain over an extended time, U.S. interrogators were able to make serious progress in the fight against terror in the Middle East. The subject was more then willing to give up secrets, even with his high status in al-Qaeda.

Critics of torture also argue that the long-term psychological effects are just as bad as physical scars. The Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma states that the links between the physical and psychological effects of torture can be inseparable. Survivors may, for example, experience vivid and specific “body memory” symptoms associated with their abuse. They claim that some of the long-term effects of mental torture can include major depression, anxiety, and the constellation of symptoms known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Survivors of torture and trauma may also experience feelings of shame, guilt, powerlessness or worthlessness, an inability to visualize the future, and difficulty connecting to other people (Understanding Torture). Scientific evidence shows that this is, in fact, a side effect of torture. However, these symptoms can also been seen in high stress jobs, such as law enforcement, legal consultants, public speaking positions, and other jobs that cause individuals to be on edge. In the end, millions of individuals in the United States suffer from these side effects every day. If the argument is made that torture shouldn’t be used due to these minor side effects, then should we also ban stress-inducing jobs in the U.S?

Does the end justify the means? This is an age-old question that has no real conclusion. Many people would say that the means never justify the ending. When individuals say that something is "justified," it is simply being stated that it is right. Many would argue that since a bad end is one that man is not morally justified in seeking, man isn’t correct in doing anything he feels he must do. So, no means can be justified by a bad ending. But look at a less extreme example: Stealing in order to satisfy hunger is a case in which the end, eating to survive, justifies the means of achieving the food. This means that if a life can be saved, then the end is in fact justified, no matter what it takes. If that is the case, then an argument can be made that torture is in fact saving lives by discovering potential attacks and being able to foil them. At what point does human survival justify the ends?

Torture has existed for thousands of years, back to the early Chinese and biblical times. Torture is one topic that has always derived a debate as to if it’s beneficial and justified in its use. Many people do believe that torture is an inhumane practice, yet there are many benefits. Not all torture is as inhumane as other forms. In many cases, simply the fear of torture is enough to scare most people into confessing. While some people may never confess to whatever they are being questioned about, it’s worth the exploration to see if any truth can be reached. Torture can be a highly effective means to derive a final answer to a question. And that answer could save hundreds, even thousands of lives. Does the end justify the means? That is a question that individuals must decide for themselves. However, in the long run, it seems that the benefits do in fact benefit humanity as a whole.

"Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment." Office of the United Nations HIgh Commissioner for Human Rights. 10 Dec. 1984. 22 Oct. 2008 ..

Greenberg, Karen J., ed. The Torture Debate in America. New York: Cambridge UP, 2005. 88.

Masci, D. (2003, April 18). Torture. CQ Researcher, 13, 345-368. Retrieved October 23, 2008, from CQ Researcher Online, .com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2003041800.

Mcgeary, Johanna. "Confessions of a Terrorist." TIME. 31 Aug. 2003.29 Oct. 2008 .com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1101030908-480226,.

Milavic, USMC (Ret.), Maj. Anthony F. "THE USE OF "TORTURE" IN INTERROGATION." Marine Corps Interrogator Translator Teams Association. 19 May 2005. 29 Oct. 2008 ..

Neimark, Neil F. "The Fight or Flight Response." Mind/Body Education Center. ..

Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Everyman's Library, 1992.

"Understanding torture and its effects." The Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trama. ..