Friday, January 16, 2015


Torture is commonly defined by a standard dictionary as inflicting severe pain or punishment in order to force the person receiving the pain to either disclose something or do something required by the person inflicting the pain. A more modern definition as found in Wikipedia describes torture as severe pain, either physical or psychological. The Archaic definition is found in Black’s Law Dictionary as “Inflicting severe or violent pain in order to secure a confession or the names of accomplices.” 

I am appalled at two things: The apparent acceptance of the use of torture by a majority of American citizens, and the fact that the former Vice-President of the United States has no shame or regard for humanity, favoring the use of torture so long as it accomplishes the ends favored by him.

Since the formation of America, torture has been considered a criminal act. Torture for thousands of years has typically been used as a method of obtaining information, whether true or false. I recall as a young man discussing the treatment of prisoners with a then-deputy sheriff. This officer of the law bragged to me that, given a slap-jack and enough time, he could make a prisoner confess to murdering Lincoln. If nothing else, this alone demonstrates why torture should not be used. Given enough pain, an ordinary person would generally admit to almost anything rather than continue to endure the infliction of pain and discomfort.

The shocking thing about Vice-President Cheney is that he seems to adopt the same attitude as adopted by the leaders of the Nazi movement prior to WWII–-that is, "the ends justify the means." Cheney, in his defensive position, argues that the perpetrators of torture should not be punished because they were basically ordered to do so by their superiors. This same argument was made in an attempt to defend misconduct by the Nazi war criminals who were tried and hanged after WWII. To me, Mr. Cheney is an evil person with no regard for humanity or the image of America if it accomplishes his purposes at the moment.

Another common argument put forth in defense of the use of torture by American operatives is that things like water-boarding are, in fact, used as a part of training on our own people.  There is, however, a vast difference in water-boarding as a part of training and water-boarding to obtain information from a prisoner. In training the person receiving the water-boarding is keenly aware that there is not an attempt to take his life. The opposite is true of a prisoner being subjected to water torture in that the whole operation is designed to make him or her believe their life is about to end via drowning.

International protocols, even for war, dictate that torture not be used. America should not use torture if Americans truly believe such policy as the Geneva Convention constitute valid, international law.

There are other problems with torture. First, the respect for humanity itself should be honored. Second, torture seldom produces valuable, reliable information. However, the third and most important reason torture should not be used on our enemies or prisoners is what it will lead to. Once Americans buy into the attitude of 'what does it matter if these people were guilty anyway,' we are one step away from approving its use in the American criminal system.  

In other words, if a person committed murder, rape, robbery or kidnapping, what does it hurt if we inflict a little pain on that person to obtain a confession?  This wholly departs from our constitutional notion that persons are innocent until proven guilty.  

The recent report on torture indicates there were multiple people tortured to no avail and later proven innocent.  As a parent, can you imagine having your child hung by his or her arms for 48 hours in order to obtain a confession?  Or water-boarding a young person to solve a suspected crime?  I wholeheartedly believe that we, as Americans, are better than that–or should be.

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