Medieval torture rack

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This is certainly a busy week for interesting political news. We have Rick Santorum winning the Republican caucuses in Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota. In California we have Prop 8 being ruled unconstitutional by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. We even have a news story that’s an extremely interesting read; more and more countries are moving away from a United States style of constitution. Yet, I’m not going to cover any of those. I’m going to talk about something that quietly reared its ugly head in the US’s neighbor to the north.

Open your imagination for a bit and picture something many people have pictured before: 24’s Jack Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland.¬† Somewhere there’s a bomb ticking away, set to explode. Jack has one of the suspects in custody and needs to find this bomb before it blows up, possibly killing thousands of innocent civilians. The suspect sits there, hands cuffed behind his back. A fresh welt on his cheek clearly shows he’s taken a hard punch or two in the last minute. Jack pulls out his trusty sidearm, and puts it up against the suspect’s knee, clearly intent on using harsh and violent methods to extract the information he needs to save the day and be the hero.

Too overblown? In the Tom Clancy book¬†The Sum Of All Fears the United States has been the victim of a terrorist nuclear attack, the perpetrators have been caught, and vengeance is being sought. Good-guy hero John Clark gets the evil-doers to ‘fess up by breaking all their fingers, preventing the US from mistakenly nuking the Muslim holy city of Qom located in Iran and making good vibes spread all around. Tom Clancy has been hailed as ultra-realistic, so how can this be unfeasible?

So what does Canada have to do with this? Well, it was revealed this week that the Canadian federal government had directed the CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, to use any and all information – including information derived from torture – when public safety is at stake. I know, I know, some of you are saying to yourself “but this is information that was simply passed on to them, and it could save innocent lives, what’s the big deal?” The big deal is that previously the Canadian government said if there was any indication that intelligence was “tainted” – essentially derived in any way from torture – that intelligence would be discounted. Some of you are still wondering what the big deal is, because The Bad Guys would do anything to hurt us, including lying and torturing, right? The big deal is actually a lot of little deals, including honor.

First and foremost it has been proven on many occaisions that torture is not a reliable method of extracting information. Legitimate bad guys will give false information simply to make the pain stop. Innocent folks will confess to crimes they didn’t commit simply to make the pain stop. Pain has the effect of removing the mind from long-term decisions; if you’re being tortured you do the most expediant thing to make the torture stop. Former Army Interrogator Travis Hall goes even a step further saying that when a person is subject to extreme stress due to torture or the threat of torture, they will have trouble recalling exact information. Do you really want a government’s secret agencies using information that may not be correct over direct intelligence usually obtained through years of hard work? The idea of using any method necessary to save people might be a romantic one, but you’re going to end up flat-out wrong at some point if you attempt to save people based on false information, and then you end up not only not saving people, but you’ve then tortured for no good reason too.

Second, torture is immoral. Part of being a civilized society is not torturing people. Once you start waterboarding, breaking fingers, sleep deprivation, etc, you’ve already lost your civilization. Torture is not part of a zero-sum game, either. Higher stakes do not merit “harsher” methods of interrogation – once you’ve exacted that first amount of deliberate pain with the intention of gaining information you’ve already revealed yourself as so scared that you’ll do “anything” to gain said information. Part of what makes, and made, the United States the best place in the world to live is the fact that we’re better than that. We signed the Geneva Treaties. We decried torture as wrong in World War II when it was used against us. We said it’s wrong, we need our actions to speak louder than our words.

Third, torture breaks the “Golden Rule.” In almost any instance of diplomatic protest the country protesting is stating that the country they’re protesting is doing something that’s just downright wrong. “Hey, we wouldn’t torture your people, you shouldn’t torture ours.” Treat others as you yourself would want to be treated. Devil’s advocate asks, “If we don’t want to torture people, why do we train our soldiers to withstand torture, then?” We also train our soldiers proper protocols for biological, and chemical attacks, but you don’t see us using biological and chemical weapons on people. Part of why Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) works is because we don’t want those same weapons used on us. By using torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantonimo, we have at the very least increased the possibility it will be used on our citizens.

Finally, torture is not only against our own constitution, but also against the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Under the general idea that torture is degrading and usually permanantly damaging, and after witnessing what the Nazis had done to prisoners in World War 2, the nations of the world all came together and signed the UDHR.

Why is the Canada issue a big deal, then? Well, in my first point I noted that information extracted under torture is unreliable. Secondly, if you put torture up against other capital crimes like rape and murder, condoning it is almost as heinous as committing it yourself. It’s a shame that the issue keeps popping up, in part thanks to the glamorization of Jack Bauer getting the job done – despite the US Army’s protests to the image it portrayed. It doesn’t change the fact that torture is not only wrong, immoral, and inhumane, it’s ineffective.


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