By Josh Colver
“What if we finally decide that torture, even if called “enhanced interrogation technique,” is self-destructive and produces no useful information and that contracting it out to a third world nation is just as evil?” - Ron Paul. Congressman Ron Paul of Texas asked this question on the floor of the House of Representatives in 2009. The speech that he gave later became known as the “What If” speech, which critiqued American foreign policy and the disregard for civil liberties. The question of whether the United States should use torture comes down to 3 issues: Is it constitutional? Is it moral? And what does it seek to accomplish? If we judge the issue by these three questions, it can be seen that the abolishment of torture is the only logical path going forward.
The first argument for ending torture is the constitutional one. Torture is strictly prohibited in the constitution by the 8th Amendment which reads, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” The practice of torture in and of itself is precisely a “cruel and unusual punishment.” Especially the practice of waterboarding, which consists of tying a person down on a board and placing a rag over their eyes and in their mouth. Doing this gives people the perception and feeling that they are drowning and suffocating, as water is poured on their face. According to Sullivan in his essay, the average time it takes for a government agent to break is 12 seconds under these circumstances. If waterboarding is not “Cruel and unusual punishment” I don’t know what is.
The second argument is the moral one. One of the reasons America is so exceptional as a nation is that until recently, we didn’t lower ourselves to the level of the terrorists and evil people throughout the world. The rest of the world respected us, and even the people we fought against respected us because we had some sense of moral decency in war. To suggest that we should abandon the moral high ground, and throw away the only thing differentiating us from our enemies is a terrible idea. We also need to understand that two wrongs don’t make a right. Yes, they did attack us or perpetrate an act of terror but does us torturing them bring back the lives we lost, or somehow even out the moral scales? No, it does not. We also need to realize and be wary of government deciding who is a terrorist and who is not. It’s a crazy notion to suggest that a government bureaucracy compiling a list of terror suspects on a secret list, can be used to deny constitutional rights and due process. Examples of this inefficiency and failure can be seen at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. At this prison, suspects were denied due process and taken to the compound where they are tortured. The real crime, however, is that 90% of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib were later found to be innocent. It just goes to show that when one government branch is judge and jury, liberty and common decency are sacrificed.
The third argument has to do with the goal of torture. Advocates for torture claim that it is necessary to stop terrorism, and without it, the terrorism would increase. I argue that the opposite is true when the United States is open and vocal about our use of torture this insights terrorism instead of stopping it. Terrorists around the world hear that the United States is using torture and this angers them. It makes them commit even more acts of terror. So torture in and of itself creates terrorism instead of stopping it. Another area in which the United States can start to change policy to decrease terrorism is on foreign policy. Ever since World War 2, the United States has been on the quest for empire. Invading and occupying everywhere from Vietnam to Iraq, and all without a declaration of war mandated by the Constitution. Our military actions in the Middle East have created what the CIA calls Blowback. The concept of Blowback is that when the United States intervenes in the middle east, whether it be bombs or nation building, which there is an unintended consequence that occurs. A prominent example of this is our nation building in Iran for the latter part of the 20th century. In 1953 the United States installed the Shah in Iran; the Shah, which is the name of the ruler, was very unpopular among the Iranian people. So in response to that, the people of Iran invaded our embassy in 1979 and took hostages. This infamous event became known as the Iranian Hostage Crisis, which is directly related to our nation building. Another example of Blowback is the 9-11 attacks on the United States. If you ever read the writings of Bin Laden and the reasons they attacked us, it was abundantly clear it was because we were over there. We built a military base in Saudi Arabia, which that particular faction of Islam believed to be the holy land. In retaliation for our military base and constant bombing of the middle east, they hijacked two planes and flew them into the Twin Towers. I would make the case that if we are serious about fighting terrorism, we have to look at our foreign policy.
In conclusion, I believe that we need to end torture immediately. Not only is torture unconstitutional, but it's also immoral and leads to increased terrorism against our country. We need to remember and never forget that for today, we might not object to the way the government is using its power. We might believe that government may be using it for good since it doesn’t affect us, but don’t be surprised if tomorrow it’s you whose rights are taken away on the basis of so called terrorism. If we are going to be moral leaders and lead by example, torture must be put to a stop. To conclude, I’d like to quote Congressman Paul once more, “Remember: liberty only has meaning if we still believe in it when terrible things happen, and more government security is demanded. Government cannot make us safe by mandating security any more than it can make us prosperous by decreeing an end to poverty.”