Reality Check: Torture is NEVER justified!

3 06 2009

According to a recent poll, “Just over half of Americans say torture is at least sometimes justified to thwart terrorist attacks”.

Let’s stop right there.  Torture is at least sometimes justified?!!!!  Um, no, TORTURE IS NEVER JUSTIFIED! Not only does it not work (but whether or not it is an effective tactic is completely irrelevant and not the issue), but it is morally and ethically wrong.  Not that the United States has done a good job with keeping our moral compass pointed north, especially under the Bush Administration, but torture is something that people should just not do.  Ever.


Some 52 percent of people say torture can be at least sometimes justified to obtain information about terrorist activities from suspects, an increase from 38 percent in 2005 when the AP last asked the question. More than two-thirds of Republicans say torture can be justified compared with just over a third of Democrats.

52 percent of people think that torture can be at least sometimes justified?  Really?  That’s incredibly sad, disturbing and disheartening.  I don’t know how many times we can repeat this before people finally get it (if they ever get it), but torture is just plain wrong.  Nothing can justify it.

In 2005, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) argued that torture damages the public image and the reputation of the U.S.: “I can tell you that it is a club that our enemies use, and we need to take that club out of their hand”.  Senator Joe Biden (now Vice President) argued that torture makes the U.S. more vulnerable to retaliation from enemy forces: “This is about the safety and security of American forces”.

Neither of these two arguments get to the heart of the matter though.  These are not the principal reasons why torture is unacceptable and unjustifiable.  Torture is not wrong because it makes you look bad, or it makes you a target for retaliation.  Torture is wrong because it is torture.

Johnathan Schell writes:

Torture is wrong because it inflicts unspeakable pain upon the body of a fellow human being who is entirely at our mercy.  The tortured person is bound and helpless.  The torturer stands over him with his instruments.  There is no question of “unilateral disarmament” because the victim bears no arms, lacking even the use of the two arms he was born with.  The inequality is total.  To abuse or kill a person in such a circumstance is as radical a denial of common humanity as is possible.  It is repugnant to learn that one’s country’s military forces are engaging in torture.  It is worse to learn that the torture is widespread.  It is worse still to learn that the torture was rationalized and sanctioned in long memorandums written by people at the highest level of the government.  But worst of all would be ratification of this record by a vote to confirm one of its chief authors to the highest legal office in the executive branch of the government.

Torture destroys the soul of the torturer even as it destroys the body of his victim.  The boundary between human treatment of prisoners and torture is perhaps the clearest boundary in existence between civilization and barbarism.



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