Home Features Columnists Shedding some light on: Torture in the US

Shedding some light on: Torture in the US


The United States’ Senate Select Committee has released a report detailing the interrogation techniques used by the CIA on al-Qaeda members between 2001 and 2007. The report describes a number of human rights abuses committed by the agency, such as one detainee being left on life support after being subjected to torturous methods; one was hung by his arms from an iron bar for 22 hours, whilst another one died of hypothermia. Waterboarding, beatings, sleep deprivation and other techniques were also used as a means to extract information from prisoners in various United States bases of operation.

It was also revealed that the agency was working hand-in-hand with British Intelligence divisions, including MI5 and MI6, as well as a number of other security agencies from various other nations, and was found to have repeatedly lied to the White House about the methods used to extract information in order to avoid persecution. Furthermore, they were informed that these methods of interrogation were the reason as to why potential threats had been neutralised. For example, on four separate occasions the Blair government was informed that terrorist attacks had been foiled through methods of torture, when in reality they had already been extracted.

The problem that arises here is one that surpasses the problems raised by Operation PRISM, since they grant us a glimpse of a nation that is willing to descend to the morally repugnant depths of their enemies. The United States attempts to proclaim itself as a bastion of hope and justice, as a figurehead for the world and something that all other nations should aspire to become. This cannot possibly be achieved if their Secret Service is wiling to carry out acts of such gross inhumanity. The activities undertaken by the CIA are one’s that completely contradict the American Message, and instead grant people the impression that Western-Style Government would be just as brutal and untrustworthy as that of the one that they are currently serving under. If a brand wishes to promote their product, then they do not directly contradict their message, and yet the CIA has once again forced the United States to do this.

If the US wants to ensure a world of peace and democracy, then they need to search for a more humane manner in order to gather intelligence, one that does not disrupt so many fundamental human rights. It is clear that the torture methods provided very little intelligence in regards to terrorist activity, and thus they cannot possibly grant any form of justification to these events, and it is clear that the United States may finally be beginning to grasp this.

However, emphasis must be placed on ‘beginning’, since, whilst the Obama administration did indeed condemn the acts performed by the CIA, it stopped short of discussing the agencies accountability for their actions. The White House does not wish to further discuss the Report on account of the problem this subject poses to the United States government. However, it is not the current administration that will be feeling the worst of it. Instead, it appears that the Republican Party will in fact suffer even more, on the grounds of their blind rejection of the report and their attempts to prevent the publication of it will not soften their landing. In many ways, the fact that the government was willing to allow for the report to be published has allowed them to avoid a large amount of backlash from the general public and the press.

However, it must be accepted that there must be a dark side to government, as well as a light. In order to ensure peace and security, it must be willing to commit acts that the general public would never perform in order to ensure that they don’t have to. One could argue that torture and techniques affiliated with it are necessary to ensure that people are able to live normal lives, and that governments must exist on a separate level of morality in order to ensure this peace. It is a matter that exists outside of our world, and it is a necessary one. Many have argued before, and many will continue to argue in the future, that this epistemic distance must be held in order to ensure safety, comfort and normality, and the only price that we need to pay is but a small amount of ignorance.

Of course, in a society like the one we have today, this is not an acceptable view. We do not tolerate the notion of uninhibited torture, and there is a good reason as to why we do not. Modern culture generally depicts torture as being an unacceptable action, and something that should not be tolerated in an accepting society. However, we have recently experienced a shift in this perception, with television series such as ‘Homeland’ and films such as ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ presenting torture as a necessity, and something that should not be frowned up. In many ways, this promotion has allowed the reactions from the public to be decreased, since many will no longer experience either the surprise or the shock that many press publications have been hoping for. Nevertheless, the backlash cannot be understated, and nor should it be ignored.

It is clear that the CIA have crossed the line. The distance they are from the line however, is still to be answered.

Theo Stone, Online Features Columnist

If you missed Theo Stone’s last column on tuition fees, you can find it here. You can also find all our other Features columns here.

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