If we were to consider the following type of incident; suppose that a suspected Al-Qaeda or ISIS sympathizer is captured and believed to have knowledge of a bomb somewhere in one or more major US cities; based on this information, should law enforcement and government officials have the right to torture these individuals? Is there a moral forethought that should come into question here or do the lives of millions of Americans outweigh the rights of the few? If the suspect refuses talk, then, should torture be the first line of offense or a last resort?
If the greatest benefit would be served by learning the locations of future terrorist attacks on US soil, do the means justify the actions even if they circumvent the 8th Amendment against Cruel and Unusual Punishment? Some people may argue that these people are international terrorists and are not subject to rights of the US Constitution; on the other hand, what of those conducting the interrogations who are US citizens and adhere to the Bill of Rights. Should someone who wants the rights of the Constitution be allowed to circumvent those very rights when used against others? And, what of US citizens suspected of committing acts of terrorism on US Soil, should interrogators be allowed to circumvent the US Constitution if the actions of torture may save lives of hundreds or thousands?
But, how do we define terrorism? Over the last several decades, US citizens have been faced with domestic terrorism by teenagers who engage in school shooting and bombing massacres—should American children be subject to the same rules of torture as members of ISIS or Al-Qaeda? We encourage students to contact law enforcement if they suspect that classmates may be taking up arms against their schools or intend to harm other students and faculty. In past incidents of school massacres, many have come forward to say that they so/so said they were going to kill other students/faculty but they did not take them serious at the time. So, if they were to come forward, then should law enforcement have the authority to engage in the torture of teenagers suspected of future school massacres if they will not talk? If the benefit outweighs the bad, then would it not be best served by using whatever means necessary to obtain intelligence about potential targets; and if so, should we green-light this practice knowing that it could save lives?
Brown vs. Mississippi (1936)
Sheriff deputies illegally obtained information from 3 black suspects by torturing them for (circumstantial) evidence that involved whipping and hanging them from trees. The men survived their torture only to be convicted of murder and then sentenced to death. The court held that the torture was not too extreme because the defendants were only ‘Negros’ which begs the argument, whether the same can be said about ‘members of ISIS, Al-Qaeda, or teenagers suspected of committing acts of violence on US soil.
September 11, 2001
For those who continue to support the torturing of suspects for information about future targets against attacks on US soil, is it presumable that torture is influenced in part by 9/11 and/or other related incidents? For those who oppose the torture of suspects, do we turn a blind-eye to 9/11 and other related incidents or do we simply feel that torture is immoral and counterproductive for the United States but not places such as The Guantanamo Bay detention camp?
Another name for Torture is the ‘Convention against Torture (CAT) which defines torture as “Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person; information or a confession, punishing him for an act he for any reason based on the instigation of, or with the consent or acquiescence of a public or official or other personal acting in an official capacity.” In reality, this is nothing more than semantics. However, under the CAT, many do not connect the dots and argue that these practices or nothing more than innocent mind games and acts of sleep deprivations that do not meet the criterion for cruel, inhumane, or degrading in violations of the Bill of Rights.
The Lesser of two evils (Supporters)
The bottom line is that torture is illegal according to the US Constitution and the Geneva Convention (International Law). However, many people support the notion that torture is considered an effective method if obtaining valuable intelligence. The US is bound by both US and International laws not to engage in the torture of suspects. In fact, torturing suspects violates 3 Amendments of the Bill of Rights. All three of these Amendments protects all persons the fundamental rights not to be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.
- Fifth Amendment (Under the 5th Amendment, torture would fall under the stipulation of due process)
- Eighth Amendment (Under the 8th Amendment, torture is a violation of Cruel and Unusual Punishment)
- Fourteenth Amendment (Under the 14th Amendment, torture would fall under the stipulation of due process)
In 2002, (then) President George W. Bush, declared that America would always stand firm for the non-negotiable rights of human dignity. According to the book “Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Thread, responding to the Challenge (2002),” by Professor Alan Dershowitz, he examined the applicability of judicially sanctioned torture to, today’s American Jurisprudence. He theorized that the problem lies with what he labeled as the ‘ticking-bomb’ terrorist, also known as suicide bombers. He proclaimed that the problem does not lie with the government officials conducting the torturing acts. In order to strategically obtain vital information from suspected terrorists, Professor Dershowitz came up with the notion of the “torture warrant” which is the ability of a neutral judge, who would determine whether or not there is sufficient evidence for law enforcement officials to engage in torture. The professor went on to theorize that there needs to be an absolute opposition to torture even resorting to a non-lethal torture in the ticking-time bomb concept, but in the end it really comes down to a game of morals and when and where to draw that line.
One factor to consider is that most interrogations focus on the sole purpose of obtaining vital information, rather than to obtain confessions. More to the point, federal judge, Richard Posner has argued many times over that the bias of torture warrants is a bias in themselves because anyone who questions torture is delusional when the stakes are high enough to warrant torture; and to those who oppose it, should not be given the position of power to make the deciding vote of a so called ‘torture warrant.” In the end, saving innocent lives; especially ‘soft targets’ justifies the means every time.
When the US Senate consented to the sanctions of the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, they recognized that those sanctions would have to await the implementations of legislation, making torture a crime. This peacekeeping measure was created nearly 40-years ago to protect anyone from being subject to torture, cruel and unusual punishment.
“In times of social crisis, the ‘fog of public excitement obscures the ancient landmarks setup in our Bill of Rights’. Yet, of all the times, should this Court adhere more closely to the course they mark. The Bill of Rights, the first ten Amendments to the US Constitution, was established to protect one’s basic liberties by our government.”
–US Supreme Court Associate Judge Hugo Black
Should the US have the right to torture suspected terrorists if it saves lives?