The torture debate is torture!

Again in the news today the Republican Party is bleating the same old nonsensical party line.

The Republican Party has incurred the wrath of many by speaking to the press about a closed Intelligence Committee hearing on interrogation that took place on Thursday.

And what did they say? “Torture worked,” of course. It’s the same line many, especially Dick Cheney, have been touting for months and months now. Except that they don’t use that word “torture;” they say “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

First they denied that the United States tortured. “We do not torture,” said Bush and Cheney and others.

Then all of this stuff called factual evidence came out proving that the United States did indeed torture, so now they’re denying that it was bad because it “worked.”

And now everywhere—on every news program, in every newspaper, on every blog, on every political commentary show—people are just arguing over whether or not torture “works.”

Back and forth, back and forth. Over and over and over again. It’s nauseating.

Because amid all of this headache-inducing arguing, no one is saying the one thing that actually matters, that is truly important, that will render the debate irrelevant: IT DOESN’T MATTER!!!

While it’s nice that most evidence indicates that torture does not work (worse, that it is detrimental and impedes the interrogative progress), it simply does not matter. It is illegal. Period.

The UN Convention Against Torture defines torture quite clearly:

From Article 1:

  • “For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, 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 or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

From Article 2:

  • “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
  • “An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.”

The United States signed this Convention in 1988, about three years after 24 other nations signed it.

The United States and all of the other countries in the world also signed The Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, which states in part:

  • “The present Convention shall apply to all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them.”
  • “The Convention shall also apply to all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party, even if the said occupation meets with no armed resistance.”
  • “Prisoners of war are in the hands of the enemy Power, but not of the individuals or military units who have captured them. Irrespective of the individual responsibilities that may exist, the Detaining Power is responsible for the treatment given them.”
  • “Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention.”
  • “Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.”
  • “Prisoners of war are entitled in all circumstances to respect for their persons and their honour. Women shall be treated with all the regard due to their sex and shall in all cases benefit by treatment as favourable as that granted to men. Prisoners of war shall retain the full civil capacity which they enjoyed at the time of their capture. The Detaining Power may not restrict the exercise, either within or without its own territory, of the rights such capacity confers except in so far as the captivity requires.”

Okay, so here we have the two legally binding, international agreements signed by the United States.

And over here we have the pile of evidence (including Dick Cheney’s own use of the word “torture”) showing that the United States did in fact violate the UN Convention against torture and the Geneva Convention. This International Committee of the Red Cross report (among many, many other papers that have been released or leaked) proves that these violations occurred.

And nowhere will you see in the UN Convention or the Geneva Convention a line that reads: “But if you think that torture works, then please disregard all of the above.”

It simply doesn’t matter whether or not it worked. It is heartening to know that most evidence suggests it does not, as that lends credence to the folks fighting for justice and human rights—but it’s irrelevant.

The only relevant point is that torture is illegal; it’s not to be done.

But nobody is saying this! Talking heads and…writing hands are all busy making noise about whether or not it worked. If somehow Dick Cheney manages to get his two imaginary “all-proving” memos declassified and released, will that absolve the U.S. because the torture worked and therefore was not illegal?!?!

I work in the arts and therefore don’t have a lot of money. I’ve got student loan debt and credit card debt. I’d love to travel and buy a new bike. But I don’t have money. Perhaps I should rob a bank! I wouldn’t be breaking the law, right, because if I robbed a bank I’d have money, which would prove that robbing the bank worked.

There are some people in this world I don’t like. I don’t use the word “hate” (and mean it) very often, but there are a couple of people I wouldn’t mind being dead. Maybe I should kill them! I wouldn’t be breaking the law, right, because if I killed them then they would be dead, thus proving that killing them worked in accomplishing making them dead.

Every day I read a lot of blogs and newspaper articles from all over the world, I listen to podcasts and radio shows, I watch the news and political commentary shows (yes, even some right-wing shows, though admittedly not very often because I like my head and don’t want it to explode). And I think only twice have I heard someone say that this whole debate is childish and backwards, that it’s irrelevant whether or not torture is effective because no one’s supposed to do it.

One of those people was Rachel Maddow, whose show I happily admit to listening to every day. Here’s what she said on the matter, and I think she sums up the argument brilliantly and viscerally:

“Ultimately I think the debate will have fully matured when we stop debating that point all together. I mean, what if you can get great answers out of people from waterboarding? What if you can get great answers out of people from dangling them out of helicopters over the open sea? What if you can get great answers out of people from raping them or killing their children in front of them? I mean, honestly—where do you stop?! The point about torture is that it doesn’t matter if it’s  effective; we don’t do it!

“The whole debate about effectiveness denies the idea that torture is beyond the pale. The reason that there are statutes against torture is not because people never thought it was effective before and were doing it otherwise. Everybody who has ever tortured did it because they thought it was effective—whether to discover whether or not somebody was a witch, or whether to discover the end of the plot on 24, or whether to discover whatever it was Dick Cheney wanted to discover in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

“But the point of effectiveness ultimately will be left behind when the debate returns to its rational foundations.”

Aaaah, fully matured debates and rational foundations. If only.

(For more on this topic, as explored by me, click here.)


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