Should the United States use torture in the War on Terror?Should the United States use torture in the War on Terror?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I suppose that I feel that the historical narrative of the United States is one where it is evident that the United States should not use torture in its war on terror.  I realize that the book on what constitutes terror and “enhanced interrogation” has been rewritten in the last decade and that there is clear analysis given by former members of the Bush Administration that clearly argues that the Constitution might permit such behavior, but the reality is that the narrative of this country is one where terror is not something that has been actively present.  When Washington commanded his troops not to torture British soldiers captured and when Lincoln refused to succumb to torturing Confederate officers, the historical standard was written.  It seems that there is a fundamental tension in the political ideology that argues that America is an exceptional nation that is able to lead the world on issue of constitutional democracy, rule of the people, and the preservation of individual rights and dignity and then at the same token embrace the idea of torture.  It seems contradictory in its very nature that many of the proponents of American exceptionalism also argue for the use of torture in the War on Terror.  I guess that there is no fundamental right answer, which is why I feel that you will get a great many questions about the issue.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a complicated question for a number of reasons.  First, it is very hard to define what torture is.  Second, those of us who do not typically interrogate people do not know how effective various techniques (which may or may not be torture) are.  Finally, the answer to this surely depends to some extent on the circumstances.

To me, the more urgent the need for information, the more acceptable it is to torture (again, the term torture is very hard to define).  If we have good reason to believe that some person has information that could save lives and which must be extracted quickly, harsher tactics are more warranted than in situations where the information is not urgently needed.

Another consideration is the degree of torture that is being used.  If we are talking about actual severe physical abuse (burning people, breaking their limbs, things like that), I would only consider this acceptable in the most extreme circumstances.

Overall, then, I cannot offer a hard and fast answer.  I can only say that the more urgent the need for information, the more likely it is that harsh tactics are acceptable.  This means that there is some sort of sliding scale where harsher means are more acceptable as the need becomes more immediate and the number of lives that might be saved increases.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wow! Torture is a huge word. Actually, when I think of torture I think of the proper punishment that is owed to rapists, child molesters, abusers of the elderly and pre-meditated murderers. Those people, in my opinion, truly deserve a good amount of pain.

However, when I think about the War on Terror, the first thing that comes to mind is that not everyone who is part of an enemy Army is responsible for the terrorist attacks that affected the US back in 2001, and which could affect us again in the future.

I think that, if torture is a method that is proven to be effective, then do it. We need all the intelligence we can get when it comes to our common safety as civilians. If there is a certain individual that possesses information that could put the lives of Americans at risk, you better believe I will twist a couple of body parts in order to extract the information. However, some of these "warriors" are merely brainwashed go-fors. What that means is that they are not entirely connected with the "it" network of terrorists. The best way to go is to get the "real McCoy" of who is who in the terrorist network and, yes, apply all the force needed to get all the information that we need.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Geneva Convention prohibits the use of torture against persons of all categories on all sides for all reasons in a war effort:

Convention I: This convention protects wounded and infirm soldiers and medical personnel against attack, execution without judgment, torture ...

Convention III: ... Nations party to the convention may not use torture to extract information from POWs.

In the Convention Against Torture, the United Nations unequivocally opposes torture in any form and for any reason:

This convention bans torture under all circumstances and establishes the UN Committee against Torture. In particular, it defines torture, requires states to take effective legal and other measures to prevent torture, declares that no state of emergency, other external threats, nor orders from a superior officer or authority may be invoked to justify torture.

The United States, the upholder of National Law and International Law, under the agreements it helped to create and has helped to administer and defend, thereby lacks any authority to impose torture upon anyone for any reason.


brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both posters #13 and #14 assume that there is no other way that information could have been obtained other than torture.  If torture is such a reliable producer of information, as well as morally acceptable to some, why shouldn't it then be used in all interrogations of criminal suspects across the United States?  There are many reasons why it isn't.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zabaydeh, who were both waterboarded dozens of times, were interrogated using such methods prior to 2007.  It's quite a leap to conclude that their information, and theirs alone, led to the killing of Osama bin Laden almost four years later, and that the information they provided could not have been, and was not, gained using other time tested methods of interrogation and intelligence gathering that didn't involve torture at all.

I think what we have here is a prior administration looking to justify their policies after the fact.  We should also think long and hard before basing major decisions about policy and principle such as this, not to mention who we are as a nation and people, on hypothetically dangerous situations that have never occurred, as post 14 suggests.

stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It's time for the originator of this discussion to give us all your reaction. Did you appreciate what a complicated question you were posing?

Torture is a loaded issue for anyone who has spent any amount of time considering all the ramifications inherent in the possibility. Defining exactly what is or is not "torture" creates huge difficulties, with lots of gray areas that may or may not fit on one side or the other depending on variables and circumstances. In the same way, every person being brought in for questioning brings a unique background of ideologies, experiences, and training into the inquest setting. Determining the best way to obtain the most truthful and reliable information, given all the variables, has to be very carefully considered.

I hope the United States is resourceful enough and respectful of the sanctity of all human life enough to be able to find methods of obtaining information that do not involve "torture" - but I recognize that there are many challenges inherent in that statement.

larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree very much with Post #4.  The war on terror is a difficult situation; and the U.S. is dealing with a foe who is both tough and tricky. Still, the employment of torture says more about the U.S. as a society than does the value of the information obtained, which is often unreliable. Our constitution strictly forbids "cruel and unusual punishment;" but with so many other issues, the term leaves much to be desired. The pertinent question which presents itself is "what constitutes torture" or to use the present euphemism, "enhanced interrogation." Sleep deprivation, etc. are things I can live with; but when we get to the point of destroying a person's dignity as a human being, we have gone too far. Perhaps we have moved away from the hideous methods used in times past; still I hope that in seeking information from our open avowed enemies, we do not lose our national dignity in the process.

clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Given some very good points made by previous posts, I hope you can see where this question is more multi-faceted than can be fully answered in this small discussion forum.

With that in mind, and keeping things as general as possible, I tend to take the position that torture more often leads to lying than to truth.  I think in the war on terror, one of the biggest things to consider is that our "enemy(ies)" possibly hate us more than we hate them.  This seems to frequently be the case in America's history.  We have so often been looked at the stronger Big Brother who swoops in and solves conflict, but more often than not, we are less emotionally, circumstantially, religiously, and even historically invested than is our enemy.  If this true for the war on terror, my thought is, torture, ultimately, won't work.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If a nation or people are ready to sacrifice such an important moral principle as this, it gets very difficult for me to see exactly what principles are being protected or preserved with a policy of torture.  One of the things to love about the idea of America is that, with its Bill of Rights and its independent judiciary, regular elections, etc, it is capable of taking a higher road, of not automatically becoming what it claims to abhor.  In this case it has failed that test.

Democracy is based on the core principle of human rights, when all else is boiled away.  If torture seems to many like good democratic practice, then I no longer know what democracy is.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have to jump on the band wagon and agree with the other posts that torture is not a proper form of interrogation for terrorists--or for that matter, for any subjects whatsoever. Results are mixed on whether torture even works; often, torture subjects reveal false information just to end the agony of the technique being administered. Hopefully, Americans should realize that, as self-ordained policemen of the world and (hopefully) the most civilized nation on the planet, we should be above such barbaric actions and set an example for other nations and governments. 

Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Despite how all of us feel on this very heated topic these days, and especially if one leans "against" torture (which is how I classify myself), I heard something very interesting on a cable news program the other day that truly made me stop and think.  Generally, the question was stated thus:  "If there was an armed nuclear bomb set to eradicate an entire city or even an entire state within a number of hours, and if we had the perpetrator in custody. ... Should we torture that person to save those people?"  Thought provoking, eh?

lrwilliams eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with the previous two posts, the United States has always tried to set the standard for the rest of the world in the way all people are treated. While the War on Terror has changed some of the rules that we normally abide by in regards to our treatment of prisoners I feel we still have to treat them as humanely as possible during their interrogations.


mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Just a sidenote here:  The controversy over how information was obtained during George Bush's administration notwithstanding, if it were not for the information obtained from some waterboarding, Osama Bin Laden would not have been located.

imaankasana | Student

In all above posts i have seen a good discussion but one thing common that torture is only considered in terms of interrogation. i agree with the opinion that to save people sometimes it is very necessary to use harsh tactics because criminals and terrorists surely wont cooperate with the government but still USA should not cross the level of humanity because its a fact that USA used all those tactics in this war which were never used for any other case.

Interrogation demands torture to a limited extent but what about that torture which was made on innocent children,women and old people who were not responsible for any kind of terrorism they were actually victims of torture theirselves.US used bombs and every kind of weapons on those people.

i disagree with the thought that america got anything new or any help with the torture.USA just destroyed peace of whole world.made its own army psyclogical patient and created more terrorist with her useless attacks on innocent people and destroyed her own economy and now facing a great damage


krcavnar | Student

I agree with Herappleness regarding the torturing of child-molesters, rapists, abusers, however, I am divided on the concept of torture – one part of me says that any means necessary to gather information when peoples’ lives are at stake is fine; the other is that as the United States we do encompass an idea – a ideal if you will – that is we are fair, just and above reproach.  I cannot under those circumstances justify torture.  At what point to we become country who is willing to justify depravity at all costs?

 I cannot say what I would do personally if I were a soldier and needed to gather information in order to save another soldier or troop.  In the heat and stress of battle much of what is done are pure, raw emotion and not the ideal solution of someone thousands of miles away.  I certainly cannot make an arm-chair judgment about the necessity of torture during wartime situation.

isaacsmomlisa | Student

The success of the "War on Terror" relies upon gained intelligence, whether it be through sources who leak information willingly, or uncooperative sources, such as captured terrorists, who we've been forced to use various methods on, including torture.  Ultimately, the only goal is to prevent further attacks from occuring, and to capture those who have already carried out attacks, and/or are planning to in the future.  It's no secret that captured terrorists are highly unlikely to "talk" willingly.  They are loyal members of dangerous groups that have declared WAR on the U.S. out of hatred.   Therefore most individual terrorists would rather die than betray the leaders/members of their group.  Many in fact believe that dying while fighting for their "cause" will send them straight to heaven and they and their families will be rewarded.  Therefore, in order to keep civilians around the world safe, what other choices does the U.S. have when dealing with people like this?

Much of the debate about the U.S. using torture stems from both moral arguments, as well as the argument that innocent people could ultimately be subjected to torture, on top of the risk that the information that we obtain may not always reliable.

Over the centuries, interrogation tactics have come a very long way.  Much of the misconception stems from the horrific stories of historical rulers, such as King Henry VIII.  During the Tudor dynasty in England.  He was notorious for using torture, especially on those who were innocent.  The difference, however, is his methods were truly horrific (making U.S. tactics look like nothing).  Plus, he was known to use torture to carryout grudges, punish people, enforce religious beliefs, and to simply get people to confess to crimes they didn't to commit (often times so he could seize their property and riches).  There was no regulation.  In fact, if the torture alone didn't kill them, by the time they "broke" and falsely confessed to crimes they didn't commit, they'd often be tortured and beheaded anyway.

However, the "War on Terror" declared by the U.S. is far from Henry VIII's reign of terror.  Now, the only reason torture is ever turned to is to save lives, and the tactics used are nothing in comparison.

Although certain people believe that the U.S. should denounce all forms of forceful interrogation tactics, they fail to recognize the severe disadvantage it would put us in.  Not only does it send the wrong message to terroists, but it gives them the upper hand.  It's no secret that terroist groups take pride/pleasure in torturing captured U.S. military members, as well as U.S. civilians they've taken hostage.  They even parade them around on videos, displaying severed body parts of the innocent.  They don't care.  They are terrorists.  Therefore those who argue the U.S. will only further anger terrorists by using "torture" fail to acknowledge that the terrorists are already angry.

Thousands of attacks that have been prevented as a result of the government implementing such tactics, and since each prevented attack isn't revealed, people are only aware of the attacks that have been carried out.  By that point the damage has already been done.

Ultimately, terrorists should not be given the same rights as U.S. citizens, because they are dangerous mass murderers.  Without forceful interrogation, we would've never found Osama Bin Laden, or any of the other high ranking terrorist group leaders/members.