According to international law, torture is defined as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person in order to obtain information or a confession.” Normally, we think that such activities only exist under oppressive regimes like North Korea. But as the recent example of CIA operatives destroying videotapes of their torturing of Guantanamo detainees makes clear, these activities are being perpetrated by the U.S. as well.
Media reports indicate it appears that the Bush Administration knew the CIA had tapes of forced confessions using torture practices and didn’t oppose their destruction. U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey (who recently replaced Alberto Gonzalez) has acted in an appropriate manner in response to this situation, appointing John Durham, a prosecutor from the U.S. attorney's office in Connecticut, to lead the investigation into the tapes’ destruction. The House Judiciary Committee is also investigating the matter and continues to hold hearings in an effort to gain more information.
Congress has also taken action. The FY ‘08 Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 3222) contained a prohibition on any use of torture by any member of the Department of Defense. Other provisions within the conference agreement on the intelligence authorization bill would have broadened the scope of the prohibition on torture to all civilian employees, including employees of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Unfortunately, Senate Republicans have delayed the bill from reaching the President for signature.
There can be no doubt this is a controversial topic. Some would argue that we should use any means necessary to force terrorists to talk. However, military experts consistently state that torture does not produce accurate information. In fact, according to these military leaders, people will say almost anything in order to end the pain of torture.
In addition to the fact that these barbaric practices don’t work, there is also a strong argument that, as the leader of the free world, the United States must set the example for other nations to follow. Whether we like it or not, world leaders follow our actions closely. Our efforts to counter ideologies that promote hatred, intolerance and ultimately, terrorism, however, are undermined by our actions at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Gharib.
Our nation’s international strength is derived in part because we are seen as a beacon for justice and the democratic way of life. To usurp those values for short term gains that are dubious at best is foolish. It is also unworthy of who we are as a nation and damages our efforts to create a better world for future generations.