Debate Forum Left: 5/17/11

Torture is Immoral, Illegal and Ineffective

By Rana Odeh

Rana Odeh

Let’s get rid of the sophisticated, politically correct language and call it what it is; “enhanced interrogation techniques” simply means torture. The sugar coating around the word has softened the public’s view on torture, despite the fact that it is immoral and illegal under U.S. law as well as international law.

The use of the term “enhanced interrogation techniques” was introduced by the Bush administration in an attempt to legalize the use of torture. In a study conducted by the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, researchers found that newspapers almost uniformly described waterboarding as torture dating back to the 1930s, but since it was revealed as a common tactic approved under the Bush administration, the same newspapers almost entirely stopped using the term torture. The study also found that while the New York Times had previously characterized waterboarding as torture in 81.5 percent of articles, from 2002 to 2008 it characterized waterboarding as torture in only 1.4 percent of articles. The corporate media was an active collaborator with the Bush administration in making “enhanced interrogation techniques” acceptable to the general public.

There has been a great amount of controversy surrounding the Bush administration’s use of torture, but morality issues aside, the recent debate on torture is primarily focused on effectiveness. Ten years of arrests and interrogations, 10 years of waterboarding and Gitmo, 10 years of war in Afghanistan, 10 years of inefficiency and now bin Laden has finally been found. Before we ask whether enhanced interrogation techniques are justified as a means to an end, we must question whether torture is the most effective means to an end. If torture actually led to the capture of the world’s most wanted man, it would be a totally different question than it is in this case; if torture were effective, it would not have taken 10 years to find bin Laden. Torture has not awarded the Bush administration with bin Laden’s capture, nor did it solve any of the world’s problems. What it did do, however, is violate human rights, the U.S. Constitution and international law.

New York Congressman Peter King claimed that “Osama Bin Laden would not have been captured and killed if it were not for the initial information we got from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after he was waterboarded.” On the contrary, Matthew Alexander, a former senior military interrogator and author of “Kill or Capture” (2011), said that the use of torture has consistently resulted in wasted resources and a false lead. Alexander also said, “When you look at the use of waterboarding and enhanced interrogation techniques in the case of the trail of evidence that leads to Osama bin Laden, what you find is, time and time again, it slows down the chase. In 2003, when we have Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, we have the person most likely to be able to lead us to bin Laden, and yet we don’t get to him until 2011. You know, by any interrogation standard, eight years is a long time to not get information from people and that’s probably directly related to the fact that he was waterboarded 183 times.”

In a press briefing on May 3, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced that the Obama administration has not changed its opposition to torture whatsoever, and stated that “reporting from detainees was just a slice of the information that has been gathered by incredibly diligent professionals over the years in the intelligence community. And it’s simply strange credulity to suggest that a piece of information that may or may not have been gathered eight years ago somehow directly led to a successful mission on Sunday. That’s just not the case.”

Despite what many torture advocates would like to believe, the killing of Osama Bin Laden is not credited to “enhanced interrogation techniques” which have proven to slow down the chase, but rather, it is credited to traditional intelligence-gathering methods. It is simply unrealistic to expect your enemy to reveal valuable information under torture. The act of torture itself confirms the animosity in the detainee’s mind and makes him/her less likely to cooperate.
According to the statistics found by the Department of Defense, torture was the number one recruiting tool for al-Qaida and it created the most dangerous type of enemy. The foreign fighters in Iraq said they went to fight because of the events of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo; it is important to note that the foreign fighters made up 90 percent of the suicide bombers. It would be extremely dangerous for America to develop the reputation as a nation that uses torture, for many reasons, but the most prominent being that it would create a world of enemies that would under no circumstances help advance the security of the U.S.

There is ample evidence proving that torture is ineffective. It is an insult to the American intelligence community to assume the use of torture is necessary or even helpful in completing a mission. The U.S. military must stick with traditional intelligence-gathering techniques that have proven to be effective for decades. It is unreasonable to justify something that is immoral, illegal and ineffective.

Rana Odeh is a graduate of the University of Dayton with a degree in English and Philosophy.  Her research and writings focus on issues of race, class and gender.  She can be reached at

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