Torture and Interrogation Essay

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The Rationale for and the Efficacy of Torture during Interrogation

Although information from interrogational torture is unreliable, it is likely to be used frequently and harshly. ==John W. Schiemann, 2012


The epigraph above is indicative of the growing consensus concerning the lack of efficacy of torture in providing interrogators with reliable concealed information Concealed information is the foundation of the majority of security issues. In most cases, concealed information is a situation wherein one individual knows something that someone else does not know. Consequently, the majority of security issues could be resolved if there was a dependable method of determining those cases in which an individual was concealing information and extracting that information effectively. To date, though, there has not been a dependable method developed.1 For instance, polygraph research has been unable to achieve an accuracy level that would make the results acceptable in courtrooms in the United States even though the federal government continues to use polygraph screening.2 These limitations have resulted in the reintroduction of various types of physical and mental torture during interrogations of terrorist suspects, despite the practice being outlawed in the United States for centuries. From a strictly pragmatic perspective, it is therefore important to determine if torture is producing the desired outcomes given the violative nature of the practice. To this end, this paper reviews the relevant literature to describe what practices constitute torture during interrogations and whether these practices are efficacious in producing reliable intelligence information. A summary of the research and important findings concerning these issues are presented in the conclusion.

Background and Overview

A number of aspects of the global war on terrorism, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the infamous prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and the use of torture, represent major issues for concerned American citizens.3 Likewise, the use of torture for intelligence-gathering purposes has become the increasing focus for researchers as well. For instance, Schiemann emphasizes, “To the degree that political philosophy is concerned with the proper balance between legitimate state authority, including violence, on one hand, and individual autonomy, including autonomy of the body, on the other hand, then interrogational torture is also an important problem in normative political theory.”4 

Despite these growing concerns, proponents of the global war on terrorism maintain that the use of torture is justified given the potential for future terrorist attacks on the scale of those of September 11, 2001 and the need to protect the country’s interests at home and abroad. For example, former Vice President Dick Cheney acknowledged in an exit interview that he was directly responsible for authorizing the CIA’s use of torture. When questioned concerning the CIA’s treatment of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a terrorist suspect incarcerated in a clandestine CIA prison who was waterboarded more than 100 times, Cheney conceded that he was not only aware of the program, he had authorized the use of these torture methods. According to the former vice president, “I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared. That is, the agency, in effect, came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.”5 When asked if he believed the CIA’s methods were too extreme, the former vice president simply replied, “I don't.”6 

Although the former vice president supported the use of torture in these instances because of the importance of the intelligence to national security, the harsh reality is that even the more benign types of torture that have been used in the global war on terrorism can be regarded as inhumane and humiliating. For instance, according to the former chief of training at the Navy's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school, waterboarding is a "controlled drowning" that "occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team."7 

The severity of this interrogation method may not be well understood by the general public but a description of the practice provides some indication of what the experience must be like for suspects. In those cases where waterboarding is used as part of mock interrogations during SERE training, Wynia reports that, “A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience to horrific, suffocating punishment, to the final death spiral."8 While these more benign techniques may not rise to the level of the rack or thumb screws, it is clear that any practice that can produce these levels of reaction must be regarded as torture.
In this regard, Howes points out that, “We know that the reasons for torture's ineffectiveness stem from the fact that it is different from other forms of coercion. Consider some of the techniques used against detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (techniques that have been called ‘torture light’ to indicate that they are relatively low on the scale of human horrors).”9

There are also numerous venues for CIA-sponsored torture to take place, all out of the sight of ordinary citizens. Some of these facilities such as Guantanamo have become widely known due to high-profile media reports, but there are several others that are less well known, including the CIA interrogation center near Kabul; an airbase on British Diego Garcia, as well as a sea-borne interrogation facility on a US naval vessel in the Indian Ocean which is casually referred to as “Hotel California” by CIA operatives. Even these facilities, though, are not the worst of the lot. In this regard, Grey emphasizes that, “Of those operated by America's allies, the worst prisons include the Scorpion jail and the Lazoghly Square secret police headquarters in Cairo, and the Far' Falastin interrogation centre in Damascus, Syria.”10

Notwithstanding the former vice president’s admitted support of torture by the CIA in prosecuting the global war on terrorism, other public authorities have characterized the use of torture by the federal government as being “disgraceful conduct” that cannot be condoned by a civilized society. For example, in April 2003, the American public witnessed a series of shocking photographs from Abu Ghraib prison, 20 miles west of Baghdad.11 An investigation by Major General Antonio Taguba of the 800th Military Police Brigade responsible for these tactics identified the following methods were used at this prison:

* Punching, slapping, and kicking detainees; jumping on their naked feet.

* Videotaping and photographing naked male and female detainees.

* Forcibly arranging detainees in various sexually explicit positions for photographing.

* Forcing detainees to remove their clothing and keeping them naked for several days at a time.

* Forcing naked male detainees to wear women's underwear.

* Forcing groups of male detainees to masturbate themselves while being photographed and videotaped.

* Arranging naked male detainees in a pile and then jumping on them.

* Positioning a naked detainee on a box, with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes, and penis to simulate electric torture.

* Writing "I am a Rapest (sic)" on the leg of a detainee accused of rape, and then photographing him naked.

* Placing a dog chain or strap around a naked detainee's neck and having a female soldier pose for a picture.

* A male MP guard having sex with a female detainee.

* Using military working dogs (without muzzles) to intimidate and frighten detainees, and in at least one case biting and severely injuring a detainee.

* Taking photographs of dead Iraqi detainees.12

Clearly, these torture tactics went far beyond the more benign waterboarding methods that were approved by the former vice president. Moreover, the photographs shown to the American public were shocking, of course, but even more shocking was the fact that these torture methods were developed by the United States’ own Central Intelligence Agency over the past 50 years. According to Hodge and Cooper, “The Bush administration worked overtime to convince Americans that what they were seeing was the work of a ‘few bad apples,’ whom the president said exhibited ‘disgraceful conduct’ that ‘dishonored our country and disregarded our values.’”13 Likewise, in July 2003, the U.S. Army Inspector General, Paul Mikolashek, characterized the Abu Ghraib prison incidents as “abuses [that] should be viewed as what they are: unauthorized actions taken by a few individuals."14 

According to Human Rights Watch, despite the fact that President Bush issued an apology for the torture incidents at Abu Ghraib prison and military investigations were launched against the individuals who were suspected of being involved, the United States has not made any formal commitment to prosecute them and these incidents may just be the tip of the torture iceberg because there are other venues in which these methods can be applied with little….....

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