Should the US Military Be Allowed to Torture People?

As you know, the Bush administration has been under fire for its use of torture – and it has become apparent that torture has pervaded the U.S. military’s activities not just at Abu Ghraib, but also in other parts of Iraq, in Afghanistan, at Guantanamo, and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, too many of the arguments about the use of torture are focused on whether the War on Terror justifies the use of torture. That is, the question at hand is: Isn’t it okay to use torture against terrorists who might be able to provide information that could prevent another terrorist attack?

Opponents of torture answer "no" – but they do it on the grounds that this is contrary to international law (and breaking that law will open the door to a wider use of torture by our enemies) and that it is inhumane to use torture – even if the person being tortured is a terrorist.

In all the arguing over the presumed rights of a terrorist, one thing is being overlooked: no one knows for sure whether the person being tortured really is a terrorist.

There is a very good reason we have a 6th amendment in the Bill of Rights: Until the accused has had his day in court, until he has had the benefit of an attorney who can call attention to weaknesses in the case against him, until he has had the opportunity to confront and cross-examine those who have accused him, until his case can be judged by people who don’t have a vested interest in convicting him, no one can be sure the accused is guilty.

We already have narratives from people who make a pretty good case that they are entirely innocent, but were captured and arrested by the U.S. military, put in jail, denied all contact with counsel or family, and tortured.

Second, if the Bill of Rights isn’t adhered to, if the accused isn’t given the privileges accorded therein, it’s too easy to convict the wrong person – thus allowing the guilty party to go free and continue to commit crimes. So the Bill of Rights doesn’t just protect the rights of the innocent, it is also enhances the security of the community.

Third, using torture on prisoners is a poor way to gain information. The moment anyone started to torture me, I’d tell him anything he wanted to know – even if I didn’t know anything. I would confess immediately – even if I had done nothing wrong. I would say anything the torturer wanted to hear. But of what value is that to him?

Absolutely no value at all. In fact, if my statements were believed and people acted on what they "learned" from torturing me, they would waste valuable resources by pursuing false leads.

The problem, as so often is the case, comes back to government schools. Because there is virtually no education covering the reasons for the Bill of Rights, very few people in America have an understanding of why we have a Bill of Rights and why it must be enforced without exception – in both civilian courts and in military justice.

P.S. To those who say that the Bill of Rights doesn’t apply to non-Americans, I say: read the Bill of Rights. Nowhere does it refer to the citizenship of the people affected. The 1st amendment refers to "Congress," the 2nd to "people," the third to "soldiers," the 4th to "people," the 5th to "person," the 6th to "accused," the 9th to "people," the 10th to the "States" and to the "people," while the 7th and 8th don’t refer to any specific entities. The word "American" or "citizen" appears nowhere in the Bill of Rights.

If the government is allowed to suspend the Bill of Rights for anyone, the security of all of us is diminished.

P.P.S. What is truly amazing is that after the Abu Ghraib scandal erupted, George W. Bush was still tsk, tsking about Hussein’s alleged use of torture.

January 12, 2005