Against Torture

Note: This was originally used as the opening argument in debate over the motion "Is the use of torture a viable option?" on Clear Oversight

The US has an undeniable and extensive history in training and administrating torture, from waterboarding the Philippine Insurrection to supervising the South Vietnamese Army in torturing over 60,000 captured VietCong (many of which were merely civilians)

On December 9th, 2014, the Senate Intelligence committee released the Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program. The report is harrowing. The details help make what was once just rumored to to now be brought into the light of actual fact. It sheds light onto the clearly immoral and unethical activities that fundamentally put more lives at risk. 

Above all, by the CIA’s own account, the report reiterates what has already been known - that the technique of torture is ineffective in procuring accurate and useful intelligence to protect and save lives.

My opponent might try to persuade you with ticking time bomb scenarios and “if it were your child” arguments. But we must be honest about the realities of torture. It is unethical, illegal, and ineffective.

Simply, it is not a viable option.

The ticking time bomb scenario proposes a situation where a detained terrorist possesses critical knowledge of a bomb that will soon detonate and cause a great loss of life, and the only way that the individual will disclose the information is if he or she is tortured.

The utilitarian moral philosopher Peter Singer, while admitting that a ticking-bomb scenario would almost necessitate torture, warns us not to get caught up in science-fiction when dealing with what are real-world scenarios. Thought experiments need not be plausible. And this one is no exception. Once you remove the ticking time bomb scenario the ethical and logical arguments for torture evaporate.

The United States is strives to be a nation of laws. There are measures taken and laws created to protect those accused and convicted of crimes from torture. Believing so earnestly in such protections, the United States, with the help of other nations, ratified treaties and agreements after World War II to protect prisoners of war from the same forms of torture.

Detailed in the third part of the Third Geneva Convention, the detaining power, during interrogation, may not subject the prisoner to any physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion. If we are to argue that torture is a viable option, you must also suspend the rule of law. 

Torture is not a viable option because it is illegal.

The cornerstone argument and rationality behind torturing detainees is its supposed effectiveness in procuring information that would work to prevent a terrorist attack or mass loss of life. The CIA has argued and testified to Congress on the effectiveness of the techniques, stating intelligence gathered directly contributed to the disruption of terrorist attacks on American soil. 

This is patently false.

The report not only contains evidence of the contrary, it concludes in its own summary that the use of torture was ineffective. A majority of the actionable and accurate information was derived from confessions before torturing began and from individuals who came forth with information only trying to help (a couple of which were subsequently tortured anyway).

Even the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, argued to Congress by the CIA as only possible through torture, has been shown, through their own account, that a majority of the accurate intelligence came from outside of the CIA torture program.

In 2008, the then FBI director Robert Mueller appointed by George W Bush, in an interview with Vanity Fair stated that he did not believe it to be the case that attacks on America had been disrupted through intelligence gathered through what the administration calls “enhanced techniques”, or torture.

Even as far back as 2002 the military agency responsible for providing advice on harsh interrogation techniques against terrorist suspects stated in a document to the Pentagon warning of certain methods producing “unreliable information

We should not even consider it an option, even if we never plan on following through with torture. Placing such an option on the table works to do two thing.

Firstly it immediately and indefinitely removes any moral high-ground the United States might claim to have. The golden rule: do onto others as you would wish others would do onto you. If we have it as an option, it effectively erodes the country’s moral standing. 

Secondly, if is merely meant to be an option on the table to induce fear into the minds of potential combatants, it will eventually lose its effectiveness as soon as the US gets called on its bluff. And for all intents and purposes, the threat of physical torture can be argued to be psychological torture in itself.

But is actionable intelligence all we need as country, as a people, to dehumanize and torture another human being?

Torture has no place in this world and is not a viable option under any circumstance.