Solar Power
Helping People off the Fence

What Actually Is Torture

Since late in President Bush’s second term, the argument has raged over what actually constitutes torture. Now as President Obama and Congress move to close Guantanamo Bay, arguments have become even more energetic. While I did, and still do, hold the position that waterboarding and sleep deprivation are not torture, I didn’t have any facts, and began researching. Here is the evidence I have found:

My first point to consider in the argument is that these government officials knew the stakes. They knew what they were doing would be controversial. I am absolutely positive that those who ordered enhanced interrogation techniques had people pouring over international and national laws trying to find if they could be prosecuted for torturing. They knew, or at least thought they knew, something that those who are crying ‘torture!’ missed.

The first place I thought to check for a definition of torture was the Geneva Convention (no definition). Finding the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, I quickly discovered that, according to Article 4, terrorists are not Prisoners of War-they don’t carry arms openly, are not easily recognisable, and do not follow international laws-and would not have protection under the Geneva Convention. While this doesn’t prove anything as far as torture; it does expand our options when interrogating terrorists.

After doing more searching, I found the the UN Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Article 1, Section 1, more clearly defined torture as:

any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

The definition defines torture somewhat, but it is still pretty broad. The actual definition of torture is relative to the definition of ‘severe’. The worst part of that definition is that severe can be relative. Using this definition, we come back to the “yes it is/no it isn’t” argument.

 The United States signed the UN Convention against torture, but with several ‘reservations, declarations, and understandings’. Part of that more closely defines torture:

“That with reference to Article 1, the United States understands that, in order to constitute torture, an act must be specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering and that mental pain or suffering refers to prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from: (1) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering; (2) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality; (3) the threat of imminent death; or (4) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality.”

This defines mental torture, but the physical part is still just “severe” pain.

One other part of the US’s understanding of the UN’s C.A.T. (Convention Against Torture) interests me:

“That with reference to Article 1 of the Convention, the United States understands that “sanctions” includes judicially imposed sanctions and other enforcement actions authorized by United States law or by judicial interpretation of such law. Nonetheless, the United States understands that a State Party could not through its domestic sanctions defeat the object and purpose of the Convention to prohibit torture.”

Doing my best to interpret that and combine it with the last part of Article 1, Section 1, I get: [torture] does not include pain or suffering resulting from United States laws or enforcement actions or Judicial interpretation of those laws or enforcement actions (Probably not relevant to waterboarding, but a good argument for the death penalty).

Using these definitions, I came up with my definition of torture. Torture is any act which intentionally inflicts severe physical pain or severe and/or permanent mental damage, but does not include pain or suffering resulting from United States laws or enforcement actions or Judicial interpretation of those laws or enforcement actions.

Is Waterboarding Torture?:

To decide if waterboarding is torture, it must be compared to the definition of torture. According to a man who was waterboarded by the Japanese during WWII, waterboarding isn’t very painful, and most sources agree. It also causes no lasting harm physically; so to be torture, it must cause long-term mental damage. The government has stated that waterboarding does not leave permanent psychological scars, and has submitted the more than 26,000 US soldiers that have been waterboarded during S.E.R.E. training as evidence. Several reporters and talk show hosts have also been waterboarded, and have not been psychologically scarred from it (I have spent quite a bit of time searching for a report on long-term effects of waterboarding, as far as I can tell, none exist). Waterboarding, therefore,  is not torture.

Is Extreme Sleep Deprivation Torture?

This one is a lot easier. It inflicts no pain, and their are no long term psychological effects. Sleep Deprivation is obviously not torture. Political Blogger Alliance

6 Responses to “What Actually Is Torture”

  1. I have very little to say … I simply disagree, on ethical grounds, with this very limited definition of torture.

    That being said, you’ve put a lot of work and research into this, and your position might well be that which is legally acceptable. A very good post.

    For my own part, I’d like the US to hold itself to a standard higher than “probably not technically a war crime,” but that’s just me, I guess …

    Still, I commend you and have to say that this is a very interesting post. Thanks.

    • Your position makes more sense to me than most others.

      with this very limited definition of torture.

      A limited definition of torture is necessary. Try using the definition of torture from a dictionary and compare your everyday actions to it. My parents are torturers by that definition.

      For my own part, I’d like the US to hold itself to a standard higher than “probably not technically a war crime,” but that’s just me, I guess …


  2. I commend Wickle for being so respectful of this post.

    Personally I can’t believe you are serious. You trot out the old “we water boarded our own so it can’t be torture” argument which is faulty just on the face of it.

    We water boarded our own in the SERE training so our soldiers could withstand TORTURE! I cannot understand how anyone can be so intellectually bankrupt as to sidestep this very obvious fact.

    Our implementation of the death penalty is a matter of domestic law not international law and even the death penalty cannot be administered in a “cruel and unusual” manner. We don’t disembowel people as a method of death penalty. And some states still consider the death penalty immoral and outlaw it. So this notion that we can’t be sanctioned for what is legal in our own country doesn’t hold a lot of water (pardon the pun) with me.

    Sleep deprivation, while not proven to be a direct cause of death, causes other factors (such as dramatic body temperature change) that can lead to death. Some of our prisoners were deprived of sleep for as long as 11 days. After 3 days of no sleep, one starts hallucinating. So again, you cannot be serious in this assessment.

    But you know what Solar, you can pull out all the text you want and read between the lines to make your point. I give you a much simpler test. Would you want your son or daughter waterboarded? If you say yes, then you don’t understand the procedure or you’re an incredible sadist.

    P.S. I don’t have the patience to go find my references but I too quoted chapter and verse from various documents in the comments section of my blog which proves waterboarding is torture. I can respect someone who says, “we tortured because we felt that was the best way to get the information.” I don’t AGREE with that but I can respect it. I cannot respect the continuing attempt to say we didn’t torture in the first place.

    • I’m serious.

      No, we waterboard so they can withstand interrogations and escape as soon as possible. Most of SERE is actually spent on surviving in jungles, deserts, and the arctic.

      The 26,000 soldiers is the strongest evidence that can be found from either side. Like I said, as far as I know, no study exists about the long-term effects of waterboarding.

      The comment about the death penalty was something I saw and thought worth noting. It was hardly relevant to the post at all, and is a whole other argument.

      How many terrorists died from sleep deprivation? If any did, the careless interrogators who allowed that to happen should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. But, if done correctly, sleep deprivation does not constitute torture (even if done incorrectly, and the detainee dies, the interrogators would probably be charged with murder, or manslaughter).

      Rutherford, I don’t want my children thrown in jail either. But that doesn’t make a jail sentence torture. I don’t want them given the death penalty either, but that doesn’t make that torture.

  3. Well, for the record, I chose to overlook the use of the “we do it to our troops so it isn’t torture” argument.

    That is among the more vacuous arguments ever. By that logic, it’s okay to assault people because if you are in self-defense courses, the instructor and sometimes other students try to hit you.

    That doesn’t mean that assault is okay … it means that you have to encounter a thing to be able to defend against it.

    I was referring to the fact that Solar1 bothered to spend some time with the definition of torture and can put some thought behind the definition.

    Sadly, this kind of reasoning would also mean that it’s okay to beat people with rubber hoses, since that probably doesn’t constitute severe pain and isn’t likely to cause permanent damage.

    I stick to my “higher standard” reasoning.

    • I’m using the ‘troops’ argument to demonstrate that waterboarding causes no lasting psychological damage. It soesn’t prove waterboarding is not torture without several of the other arguments I posted.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: