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.