Image: The skyline of Manhattan the day of the September 11th terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, New York City. Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
On September 11th, 2001, the United States of America experienced its worst terrorist attack. The tragic events that occurred after 9/11 often lack the same level of public outrage and condemnation. These events portray the conflation of national security and human rights violations by the federal government, and the dark side of US democracy.
By Gabriella Clinton
The United States loves to play into its moral superiority complex, condemning the human rights abuses that occur in other nations and utilizing such as justification for strategic foreign policy. But, what happens when the United States is found guilty of human rights abuses? This article offers a critique of the CIA’s Enhanced Interrogation and Detention Program as an unprecedented response to the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks and the “War on Terror.” This program represents a complete failure by the United States in protecting human rights and illustrates the drawbacks of unchecked power. Moreover, the inability of the Federal government to enact policy that ensures violations do not go unpunished is a continued testament of such.
Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In particular, no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation.” However, the use of torture continues to be justified on numerous accounts, even in the United States. For instance, there exists an ideal that torture is necessary in cases in which lives can be saved or a violent act can be prohibited from occurring. This argument is invoked by the Federal government as justification for the atrocities committed to individuals detained at the prison in Guantanamo Bay and anyone unfairly subjected to the agenda of the CIA’s Enhanced Interrogation and Detention Program. Yet, even if one’s right to freedom from torture is still up for debate—at least in terms that are universally accepted—there remains many reasons why the use of torture lacks a strong foundation in its justification.
On top of moral reasons, the use of torture as means of coercing a confession or information lacks a definitive scientific basis, and instead draws support from the phenomena of pseudo-science. For instance, an individual placed under a significant amount of physical pain and stress is willing to admit to anything to avert the infliction of further torture. Even if one is guilty of the crime(s) in question, “extreme stressors … used during torture impair cognition, memory, and mood” therefore yielding information that may not be entirely accurate. The facts question the true culpability of each of the individuals being detained, given the circumstances and the extreme measures inflicted upon them as a result of their “incrimination.”
The extreme measures inflicted on these individuals surpasses anything that could ever be justified as humane or lawful. Senator Feinstein reiterates this in the foreword of the CIA Torture Report when she states that “the use of brutal interrogation techniques [is] in violation of U.S. law, treaty obligations, and our values.” For instance, the detained individuals were subjected to slaps, “wallings,” sleep deprivation, waterboarding, ice water baths, and faced both threats to their own lives and that of their families. These methods were additionally coupled with inadequate medical care and a lack of proper legal representation and due process. Reports from several occasions indicate that female interrogators specifically “used torture tactics by exploiting their sexuality, showing gender-specific undergarments, menstrual blood, and sexualized body taunts, all in opposition to detainees’ Islamic beliefs as interpreted by the Qur’an.”
Ultimately, the pain and suffering inflicted upon these individuals was unsuccessful, as it was determined that “the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of obtaining accurate information or gaining detainee cooperation.”
The lack of success put forth by the CIA exemplifies that torture can never truly be justified as accurate or appropriate means of gaining information, intelligence, or a confession from an individual. Rather, it is a blatant violation of one’s rights and a complete juxtaposition of American values. The United States prides itself in being the “pinnacle of democracy,” a proponent of individual rights and liberties, and a paragon for other nations. Yet, this blatant abuse of power and violation of human rights exposes the hypocrisy embodied in the actions of the government and the values of American society. Despite everything put forth by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in the CIA Torture Report little has truly been achieved policy-wise to condemn the actions of the CIA and to ensure the same mistakes are not repeated—in fact, the Guantanamo Bay detention center continues to remain open and operating.
The creation of the CIA’s Enhanced Interrogation and Detention Program and the use of its prescribed methods of torture on the individuals detained at Guantanamo Bay is both a violation of international law as well as a blatant violation of human rights. This violation is reinforced by the United States’ failure to abide to Article 7 of the ICCPR, which prohibits the use of torture, as well as the strategic manipulation of Article 3 of the Geneva Convention by the Bush administration. The Geneva Convention created rules primarily applicable for armed conflicts to protect any individuals involved—namely those fighting. Thus, it established a set of rules regarding the treatment of prisoners of war (POWs). The United States did not consider the “War on Terror” to be an armed conflict, therefore, the individuals being detained were not technically POWs and thus the rules put forth by the Geneva Convention were not applicable. This manipulation of international law created a grey area in which the Federal government was able to carry out this program without significant protest, at least temporarily. Policy enacted by the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations has primarily been in response to the public and international backlash that occurred after classified information leaked. These measures achieved in codifying the official stance of the United States on both torture and the actions of the CIA. However, the policies passed by the Federal government have been preliminary and fail to punish the actions of the CIA and the government officials with knowledge of these violations, and even condoned the use of these methods. In reality, the language of these policies represents a superficial level of action in which the government is merely protecting itself from further repercussions rather than truly taking steps to remedy these violations, hold individuals accountable, and prevent a repetition of past mistakes. As a democratic nation and a leading proponent of individual rights and liberties, the United States must take further action by enacting comprehensive and effective policy that departs from past stances. This policy must commit to embracing democratic values and the unalienable rights that all individuals, not just American citizens, should be entitled to.