OP-ED: The Hypocrisy of the United States’ Use of Torture

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

Staff Writer

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.


Polio Vaccination Teams in India

By Aarushi Gupta
Staff Writer

Behind all the media attention from the Syrian Civil war, another issue has emerged from the shadows. Previously thought to be globally eradicated as of 1999, polio is making a comeback among the war-ravaged Syrian population. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that polio has been eradicated from the entire world except for the nations of Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan, where it has been slowly on the decline. However, polio has been on the rise in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries. As of November 26, 2013, 17 cases of polio have been confirmed in the region; by December 2, 2013, the number of cases had increased to over 60. A decrease in vaccine coverage in Pakistan lead to the conception of the Polio Eradication Campaign by the WHO in December 2012. The goal? To vaccinate all children in the region under the age of five against polio. In Syria specifically, this noble undertaking was executed with the help of the UN Children’s Fund and the Syrian Ministry of Health. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is currently an all-encompassing movement that is operational in 200 countries with the help of national governments and various service organizations. Without the help of the Syrian Ministry of Health, the 4,000 workers would not have been able to mobilize themselves in Syria to help the 2.5 million children in 13 Syrian provinces.

However, the WHO stated in October 2013 that there have been 15 confirmed cases of polio in Syria, despite the efforts of the “Eradicate Polio Campaign” (EPC). Coincidentally, all 15 cases (now more than 60 cases) are all in the Deir Azzor province of Syria. This region was also excluded from the EPC vaccinations earlier this year, because the Syrian Ministry of Health claimed that “the majority of residents have relocated to other areas in the country” due to the ongoing civil war in the area. However, a local health official associated with the ACU (Assistance Coordination Unit; an organization that provides assistance to victims of humanitarian crises) says that, contrary to the WHO contention of 15 cases, there are actually a shocking 52 cases of polio among children in the region alone. In addition, there has been no Ministry of Health presence in the Deir Azzor province at all. It should come as no surprise then that the Deir Azzor province has been under rebel control since 2012, which is why there has been no Syrian-controlled polio aid, resulting in the apparent concealment of the true extent of the polio endemic. In essence, Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator, can be accused of using polio to help suppress the civil war ravaging his country.

The WHO has stated that the strain of polio present in Syria can be genetically linked to the active Pakistani strain. However, the WHO also claims that it is not the migrating Pakistani militants who brought the disease to Syria, but the nomadic tribal groups that have allowed the disease to fester and grow in Pakistan. The virus has been dormant in the Deir Azzor province of Syria for the past 18 months, but the current instability from the civil war has yielded favorable biological conditions for the virus and prompted it to reemerge and infect local children. Similar conditions are present in the Khyber valley where the virus remains prominent in Pakistan.

It is interesting to note that the Taliban, through their extensive presence in the Pakistani region, has implemented a “jihad against Polio vaccinations,” and has taken to attacking various human rights groups administering polio vaccinations, which is why several polio aid workers in Pakistan have been attacked. This Jihad is mainly directed against polio vaccinators and other health workers, but is intended to lessen the number of U.S. drone strikes and attacks in the region. The Taliban is essentially holding its own children hostage to call for a ceasefire from the United States. Another reason that the Taliban is targeting public health groups (like the Global Eradication Initiative) is the death of Osama bin Laden. To confirm bin Laden’s location when he was in hiding, CIA operatives staged fake vaccination drives in 2011 to validate the presence of the family in the region. They compared blood samples from the vaccination drive with a blood sample from bin Laden’s sister, who had died previously in a Boston hospital. Obviously, the samples from Abbottabad came back positive and confirmed his presence in the area. However, this led the Taliban and native Pakistanis to harbor a massive distrust of health care professionals in the region, especially toward western health care organizations, which are now essentially disallowed. However, in a state that is predominantly Muslim as Pakistan is, polio vaccinations are bound to be required, as now all pilgrims to Saudi Arabia (location of both Islamic holy sites, Mecca and Medina) are required to have their polio vaccination shots before entering the country, according to the Saudi Arabian Embassy. This may pose a problem for any Pakistani citizens wishing to complete the hajj, or holy pilgrimage, which is a requirement for Muslims everywhere.

Without more aid and extended reach from the Eradicate Polio Campaign, the possibility that polio could further migrate from Syria and other areas of unrest to the developed world will become a very realistic one. Vaccinations are imperative for travelers and workers in affected regions, as well as unexposed children, though in the Deir Azzor province, the children might be hard to find. We can only hope that the WHO’s “Eradicate Polio Campaign” will prevent this highly contagious disease from taking further lives. This currently regional issue could become an international concern if not controlled.

Image by the Gates Foundation