Published on
The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin)

Torture Is Illegal, Immoral and Ineffective

Bonnie Block

I was appalled by a recent letter that attempted to normalize torture. The letter writer and other apologists do this by limiting what is defined as torture, minimizing its effects and arguing that torture is necessary to save us from terrorism. I strongly disagree, and here's why.

Torture is first of all a violation of human rights. Article 5 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights says quite simply, "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." There are no exceptions.

Torture is illegal under the Geneva Conventions, the U.N. Convention Against Torture, the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Army Field Manual. Redefining it (as the Bush lawyers have tried to do) does not make torture legal.

Torture "destroys the human soul." It is not mere "mental anguish" or "enhanced interrogation." Experts such as Alfred McCoy from the UW-Madison and Carol Wickersham from Beloit College, as well as those who staff Centers for the Victims of Torture like the one in Minneapolis, all say the effects are deep and permanent and that psychological torture is even more harmful than physical torture.

Torture is not effective. The testimony of those who have been tortured is that they confess to anything to stop the pain. Many FBI and CIA officials also say torture does not provide reliable information. Nor can coerced confessions be used in legal proceedings -- which is why the Bush administration, with the unfortunate consent of Congress, passed the Military Commissions Act. The act subverts our justice system by creating military tribunals, allows the president to declare any citizen an "enemy combatant," and denies the right of habeas corpus so people can be held indefinitely in a gulag like Guantanamo.


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Torture is not going to keep us safe. In fact, there is a strong likelihood that it will make us less safe, because the practice of torture results in extremism and a desire for revenge. Furthermore, there is absolutely no way of finding every single person plotting a terrorist attack even in a police state -- which is exactly what we will become if we try to swoop up anyone who might be a potential terrorist.

Fortunately our choice is not between practicing torture and becoming victims of terrorism. Torture is a response of fear and despair. We can choose instead to respond with courage and hope. We can act humanely. We can obey the rule of law. We can work to resolve international conflict with diplomacy, negotiation, and nonviolent means. We can stop the death and devastation that result from waging war. We can instead focus on development and a more just distribution of Earth's resources.

The Web sites for Witness Against Torture, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and The World Can't Wait provide ideas for action.

We should act on our best instincts instead of our worst. We should speak out against torture.

Bonnie Block is president of the Dane County United Nations Association and former chair of the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice.

© 2008 Capital Newspapers

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