Friday, January 07, 2005

What is and is not torture?

I see this over at Instapundit which discusses political implications of a torture debate. It contains this quote from an email: "Sleep deprivation, loud music, kneeling, withholding blankets. THIS is torture?" It links to an article that says, among other things, "I'm against torture. But I'm not against harsh interrogation techniques, intimidation and the like."

I'm a little sick of this, "is it really torture" attitude. Boing Boing posted What is torture? eight months ago.
BoingBoing reader Tony sends in this timely reminder that real definitions of torture do exist. Here is one of them -- the UN Convention Against Torture, which the US government ratified along with 70 other countries.
Follow the link to "A/RES/39/46. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment," and you will find this passage:
For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means 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.
Get all that? Let me pull it apart a little.
  • It's "severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental"
  • It's done to get a confession, to get information, to punish, to intimidate or coerce, or to do any of those to a third person.
  • It's done by public officials or people acting in an official capacity (that is, citizens beating each other is abuse, but soldiers beating people is torture).
This is the definition of torture that the United States government has agreed to.

I have another quote for you, this one much older.
Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster...and if you gaze into the Abyss, the Abyss gazes also into you.—Nietzche
I don't believe for a minute that the choice is "torture or die" but if it were, there's a simple choice that people are making different ways here. Is it more important to survive the attack of the uncivilized or to remain civilized even during conflict? I think the proponents of the former are saying, "I'll be anyone I need to be to stay alive." Proponents of the latter are saying, "I'd rather be dead than a monster."
Post a Comment