There are two ways to examine the world. We can choose to see it as is—a place divided between violence and peace, fear and hope, hate and love. “It’s just the way things are,” we say, hoping to find some glimmer of truth for the world’s brokenness. But in turn, it is simply a harsh reality we quickly accept at a young age.
As we grow, we begin to envision the world in a second way. We choose to see it more as it should be—a place of prosperity, unity, and ultimately, happiness.
Imagining this world of tomorrow not only provides hope for the future, but offers a template for change, as we try to reconstruct the wrongs of our reality. Unfortunately, our dreams are limited by the capabilities of today’s world and our actions fall short as we try to understand just what is right. Today I write about one such shortcoming and its inevitable role in the world: torture.
Guantánamo Diary, the first book written by a currently imprisoned detainee, was published on Jan. 20, 2015, and within a week became a New York Time’s bestseller. Notably, the 466-page manuscript, written by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, reveals the grimacing details of the United States rendition and torture program.
Slahi has been held in Guantanamo Bay since 2002 but he has never been formally convicted of crimes against the US. His imprisonment is largely based on suspicion of involvement in an unsuccessful plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport and his ties to the conspirators of the Sept. 11 attacks. Furthermore, Slahi swore allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the 1990s to fight the Soviet Union-backed regime in Kabul, but claims to have severed all connections with the group in 1992. Independent of Mohamedou’s situation, the release of his manuscript raises important questions on the issue of torture. Is torture ever justifiable? Does torture, in extreme circumstances of violence, violate the basic principles of human rights?
In his book, Slahi discusses both the physical and psychological brutality he suffered from his instances of torture. He explains how “he was subjugated to sleep deprivation, death threats, sexual humiliation, and intimidations that his torturers would go after his mother.” Additionally, “he was blindfolded, forced to drink salt water, and then taken out to sea … where he was beaten for three hours while immersed in ice.”
Undoubtedly, these acts of torture are a direct affront on the foundations of human rights, as they directly deprave the individual of personal dignity and self-worth. Despite the question of human rights, torture is arguably ineffective, as Slahi admits that the end product of his beatings was merely lies—false confessions fabricated in an attempt to end his abuse. Slahi’s written testimony forces me to consider my view of the world as it should be, and I cannot help but immediately oppose the cruelty and ruthlessness of torture. Yet as I continue to reflect on the acceptability of torture in the case of terrorists, I realize that the answer is not as simple as right or wrong.
We have to be realistic with our expectations of our interrogative methods and consciously aware of the deep fanaticism embraced by these radical terrorists. Regardless of what you read in Slahi’s story, Guantanamo has imprisoned extremely dangerous individuals who have plotted against the lives of innocent people.
While torture may seem barbaric, the US (or even the world) does not seem to have any better interrogative methods for extremists. Therefore, it is important to understand the utilitarian value associated with torture. Even if it is largely ineffective, the possibility of uncovering future terrorist plots and saving hundreds or even thousands of lives is well worth the cost.
Notably, many of these individuals are not working alone but within greater organizations—groups that will continue to cause harm unless they are stopped. These prisoners, who may lack evidence for conviction, have associated with, if not aided, leaders of dangerous rebel groups and likely have intelligence that is integral to national security. Fanatical terrorists are not open to reasoning, but that does not mean we can just give up.
Countless lives are potentially at stake and we have to consider whether the end justifies the means. I do not believe this is an argument about habeas corpus or human rights, because the killing of (or plot to kill) numerous innocent people immediately invalidates those privileges. Under circumstances of extreme violence, I believe the use of torture against terrorists is justifiable in the sense that it is interrogative and not punitive, with the intent of dismantling a much larger organization focused on killing innocent people.
However, in rationalizing the use of torture, I continue to ask myself: Does permitting torture simply beget this seemingly never-ending cycle of violence and injustice? At what point does hate end and peace begin? Perhaps that is the ultimate burden of the human condition: to envision the perfect world but never fully achieve it.
Regardless, these questions will grow more pressing as tensions in the Middle East continue to flare. Guantanamo remains open and the threat of terrorism is still present. Therefore, read Slahi’s story with an objective eye as you consider the duality between terrorism and human rights. But more importantly, think about what the perfect world is, and act with the purpose of waking up to a better tomorrow.
Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphics