During the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962), the French forces mercilessly tortured their opponents. Although the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) also tortured their enemies, the French military use of torture was more widespread.
Torture is defined as “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, punishing him for an act he or a third person has done…”(United Nations, para.3). The French experience during the Algerian war proves that the use of torture, though regrettable, is important to defeat successfully terrorist organizations around the world. Therefore, is the use of torture justifiable in some instances?
The military combat of the FLN was being propelled by self-determination and the French state was equally determined to win the war. The French forces did not acknowledge that the colonial conflict was indeed a war, as this would recognize their opponents as a legitimate entity; therefore, it was until August 1999 that they stopped calling it “fight against terrorism.” That is why although France was bound by the Geneva conventions it had signed in 1951; it consistently used brutal warfare tactics in fighting against the FLN.
As shown by the experience of the French military during the Algerian war, torture is a good way of gaining timely and relevant information from terrorists. For example, in an imaginary situation when a terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb in Washington City, the detonation is going to take place in the next forty-five minutes, and cause widespread destruction. However, when the terrorist is captured, although he knows the exact location of the bomb, he is not giving any relevant information.
What is the best thing to do in such a scenario? Is he left to go scot-free because torturing him will interfere with his “human rights?” If the individual is not forced to give out the vital information, then thousands of innocent lives are at risk. In such an instance, the choice of the use of torture is allowable in order to acquire certain life-saving information that could not be retrieved easily. Therefore, the use of torture as a tool in the global War on Terror is important in defeating terrorist groups around the world.
Concerning this issue, Levin states, “there are situations in where torture is not only permissible, but morally mandatory” (para.2). Levin illustrates how liberal societies do not allow the use of torture, and how other governments fear the fury of the United Nations if they are suspected of using or even planning to use it; however, he gives a different opinion on this attitude.
Levin terms the use of torture as “a weapon that is important in winning the War on Terror.” At one point, he addresses the above imaginary situation by saying, “if you caught the terrorist, could you sleep nights, knowing that millions died because you could not bring yourself to apply the electrodes?” (para.4). Some people argue that the use of torture against terrorists is unconstitutional; however, the thousands of lives lost after a terrorist incident far outweighs issues of constitutionality.
More so, is the use of torture barbaric? The many innocent lives lost due to negligence is more barbaric (Buchanan, para.2).Therefore, the use of torture is permissible in extreme cases since in some intricate situations, it is a matter of balancing between mass murder and the life of one or a few people.
As Levin puts it, “letting millions of innocents die in deference to one who flaunts his guilt is moral cowardice, unwillingness to dirty one’s hands” (para.4). According to this statement, if harsh interrogation tactics can be used as a way of protecting the lives of the innocent, then no one should shy from using them when it is necessary.
When a nation fails to use torture, it puts thousands of lives at risk due to terrorist threats. This makes the nation to portray the same cowardice being portrayed by the terrorists. During the Algerian war, the French military did not shy off from torturing the terrorists who were potentially dangerous. If these harsh tactics could be used, then the strategies used by terrorists to wreak havoc could have been discovered by now.
Assuming that a victim does not die after he or she has been harshly interrogated, the victim will less likely commit the same crime. Currently, most of the interrogation methods available are laughable and dumb. The French soldiers successively used torture to extract vital information from their opponents. These punishments were meant to ensure that the victims either co-operated with them or confessed some of the enemy schemes.
In some circumstances, the use of torture, besides being essential, is the only available option. For example, in 1994, an Israeli was held captive by some Palestinian terrorists.
After searching for clues, the Israeli police detained the driver of the car, which was used for carrying out the attack. For them to get the information about the whereabouts of the kidnappers, they were compelled to torture the driver to extract some useful information from him. This is just one example of how torture as played a significant role in the war against terrorism.
The Algerian war induced the French military to use torture against its opponents. The French troops were in a difficult situation since most of the time it was not easy to differentiate their opponents from civilians at first sight. This situation was worsened by the fact that their opponents rarely wore easily identifiable war clothes. More so, the civilians were well informed of enemy movements; thus, most of the time they were under suspicion from the French military.
During the war, every French soldier was obliged to be alert and give all the relevant information about the enemy by collecting all the vital intelligence information (Branche, 548). Therefore, to achieve this, the soldiers sometimes tortured their opponents. Against this background, torture was permitted as a way of combating the increasing threat of terrorists’ activities. Though the use of harsh tactics is regrettable, it is good way of gathering intelligence information about the movement of terrorists around the world.
Another reason why the French used torture during the Algerian war was to provide it with all the necessary resources for the protection of its citizenry. When a country wants to preserve a strong national security, it is obliged to use harsh interrogation methods as the best alternative.
In a situation when torture is used, prompted by the urge to save innocent lives, by just getting vital information from one individual, then it should be justifiable. The nation of France had always upheld principles of freedom, from freedom of speech to freedom of religion. Nevertheless, when the safety of its citizens was under threat, it had to sacrifice some of its rights.
This was to make the country as safe as possible because insurgents could easily enter the country from Algeria. These rights, which were sacrificed, ensured that its citizens at home and army in the combat zone were safe from acts of terrorism. As much as the use of harsh interrogations can be considered as an inhumane practice, it should be used when the need arises. To fight the growing insurgency in the world, torture is a vital tool that can be used effectively to achieve this.
The formal arguments against the use of torture are absolute; they state that it has no exceptions. This widely held statement is not true because it is a misguided opinion that always comes from social commentators.
This type of absolutist has created a void between good intentions and good consequences. As mush as the use of torture sounds inhumane, it is necessary to defeat successfully terrorist organizations around the world. In extreme circumstances, as experienced by the French military, radical measures ought to be done to avoid mass murder.
If this consists of making a terrorist to feel pain in order to preserve thousands of innocent lives, then it is permissible. However, it is important to note that torture is more beneficial when used as a means of preventing future evils, rather than as a form of punishment. Terrorism will not be completely obliterated from the face of the earth if individuals settle down and stop making efforts to win the War on Terror. The use of torture, in extreme cases, is one way of making efforts to win the war.
Branche, Raphaelle. “Torture of terrorists? Use of torture in a “war against terrorism”: justifications, methods, and effects: the case of France in Algeria.” International Review of the Red Cross 89.867 (2007): 543-560. Print.
Buchanan, Patrick J. “The case for torture.” Worldnetdaily. 10 March 2010. Web. https://www.wnd.com/2003/03/17663/
Levin, Michael. “The case for torture.” People.brandeis. N.d. Web. http://people.brandeis.edu/~teuber/torture.html
United Nations. “Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” UN convention. 10 Dec. 1987. Web. https://www.un.org/ruleoflaw/blog/document/convention-against-torture-and-other-cruel-inhuman-or-degrading-treatment-or-punishment-commentary/