Although torture is an illegal means of interrogation in many legal jurisdictions across the world, law enforcement agencies still practice it. In the United States, the emergence of terrorism attacks in the 21st century has led to the application of torture in the interrogation of terrorists and suspects to reveal pertinent information that is critical in the maintenance of national security.
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Since the constitution is a supreme law that defines the application of torture, interrogation policies that the law enforcement agencies apply usually originate from outside the legal arena. For instance, Jack Bauer, a fictional actor in TV show ‘24’ is a government agent who plays a significant role in influencing polices and legislations concerning interrogation.
Lithwick (2008) argues that, in the United States, Jack Bauer has significantly influenced the development of interrogation policy because many prominent lawyers often cite his recommendations (Para. 1).
Although many lawyers regard his recommendations, Jack Bauer is not a professional expert in interrogation because he is not an international lawyer, a behavioral psychologist or a counterterrorism expert. Therefore, examination of historical, social, political, cultural and technological aspect of torture indicates that interrogation techniques have no legal basis.
Throughout history, different nations and military organizations have employed torture as a means of interrogating persons or punishing criminals. Ideally, torture is an act of imposing physical, psychological and emotional pain on people so that they can yield to certain demands. Ancient Romans and Greeks employed torture in interrogating and punishing military detainees and strangers captured during the war.
Moreover, during the period of the slave trade, slave owners used torture to punish slaves who did not perform their roles as expected. Because of its effectiveness in interrogation, punishment and or revenge, dictatorial regimes employed torture to compel its political enemies to give some vital information or yield to the demands of state. However, Sands (2009) argues that torture is not only illegal but also an ineffective means of interrogation (Para. 8).
The emergence of democracy and human rights advocacy have led to the perception of torture as illegal and an inhuman means of interrogation or punishment that is contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Thus, the use of torture in interrogation has a historical basis rather than legal basis as reflected in its ancient application.
Torture is a social issue that affects the relationship between citizens and the law enforcement agencies. Normally, law enforcement agencies employ torture as a way of retrieving vital information from citizens by scaring or compelling them to participate effectively in community policing.
Thus, the use of torture portrays law enforcement agencies as inhuman and barbaric in that they are not sensitive to consequences of their torturous acts. Interrogation experts observe that torturing is an ineffective means of interrogation because retrieved information has low reliability because tortured suspects can give false information so that they do not undergo further torturing.
Costanzo and Gerrity (2009) view torture as an ineffective way of interrogation because it has negative psychological and social impact on both victims and perpetrators of torture (p.182). Victims and perpetrators will develop violent behaviors because torture makes them insensitive and inhuman. Hence, torture has social basis relative to the legal basis because it compels the society to adapt violent behaviors that law enforcement officers and victims develop.
Torture is a political tool that various regimes across the world employ in effecting their political ideologies and influencing national decisions. In essence, torture is a political crime of obedience where a regime formulates and issues policies regarding national issues compelling political leaders to support or risk facing torture. Torture, as a crime of obedience, occurs when one opposes authorities in case of victims.
However, in case of perpetrators, it involves the obedience to instructions from authorities. Kelman (2005) asserts that, though torture is both illegal and immoral in the society, perpetrators perform it in response to orders from authorities (p.126). Hence, torture provides the means by which political authorities can exercise their power and instill fear on citizens.
In the regimes that do not have democracy or uphold human rights, torture is a political tool of frustrating political opponents and maintaining power. According to Gomez-Barris (2007), the state formulated the rhetoric of civil war so that it could justify the violation of human rights by torturing civilians (p.88). Thus, it means that torture is a political tool of oppression that various governments employ in undermining human rights.
From the cultural perspective, torture is an issue that touches the morality of the society and different cultures all over the world. Most cultures regard torture as an inhuman act that violates not only societal norms but also moral codes since it promotes violent behavior that is insensitive to human life. Different cultures perceive human life as having inherent dignity, which should not be subject to brutal acts such as torture.
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However, cultures that do not promote democracy are more likely to tolerate torture compared to democratically mature cultures. According to Luban (2005), torture emanates from liberal culture and ends in the development of torture culture (p.1427). Prior to terrorism attacks in 2001, the Americans abhorred torture. However, the emergence of terrorism threats has transformed the liberal culture of the Americans to cherish torture as an effective means of interrogating terrorists in spite of its illegality.
Because of advancement in technology, law enforcement agencies have invented several interrogation techniques to enhance the effectiveness of interrogation. Since terrorists pose enormous threats to national security, the United States has formulated and adopted various interrogation techniques that inflict physical, psychological and emotional pain on individuals.
Cesereanu (2006) argues that electric torture is an effective technique of interrogation because it can apply electric shock on intimate parts of the body such as breasts and genitals, as well as causing both psychological and physical pain (p.1). Electric torture involves the use of varied instruments such as electrodes, electric truncheons and electric cables.
Water boarding is another interrogating technique that does not cause any physical harm as it entails partial suffocation of a person. However, it inflicts a fair deal of psychological, emotional and physical pain. The United States’ soldiers mainly employed water boarding in torturing terrorist suspects in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib prisons.
Moreover, medical torture is another form of torture that entails the use of drugs to produce pain without any physical harm. Hence, law enforcement agencies are inventing new interrogating techniques that are torturous, but do not cause any physical harm so that human right advocates do not realize their impacts on victims.
Despite the fact that torture is both an illegal and immoral act in society, different states continue to torture suspects and prisoners using various interrogating techniques that have no legal basis. Since the society perceives torture as a violation of human rights, the United States, for a long period, viewed torture as a barbaric and inhuman act.
However, the emergence of terrorism has compelled the United States to employ different forms of interrogative techniques such as water boarding and electricity. Although interrogative experts perceive torture as an ineffective means of interrogation, Jack Bauer, who has no any interrogative expertise, is tremendously influential in the development of interrogative policies in the United States. Therefore, torture has historical, social, political, technological and cultural basis rather than a legal basis.
Cesereanu, R. (2006). An Overview of Political Torture in the Twentieth Century the Microcosm of Torture Instruments. Metabasis, 3(1), 1-11.
Costanzo, M., & Gerrity, E. (2009). The Effects and Effectiveness of Using Torture as An Interrogation Device: Using Research to Inform the Policy Debate. Social Issues and Policy Review, 3(1), 179-210.
Gomez-Barris, M. (2007). Torture Sees and Speaks: Guillermo Nunez’s Art in Chile’s Transition. A Journal on Social History and Literature in Latin America, 5(1), 86-107.
Kelman, H. (2005). The Policy Context of Torture: A Social-Psychological Analysis. International Review of Red Cross, 87(857), 123-134.
Lithwick, D. (2008). The Bauer of Suggestion: Our Torture Policy has Deeper Roots in Fox Television than Constitution. Retrieved from<https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2008/07/our-torture-policy-has-deeper-roots-in-fox-television-than-the-constitution.html>
Luban, D. (2005). Liberalism, Torture and the Ticking Bomb. Virginia Law Review, 91(1), 1425-1461.
Sands, P. (2009). Torture is Illegal and It Never Works. The Guardian. Retrieved From <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/nov/24/torture-jack-bauer-24-redemption>