** Graphic Content Warning**
On September 11, 2001 we not only experienced the most devastating attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor but also watched as the world entered a new era. Few instances that shape our policy and perception can be defined and as tangible as that devastating day. I doubt there’s one among us who doesn’t recall exactly where they were when they heard of the news. Overcome with confusion and despair, there was only one thing clear: Someone was going to pay.
The War on Terror has spread from a defined conflict in Afghanistan against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban to a worldwide assault on those who would do us harm. Battle fronts blurred and conventional tactics seemed a step behind the warfare our military was being presented with.
The man who orchestrated the horrific attacks, Osama bin Laden, was ultimately brought to justice, through the fury of Seal Team Six, and a clear illustration of the leadership and strength of President Obama when he made the decision to enter Pakistan.
Yet through this experience and tumultuous decade of our global War on Terror, we find ourselves locked in a perpetual debate: Should the United States torture prisoners for information?
We can label it however we want, including “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but when it comes down to it,it’s still torture.
We’ve sacrificed a lot of our American identity under the guise of national security and patriotism. The issue of torturing prisoners is a black eye on our United States. Lawmakers are at odds in Washington over the necessity and the effectiveness, but yesterday the Senate Intelligence Committee finally approved a 6,000 page report on CIA detention and interrogation by a 9-6 vote. Most notably, Sen. John McCain, who was once a POW and victim of torture, was a no vote but showed support and spoke out against the use of torture as an interrogation technique by American forces.
It’s highly doubtful that the public will even see a fraction of what the report compiles.
Guantanamo Bay remains open, despite President Obama’s promises to close it. Candidates often make promises, and then when the responsibilities and the privileged intelligence the office of the presidency becomes reality, ideals may fall by the wayside. Currently, the United States holds 373 people who have been convicted of terrorism, and there are 166 prisoners remaining at Gitmo. The military tribunal system created under Bush, have been slightly improved by Obama, but the fact remains this stain on the American justice system diminishes our international credibility as an advocate of human rights.
But, back to the main question at hand: Is torture effective in gaining information?
A prisoner that is asked to recall information under the stress of torture will be impaired in doing so as a result of the torture. Recalling information in the brain, is a complex cognitive function which activates the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus (I thought that was a website?). Cortisol is released during stress, and as you might have guessed, torture can be pretty stressful. This then impairs the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus from recalling information. Members of our Special Forces were tested in a 2006 study and it illustrated that even they, some of our toughest and brutally trained soldiers, were impaired after stress occurred.
Along with stress, especially in the case of torture, will come fear. Fear also releases chemicals into the brain that not only hinder memory recall but also the ability to distinguish a true memory from a perceived one. The brain turns into chaos, sifting through “memories” whether they are true, or not.
Now let me pose a situation. You’re being waterboarded for information and you realize every time you talk, the waterboarding stops. What’s your natural inclination? Talk. Talk as much as you can. So, it’s answered! Torture works. Not necessarily, those who associate a break from torture with talking will often spew whatever they can whether it is true, false, or imaginary.
There have been other ramifications from the harsh treatment of prisoners of the War on Terror. Military officials reported that fighter had joined the war against American forces for the sole reason of the treatment at the infamous Abu Grahib prison. Of course we also put the lives and well-being of our deployed men and women around the world in danger by using torture as a technique in our own interrogations, we run the risk of them experiencing a similar fate. I’m not saying jihadists wouldn’t use similar or even more brutal techniques even without the knowledge of how the United States treats prisoners, I’m just pointing to the obvious assumption that it probably doesn’t help.
The techniques utilized by the CIA have been released; however, it remains clear of whether or not there have been additions made to the “manual.” Some of them are as follows:
Extreme environments – Cold room or Sweat Box
Degradation – As reported in the Abu Grahib controversy, prisoners in custody were sodomized with broom sticks, chemical lights, and rifles.
A Democratic system of government like our own means that torture is carried out on our behalf, representative of the citizens who empower our elected officials. I have remained torn on this issue, and I understand the arguments of the proponents of these techniques, but the United States of America needs and must be a pillar of integrity. There will always be those who mean to do us harm, and we succeed in thwarting their efforts when and only when our ideals and collective identity remain unshaken despite global turbulence.
To the readers, please feel free to comment and voice your opinion.