There are different definitions of torture depending on one’s views; I would define torture as, intentionally causing physical or mental harm on an individual. States commit some of the most horrible crimes in the world, such as torture, mass murder, and genocide. What is more, they don’t do this by themselves “deviant state activities interconnect with the criminal activities of corporations to produce massive human rights abuses” (Green and Ward, 2004: 28). When one talks, or writes about torture, one thinks of human rights, physical abuses, and mass killing perpetrated by authoritarian states and the “bad guys”, such as Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic etc. But one might surprise to know that, the perpetrators of these acts include the so called liberal democratic nations such as the UK, the US and others.
Since the so called the war on terror, torture and human rights violations have become ‘serious policy options’ for the United States (Roth, 2005). the US and its private military and security companies (PMSCs) use torture techniques to achieve their political and economic motives (Amnest International) (Green and Ward, 2004: 124) Torture is not limited to states and tyrants alone, and as Kramer and Kauzlarich noted “corporations and liberal democracies and their agencies can act together to produce serious criminality including torture” (Kramer and Kauzlarich, 1998: 10)
There are two positions with regard to the use of torture, one position is held by those who take a utilitarian point of view and therefore believe its ok to torture one person in order to save many, and those who totally reject the use of torture (Blakeley, 2011: 1) For the utilitarian position, ‘torture is an unfortunate but essential tool in the fight against terror to ensure a greater good’. On the other hand those who reject the use of torture point out that torture is illegal under international law in times of peace and in times of war and therefore its unethical to torture human beings (Roth, 2005: xix)
A Central argument of the pro-torture group is the ‘ticking time bomb scenarios’ this is where a terrorist attack is imminent and a suspect who is believed to possess crucial information is being held (Felner, 2005) thus, should this suspect be tortured for the information needed to stop the allege attack? The utilitarian position is yes, this person should be tortured in order to get any information that would help thwart an attack. Alan Dershowitz a leading US political commentator argues that if ticking time bomb scenarios comes a reality in the US the government would carry out torture, and since he believes that the authorities would torture, Dershowitz suggest that torture licence is therefore needed be issued by the judicial system of the country (Dershowitz, 2001) in the words Dershowitz is suggesting ways to legalize the ‘pain that can be inflicted on suspects’ (Roth, 2005: xix).
The position of those who reject torture completely is very clear; it’s unproductive, immoral, and illegal under international law. Their position is supported by human rights advocates such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty international, which in turn advocate a total ban on torture, because torture ‘dehumanizes people by treating them as pawns to be manipulated through their pain’ (Roth, 2005: xx) furthermore, the absolutists argue that ‘No ends justify torture as a means’ (amnesty.org, 2011). One might get some information by torturing a suspect but such information is counter-productive as suspect would say or sign anything to make torture stop.
In conclusion, since the start of the war on terror, many states used torture and justify it on the grounds of preventing terrorist attacks; amongst these states are those states that portrayed themselves as liberal democracies. The debate about torture is polarised between two positions; the utilitarian view point and absolutism view point. While the position of the utilitarian is logical, it’s immoral and unethical and therefore should be rejected.
Amnest International The Costs of Outsourcing War, [Online], Available: http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/business-and-human-rights/private-military-and-security-companies [23 Nov 2011].
amnesty.org (2011) 5 arguments against torture, 28 Jul, [Online], Available: http://tv.amnesty.org.uk/2011/07/28/5-arguments-torture/ [23 Nov 2011].
Blakeley, R. (2011) ‘Dirty Hands, Clean Conscience: The CIA Inspector General’s Investigation of “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” in the “War on Terror” and the Torture Debate’, Journal of Human Rights, forthcoming.
Dershowitz, A.M. (2001) Is There a Torturous Road to Justice?, 08 Nov, [Online], Available: http://articles.latimes.com/2001/nov/08/local/me-1494 [23 Nov 2011].
Felner, E. (2005) ‘Torture and terrorism’, in ok?, T.i.m.u.s.i.i.e. (ed.) Torture:does it make us safer? is it ever ok?, New York: the new press.
Green, P. and Ward, T. (2004) State Crime: Goverments, Violence and Corruption, London: Pluto Press.
Higginbottom, A. (2006) Globalisation and Human Rights in Colombia: Crimes of the Powerful, Corporate Complicity and the Paramilitary State, London: Higginbottom, A.
JSCHRAGE, E., (2003) ‘Judging corporate accountability in the global economy ‘, Columbia journal of transnational law, vol. 42, no. 1, p. 154.
Kramer, R. and Kauzlarich, (1998) Crimes of the American nuclear state: at home and abroad, York, USA: Northern University Press.
Kramer, R.C. and Michalowski, R.J. (2005) ‘War, Aggression and State crime’, The British Jounral of Criminoligy, vol. 45, no. 5, Apr, p. 446.
Roth, K. (2005) ‘Torture:Introduction’, in Roth, K., Worden, M. and Bernstein, A.D. (ed.) Torture:does it make us safer? is it ever ok?, New York: The New Press.
UN (1987) CONVENTION AGAINST TORTURE and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 26 Jun, [Online], Available: http://www.hrweb.org/legal/cat.html [12 Oct 2011].