Torture is defined as “the intentional infliction of extreme physical suffering on some non-consenting, defenseless, other person for the purpose of breaking their will.” Since the time of the Greeks and the Romans, torture has been used to suppress citizens in authoritarian governments. However, in current times, torture is more often implemented for the purposes of battling terrorism. Regardless of the positive intents of a nation to protect its people from potential threats such as terrorism, the implementation of torture on suspicious persons or prisoners of war should not be practiced and is not effective: evidence demonstrates that torture violates a person’s innate human rights established in international treaties and elicits false allegations.

Many international treaties ban torture, and as such the act is deemed both illegal and unjustified. The five international treaties that do so are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the third Common Article of the Third Geneva Convention (1949), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, relating to the Protection of victims of International Armed Conflicts (1977), and lastly, the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984). As such treaties exist, utilizing torture on any person, regardless of their criminal record, is against the law. Even if the person in question is a criminal, there is no justification for the use of torture.

Still, many governments adopt torture as a tool, claiming it is for the safety of their people. Countries that have been engaged in the war against terrorism, such as Britain and the United States, often use torture under the pretense that it would prevent future attacks from terrorists. The U.S has used such methods in their search for Osama bin Laden. Though these initiatives are directed towards the protection of a country and its people, such actions against prisoners of war and suspicious persons elicit more harm than good. As stated by Senator John McCain, “mistreatment of our prisoners endangers U.S. Troops who might be captured by the enemy, if not in this war, then in the next.” This implies that should the knowledge of extreme interrogation methods be mentioned outside of the interrogation room, those who are uninvolved may suffer the consequences of the implementers. Should certain individuals learn of their allies having been tortured by another country’s government, those individuals would attempt to exact revenge on that country via the lives of their citizens and soldiers. The respective countries of the torture victims may choose to attack a town filled with innocents or torture the prisoners of war of the perpetrating country. In either case, the use of torture increases the risk of civilians being harmed, rather than being protected from potential terrorist attacks.

The use of torture not only provides the risk of possible physical damage upon the enacting country, but it also brings about damage in reputation, especially when the perpetrating country is the United States of America. Historically, the United States has been known to be “the world’s leader in the fight against human rights abuses,” and the act of torturing another human being is a stellar example of human rights abuse. Due to its reputation as an advocate of human rights, the United States has had a large amount of power in influencing other countries to put an end to immoral behavior such as the torture of their people or the people of other countries. However, with the suspicions and proof that the United States does engage in these activities itself, its reputation has taken a noticeable hit and it is now losing its credibility. Many countries now use the excuse, “’The U.S.—the biggest democracy promoter in the world—has to use torture, why can’t we?’” in order to avoid punishment for their actions from the Committee Against Torture. Since there is reason in the arguments of the smaller countries, the Committee Against Torture has a hard time punishing large powers such as the United States and is unable to act against the other countries. As such, the smaller countries feel that they have the freedom to exercise torture as they see fit, which will eventually lead to the use of torture for things other than what the countries perceive as protection. Ultimately, the reputation of countries that participate in acts of torture is scarred, their moral authority diminished.

Torture is not only harmful to a country’s reputation, but it is also an unreliable method to obtain information. The fact that there is close to no scientific support that torture is an effective method indicates that there have been an insignificant number of incidents in which torture has actually yielded profitable results. Countries are not justified in implementing torture upon their captives under the pretense of protecting their people since the chances of this method actually proving to be effective is virtually none. Due to this lack of proven effectiveness, it can be concluded that there is absolutely no merit in causing harm to another human being in hopes of obtaining information, as it is most likely that no information of veritable significance will be obtained. The net effect of such actions will ultimately be a damaged reputation, a damaged human being, and a dissatisfied government.

The torture of terrorists also does not yield successful results as they are usually conditioned in a way that renders them able to keep their loyalty to their leader or cause despite the intense physical pain they experience. Sharma, an employee at the Center for Victims of Torture in Nepal, explains that “torture doesn’t work against zealots” since they “are committed to their ideology or religion” and “would rather die than speak up.” Terrorists typically fall under the category of zealots as their main motive for violence is usually their religion. In other cases, their motive is revenge and for both groups of terrorists, torture tends to be ineffective. In the case that religion is their primary motive, their commitment will enable them to endure through any pain. Those who act for other reasons have most likely been conditioned by their groups’ leader to be able to tolerate the pain and thus resist betraying information to the interrogating country. This loyalty and perseverance which is commonly encountered in the practice of torture makes this method obsolete.

Another group of people who are taken in for torture are those who resemble terrorists or seem to be suspicious. As described in The Evening Standard, “If the State has reason to believe a person may have information to confirm intelligence that has already been obtained, then they can be tortured.” From this observation, it can be inferred that the State believes that no physical or solid evidence is needed to have a reason to torture. Instead, they rely on their intuition or observations that cannot be proven. Due to this method, “a high proportion of those incarcerated [are] not terrorists” and, instead, are innocents. Since the perpetrators believe that these innocents have desired information, they do not put an end to their torture until they hear a confession that satisfies them. As such, the innocents are forced to either say something that is false, and therefore give a piece of unreliable information, or throw their lives into the hands of those who torture. Especially in these cases, torture achieves no real purpose. The information gained from such methods in such situations is false and those who are subjected to intense pain and discomfort do not warrant such treatment at all. The innocents who are subjected to this torture have absolutely no way to defend themselves. Once the interrogators decide that the victim is one who would probably have information relevant to the case they are handling, they become narrow-minded and refuse to admit that the victim is, in fact, innocent and has absolutely no relation with the topic at hand. As long as there is a hint of some new and useful information, the interrogators will not hesitate to capture those in question and take away their right to defend themselves. As the implementation of torture will undoubtedly lead to the harm of innocents, torture is absolutely not pragmatic nor justified.

In contrast with the innocents who are unable to give veritable information, those who are guilty and tortured often chose to release altered information. Schulz, the executive director of the human rights group Amnesty International USA, explains that those placed under the conditions of torture “will lie or make up facts to stop pain or other discomfort.” Lying allows victims to avoid both the torture they would receive otherwise, and the betrayal of their allies. As such, they often regurgitate facts that do not hold any veracity in order to escape from the immense pain torture brings and the responsibility of their comrades’ failed plans or lives. The victims of torture may also have motives to lie to the interrogators other than solely to escape the pain. This alternative motive is explained by Tom Parker, a counter-terrorist investigator, in his quote:
Not everybody talks, and even when they do, how sure can you ever be that under torture you got the right information? The subject just has to screw up his courage for one last lie at the end and he ensures payback. An attractive prospect for a torture victim.

Parker implies that there are those among the victims of torture who would prefer to obtain revenge rather than to put an immediate end to their pain. In order to achieve this goal, they release information that will mislead their interrogators, distracting them from the immediate threat. Once the immediate threat strikes its goal, the victim, too, will have achieved his or her goal in causing pain to those related to the implementers of torture.

Even in the case that the information obtained is indeed true, the information is still rendered ineffective. Information gained through illegal means such as torture is typically unwelcome in any court case as was demonstrated in Britain’s Court of Appeal in 2004. Originally, the “Court of Appeal ruled that information acquired through torture was admissible as evidence in court,” however, “the ruling was later overturned by the House of Lords.” A similar situation has occurred with U.S. intelligence officials when they reported that “they had discounted warnings from al Qaeda prisoners in the Philippines about future attacks because the information had been obtained through torture.” In both cases, the information obtained through torture is rendered absolutely useless as it is unable to even be mentioned in court. All the information gained through the suffering of human beings is dismissed and ignored, regardless of the veracity of said information.

Torture is a method of obtaining information that is absolutely unjustified and unpractical as it produces results that do not satisfy the original goal of the action. The only result achieved through torture is that of the pain of multiple human beings, and of deceit. In the rare occasions that torture does actually produce a desired result, the information cannot be utilized for the larger goal. The information cannot aid in the process of protecting a nation as it is not considered as evidence gained through moral means, and thus not evidence at all. As such, torture is a futile course of action that fails to protect any being. Torture is a course of action that only results in the harm and pain of others, and the dehumanization of those who inflict the pain and those who are afflicted.

Amanda Lu’s essay won first prize in 2014 in the Second Annual School of Visual Arts Writing Program Contest. Amanda was born in 1995 in Toronto, Canada, and is currently a sophomore at SVA majoring in Computer Arts.