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5th February 2017

Trump needs to know the wrongs of torture

With Trump having shown his support for torture, Alex Pigott looks into why it is both unjustified and unnecessary

Trump’s first week as President has been a storm of policies and soundbites for journalists to get their teeth stuck into and citizens of the world to campaign against. Although many of us were optimistic that he wouldn’t live up to his campaign promises, he has done so. It’s hard to choose which of his beliefs are most inhumane, but his recent expression of support for torture is certainly a contender. In his first television interview since becoming president, when asked about torture, Trump said that: “We have to fight fire with fire.” Although he goes on to say that he will listen to the advice from defence secretary, James Mattis, and CIA director, Mike Pompeo, he proceeds to assure the interviewer that torture “absolutely works.”

Given his position, when the President of America is expressing such strong support for the method, it appears that the issue requires explanation. Torture comes in many forms, can go many ways, and all are absolutely wrong due to their inhumane treatment of people. Take the ideal situation: one guilty terrorist has planted a bomb on a plane. If we torture him, he will reveal its whereabouts and hundreds of lives will be saved. In this hypothetical scenario, torture is guaranteed to achieve the goal it sets out to achieve: the prevention of innocent deaths. The terrorist will give up the information we want under a certain amount of force, and innocent lives will be saved.

Supporters of torture see this situation as justified, and possibly deserved, because the victim of torture is guilty and those in danger are innocent, and the lives of many innocent people are seen as worth more than the well-being of a guilty terrorist. Despite the act remaining wrong, it is understandable and possibly excusable. Nevertheless, it remains wrong due to how it makes people a means to achieve a certain end, not human beings. However, in these circumstances alone, it may be excusable since there are many innocent lives at stake and the infliction of harm upon the guilty is necessary to save them.

But the situation, in reality, is a long way off this ideal one. With a higher amount of variables, the chances of success are far from likely. So, with the reasons for support as tenuous as they appear in our ideal situation, we cannot defend torture when placed in the unpredictable realm of reality. To start with, the individual captured may not be guilty and would therefore be as deserving of as much torture as any normal citizen: none. Despite the fact that only seven of Guantanamo Bay’s 779 inmates have been convicted, a large majority have been tortured. It seems that torture is not reserved for the guilty.

According to Amnesty International, Shaker Aamer was held for 13 years, while being tortured under the watch of MI5 agents, and then released to his family without conviction. By his own account, he was captured while working for a Saudi Charity. Though of course, it’s his word against the US’; the amount of detainees that have gone without conviction suggests a severe lack of evidence to support the guilt of the majority of prisoners.

But even if the terrorist were to be found guilty of some form of terrorism, if they hold no valuable information, there is no longer any excuse for torture. Since even those with the knowledge would profess their ignorance when encountered with torture initially, the torturers have no idea who to believe. So they press on, assuming that with the right amount of force, the guilty will crack.

High profile agents, such as Ali Soufan, a former CIA operative, has said: “Most of the time, they will lie, make up anything to stop you hurting them.” This leads to two more major issues with the method. If the tortured will often lie anyway, the false information they give may be detrimental to the goal of preventing terrorism and result in indescribable harm regardless. If the only excuse for torture is to prevent the deaths of innocents, this method is inexcusable since this is in no way helpful to achieving this goal. It is simply sadistic.

Although there are many more variables to look into, I will conclude with the unlikelihood of success of using torture. Even if the information required has been obtained, we would still need a team to actually prevent the attack. The amount of things that could possibly go wrong in this situation are countless, leading to the likely situation of a failed rescue. Once more, this leads to the only excusable end of torture being thwarted.

It’s unlikely that Trump has put as much consideration into his support for torture as I have into attacking it. That’s not to say it took much. Although the unlikelihood of success and the torturing of innocents would deter most from a commitment to the method, based on the clear lack of compassion behind his policies so far, we could be forgiven for doubting Trump would be persuaded.

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