In the whirl of public discussion since release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on CIA detention and interrogation after 9/11, I mostly hear a back-and-forth volley of one side insisting, “Torture worked!” (implied: “therefore it is o.k.”), and the other side insisting, “Torture is wrong, just wrong! (And it doesn’t work.)” For me, having already made clear my opposition to torture, I find it deeply disturbing that torture is even considered debatable.
At the same time, I also find it perplexing that the two sides argue with such vehemence that one might think the winner of the media debate would get to set policy — policy right now, on a whim.
I think it is worth reminding Americans, or notifying them if they don’t already know, that the U.S. signed (1988) and then ratified (1994) the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT).
UNCAT defines torture as:
any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.
Furthermore, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” (Article 2)
When the 9/11 attacks happened and I went to work for the Department of Defense late in 2001 I had never heard of UNCAT. In 2003 when I was informed that my next assignment, then with the Defense Intelligence Agency, would be interrogation training followed by deployment as an interrogator to Guantanamo, I had never heard of UNCAT. I suspect even today many Americans have never heard of UNCAT; this is unfortunate.
I learned about UNCAT because the Department of Defense included this as a mandatory component of our interrogation training. I distinctly remember that after the instructor explained the history and content of UNCAT, he told us in no uncertain terms, “This is the law of the land.”