The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

80° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Spreading the American ideal?

    Alex Gutierrez columnist
    Alex Gutierrez

    There are 24 hours before a nuclear bomb goes off in a heavily populated city in the United States. A terrorist is in custody, and may have information to stop the disaster. The door opens, and in walks a government agent, ready to do anything necessary to get any information out of the suspect. Torture will prevent tragedy, right? While this scenario may come straight from the Fox series “”24,”” the sad truth is that it isn’t only delegated to television. Our own government condones similar actions, while at the same time hedging around its support of torture.

    The concept of torture goes back as far as recorded history, though the United States’ prohibition of coercive actions dates to the very beginning of our country. George Washington enacted the first prohibitions on the mistreatment of prisoners of war during the Revolutionary War, and the first major prosecution for using excessive techniques in interrogation was in the Philippines in 1902. A military officer was accused of torturing insurgents in the province of Samar, and his defense of “”military necessity”” was rejected by the judge in his trial.

    Interestingly enough, it is this same defense that the government is using today to justify its actions in the war on terror. The administration has consistently fought efforts to ban torture, going so far as to send Dick Cheney to Capitol Hill to scuttle such a ban.

    One specific technique that this administration consistently upholds is waterboarding. For those unfamiliar, the interrogation practice consists of laying a victim on their back, holding them down, and placing a cloth in their mouth. Water is poured over the cloth to simulate drowning. Waterboarding makes the victim believe that death is imminent but leaves no physical marks. Yet the practice is both barbaric and inhumane.

    While prohibited essentially in word alone by the Bush administration, waterboarding has plenty of fans. Among those are many of the current Republican candidates for president, including Duncan Hunter, who has stated that we should do anything necessary to gain intelligence. Another proponent is the Vice President himself, who stated that a dunk in water is a “”no-brainer if it can save lives.”” While he later tried to spin his words to show that he didn’t support torture, the spin fell flat. Even the current nominee for attorney general, Michael Mukasey, has claimed ignorance of the procedure. This argument fails him, because Mukasey is a former Federal judge who decided many terrorist-related cases during his tenure on the bench. How he could claim ignorance when the procedure and its description are constantly covered in the media is truly astounding.

    Even more disturbing are the statements by Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, who when asked whether waterboarding is tantamount to torture, claimed, “”Well, I’m not sure it is either. It depends on how it’s done. It depends on the circumstances. It depends on who does it.”” Apparently, Giuliani believes that there is a nice way to waterboard, and a mean way – sort of like a good cop/bad cop thing.

    According to many CIA interrogators and most security experts, there is no justifiable reason to believe that torture is necessary to elicit information from a suspect, and there is evidence that it simply doesn’t work. The U.S. Army Intelligence manual states that “”the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.”” Former CIA agent Mike Baker echoes that sentiment stating that “”you can make anyone say anything, but you can’t have any confidence in what that person says.”” If under enough pressure and pain, a person will say anything just to make it stop.

    An alternative to torture that has been proven to work can be called “”empathetic interrogation.”” It makes the suspect more comfortable to talk to his interrogators. This was effective when Abu Zubaydah, a top bin Laden logistics chief, was captured by the CIA. When handed over to the FBI, he was bloodied and on the verge of death. The FBI bathed Zubaydah, cleaned his wounds, and spoke to him in both Arabic and English. Using these techniques, agents were able to gain more reliable intelligence than CIA torture ever could.

    The world is a very different place than it was 10 years ago. But “”aggressive interrogation”” does not give us any useful information in the short term, and harms efforts in the long term. Instead, it cedes the moral high ground to terrorists themselves – the most painful punishment of all.

    Alex Gutierrez is a political science senior. He can be reached at

    More to Discover
    Activate Search