Rushville Republican

Columns

May 4, 2009

Considering the pros and cons of “torture”

I have to be honest, I’m concerned about all the irresponsible releases of information on interrogation techniques being used against suspected Al Qaeda members by the Obama administration. But before going farther into this discussion, what does the word “torture” really mean and when, and under what circumstances, might it ever be considered the appropriate thing to do? Here’s how United States Code, Title 18, section 2340, defines torture: “‘Torture’ means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody.” Section 2340 defines “severe mental pain or suffering” as “the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from – the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering; the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality; the threat of imminent death; or the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality…”

The practice of water boarding probably falls within the statutory definition of torture, but some of the other techniques that have been described, like sleep depravation, standing for long periods of time, being confined in a small space, or even being slapped with the open palm of the hand really don’t seem to rise to the level of the formal definition of torture. I suppose a slap could cause severe physical pain, but it hardly seems to rise to the level of “torture.” On the other hand, making someone think that they’re going to be shot, let’s say, by the above definition, would be torture – even if there’s no intention to actually carry out the shooting! So, if one were to say to a terrorist, “Tell us what we want to know or we’ll shoot you,” would be torture. So, the mere threat of the infliction of severe physical pain would amount to torture.

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