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Should high-ranking captured terrorists be tortured or be subject to "enhanced interrogation techniques" to obtain information?

In a Nutshell

Yes

No

  1. Timely information is needed to break up cells, capture wanted terrorists, and prevent thousands or millions of deaths; this information can be obtained in a more timely manner by administering torture.
  2. These specific terrorists deserve a little extra punishment for the death and misery they've caused.
  3. Anything we do to our captives will still be nothing compared to what they do to our soldiers when captured.
  4. Terrorists under duress may give us information that we didn't even know to ask.
  1. It lowers us from the moral high ground to the level of the terrorist.
  2. It leads to a weakening of international law, which could lead to torture retaliation for our prisoners.
  3. Torture can lead to made-up information as prisoners say anything to stop the pain.
  4. It could widen anti-American sentiment if word of the torture got out.
  5. It creates sympathy for people who would otherwise be scorned and shamed.
  6. Other non-torture methods can be just as effective, if not more so.
  7. Terrorists might choose death over capture more frequently, possibly costing lives and eliminating a potential information source.
  8. There's always the chance that an innocent person may be subjected to the torture.

Related Links

Overview/Background

Since the War on Terror began on 9/11, we've captured hundreds of Islamic terrorists along with the capture of Saddam Hussein himself. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan brought in thousands more prisoners with potential knowledge of upcoming terror attacks.

Captives like Saddam Hussein and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the "CEO of Al Qaeda", have intimate knowledge of operations in Al Qaeda and of locations of terrorist cells around the world. Iraqi prisoners often have knowledge of terrorist attacks planned against American soldiers. Unfortunately, when a capture of this magnitude is publicized, terrorists quickly change locations, plans, and communication methods. Thus, any intelligence we can gather from such captures is only good for a short time. The question becomes, should we torture these captures to obtain the information while it's still good? (Another question is "What constitutes 'torture'?", but that is a separate argument).  In an attempt to prevent another 9/11, should we resort to the gruesome level of torture employed by the Saddam-led or Osama-led organizations themselves? A less intense form of questioning that causes no permanent damage to the body, such as waterboarding, is often referred to as "enhanced interrogation."  CIA chief
Leon Panetta credited such methods as helping track down and kill Osama bin Laden himself.

Yes

  1. Timely information is needed to break up cells, capture wanted terrorists, and prevent thousands or millions of deaths; this information can be obtained in a more timely manner by administering torture. If we were able to stop the 9/11 attacks, thousands of lives would have been saved, along with billions of dollars in economic damage. Intelligence agents had information that Osama bin Laden was up to something, but they had nothing specific as to place and time. Today, the FBI and CIA are in the same situation. The next attack could involve a nuclear "dirty" bomb, an anthrax or smallpox bioweapons attack, or a poisonous chemical attack. The 9/11 attacks were bad, but the devastation of a mass destruction weapons attack could be tenfold. Intelligence information is only good for a short time. When Saddam was captured, Al Qaeda and Fedayeen cells scattered. Thus, any intelligence gained after a short initial period was outdated. Torture ensures we get the information on a timely basis. Of course torture itself may not be moral, but we're talking about the lives of thousands, possibly even millions. Even if mass destruction weapons aren't involved, low-level attacks like a homicide bombing could cause the loss of many Americans lives. What is more important--protecting an evil, hateful terrorist from a little pain or saving scores of American lives? You may hear or read "expert" opinions in the media that torture isn't effective for getting information. But use the logical part of your brain. How long would you be able to withhold your secrets if you were deprived of several days sleep, drugged, had limbs broken, given electric shock, etc. There are many reasons NOT to torture someone, but efficacy isn't one of the them. There are far more humane ways to get information than the ones listed, but as we've seen, terrorist apologists, who whine about things like loud music pumped into the cell, will define anything short of country club conditions as "torture".

  2. These specific terrorists deserve a little extra punishment for the death and misery they've caused. Mounir al-Motassadek, who was accused of being a member of a terrorist organization and being an accessory to the deaths of more than 3,000 people on 9/11, was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a German court. He's lucky he wasn't convicted of killing 100,000 people; the court may have sentenced him to 20 years! The justice system has become somewhat of a joke in democratic societies. Even in America, where punishment is tougher than mainland Europe, the punishments aren't all that bad, relatively speaking. When you contribute to the death of thousands, a punishment of painless death or life in prison just doesn't cut it. We're talking about people that will kill Americans no matter where they are or who they are, and they show no remorse for their actions. Maybe a little torture is fitting for someone like Saddam Hussein.

  3. Anything we do to our captives will still be nothing compared to what they do to our soldiers when captured. As we saw with the American POWs in Iraq, it doesn't matter how well we treat prisoners, our soldiers will always be faced with brutal torture or death. Consider the terrorists held in Guantanamo Bay. The prison there holds some of the most evil, hate-filled, venom-spewing men in the world. Yet, we feed them well, allow them books & prayer time, and refrain from beating them. Several prisoners released from there have said they were treated well and fed better than in their own country. Yet, the media distorts the treatment, showing us getting a little rough with some combative prisoners. Many in the media speculate we're torturing prisoners whenever we come up with useful information, despite the fact they have no proof (or their "proof" is the statements of the terrorists themselves). The point is, it doesn't matter if we torture prisoners or give them the royal treatment, much of the media and world opinion will believe what they want to believe.

  4. Terrorists under duress may give us information that we didn't even know to ask. There is so much information a high ranking terrorist leader could have--plans, names, locations, computer passwords, financiers,...the list goes on and on. A professional interrogator can usually come up with a wide arrange of questions, but there will always be more that he can't think of--information that save millions of lives! Think what information anyone would be willing to give up if his bones were breaking, his body was burning from electricity, his nails being plucked, his hands being soaked in acid, or whatever the case may be.

No

  1. It lowers us from the moral high ground to the level of the terrorist. We have seen the brutality and utter lack of regard for human life exhibited by the kidnappers of WSJ reporter Daniel Pearl, the Saddam Hussein regime, and Osama bin Laden. The things that put us above these monsters are our high value we put on human rights and our Bill of Rights freedoms. We shouldn't lower our moral ideals to the point where we're no better than the terrorists.

  2. It leads to a weakening of international law, which could lead to torture retaliation for our prisoners. There are some enemies of ours out there that still have some regard for human life and they wouldn't want to see their prisoners tortured. However, if we make torture a policy, other nations may respond in kind. Thus, those countries that originally may have followed Geneva laws regarding prisoners may decide to resort to torture themselves.

  3. Torture can lead to made-up information as prisoners say anything to stop the pain. People in extreme pain will say anything to stop the pain, whether its true or not. People will confess to crimes they haven't committed and throw out any information that pops in their heads in order to stop the torture. When we have false information, we're led on wide goose chases that waste time and expend resources.

  4. It could widen anti-American sentiment if word of the torture got out. Muslims, Europeans, and others are increasingly anti-American in their views. They look for anything to reinforce their beliefs that Americans are evil, imperialistic, oppressive, etc. Even mild indiscretions like showing an Afghan prisoner with a hood over his head has brought worldwide condemnation. We saw the overblown outrage when a few soldiers did some humiliating things to Iraqi prisoners. Can you imagine the outcry if we actually made torture a policy?

  5. It creates sympathy for people who would otherwise be scorned and shamed. Somehow we've come to a point in history where much of the world calls terrorists who bomb school buses with nail-packed bombs "freedom fighters". Terrorism doesn't work unless you have effective public relations spin the actions to that of some kind of oppressed underdog, which is exactly what has happened. When you torture prisoners, you blur the distinction between good and evil, right and wrong. Any acts of human brutality inevitably creates sympathy for monsters who would otherwise be scorned or forgotten.

  6. Other non-torture methods can be just as effective, if not more so. There are plenty of other methods for extracting good information that don't require physical torture. Mind control drugs, sleep deprivation, good cop-bad cop techniques, and verbal intimidation are only a few. Not only are these methods more humane, but they also can yield better information.

  7. Terrorists might choose death over capture more frequently, possibly costing lives and eliminating a potential information source. Imagine you could go back in time and while fighting in a war, you were about to be captured by the Vietcong, the Taliban, or the Saddam Hussein regime. Would you contemplate killing yourself or fighting to the death rather than subject yourself to the unbearable torture that awaits you? If we get a reputation for torturing prisoners, enemies may be less willing to surrender. When enemies fight to the death, there's a greater chance we may sustain further casualties to our brave soldiers. And while we may get little information from a captured enemy combatant, we will get no information from a dead enemy combatant.

  8. There's always the chance that an innocent person may be subjected to the torture. For the most part, expert security personnel and intelligence officials know when they have a terrorist enemy of the U.S., but what if they're wrong? What if they capture someone who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? What if they capture a Muslim-American who dislikes the United States but believes in peaceful protest? One of the great things about America is that we go to great lengths to protect the innocent. Torture would only chip away at something that makes our country special.

Related Links

Wikipedia - Interrogation
Debatabase - Torture in interrogation
Waterboarding has it's benefits
Why not torture terrorists?
It's time for a rational debate
Torture in the United States
United Nations: Convention Against Torture

Is anything missing? Is any of the material inaccurate? Please let me know.

Written by:
Joe Messerli
Page Last Updated:
01/05/2012