Implications of Torture

“Torture” was the word of last week.

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee revealed the executive summary of the CIA Torture Report last week.

It created a storm of sorts at the CIA, which obviously did not like the publishing of even the highly redacted report.

Torture of any kind to elicit information is prohibited under UN Convention on Human Rights. The U.S. has publicly avoided using the word torture, or acknowledging the conduct of torture by the CIA, as that could put its operatives and soldiers in danger around the world, and damage its credibility with other nations – even those countries which are close to it such as the U.K. or Germany.

But the world has long known about the CIA’s rendition program wherein it kind of “outsourced” the torture to compliant third-world countries, in return for some favours to those nations. The torture which continued in the Guantanamo prison has been well documented.

The only problem with torture is that it is based on a flawed assumption – that you will get new, actionable intelligence which could thwart the next terrorist attack, or help capture a terrorist who had been elusive. This assumption is not always true, as depicted in the report and the verbal fights between the CIA Director John Brennan and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein.

There are, of course, moral issues with regard to application of torture. In one way or the other torture comes to haunt the perpetrators – whether they are well-intentioned or not. While apparently no net new intelligence was gathered by the torture tactics, the fact remains in the books of the U.S. Senate now that the U.S. officially conducted torture and condoned it. This is not good news.

Countries like China, Russia, North Korea, and countless other countries which have tortured their own citizens, can now take comfort in the fact that the U.S. can now no longer berate them in global fora as its moral grandstanding has fallen apart to smithereens with this published torture report. These other countries will now be even more emboldened to continue their torture tactics beyond whatever they were doing already, worsening the relationships with other countries, the U.S. and the UN.

If and when some other country which has been inflicted with terrorist attacks takes the law into its hand and starts capturing and torturing some of the purported attackers, the U.S. will not choose to keep quiet and will push the country not to repeat its own mistakes. Such an approach will not fly with any country now, including even friendly countries.

The world used to look up to the U.S. as one last frontier of freedom, peace, justice, and respect for laws. This expectation is now fast dissolving into one of disrepute and disrespect for the most powerful nation on earth. The U.S. brought this upon itself without regard to its own moral standing and international rules. It will now find it difficult to escape from its own clutches.

The other thing I have always pointed out in my earlier blog posts and discussed with my close group of friends is that if someone tortures or harms an innocent person (there were obviously some innocent prisoners at Guantanamo), then the retaliation on the perpetrators of such torture will be equally severe and might be handed out in this generation or the next. This is as per Hindu mythology but I believe in it. This is also the reason that the U.S. courts always have worried about inflicting punishment on innocents even in the face of evidence as the courts have to unambiguously establish the commitment of crime. Both Hinduism and U.S. justice system believe in the same principle.

So, in conclusion, I would say “never inflict harm or torture” on anyone without absolute proof, and even with proof follow the justice system rather than resorting to torture.


Vijay Srinivasan
13th December 2014


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