The United Nations conventions against torture recognize torture as an act that inflicts intense physical or psychological suffering pain and suffering. Torture is commonly used by state authorities around the world as a form of punishment to people who have committed crimes; people suspected to have committed crimes or as a way of obtaining information from witnesses through forced confession. The international laws prohibit torture and the domestic laws of almost 80 percent of the members’ states of the United Nations also prohibit the practice. The United Nations conventions against torture have been ratified by 146 nations but evidence from the amnesty international documents that more than 70 states that have ratified the conventions still use torture openly.
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Most states use torture to gain intelligence. The question that arises is whether the use of torture for such objectives is acceptable. To start with, the use of torture abuses the human rights of the victims, which is against the UN charter on human rights and the domestic constitutions of member states. The use of torture has affected cultural rights, causing a disjunction between group solidarity and universal human rights (Ishay, 131). According to the law, due process should be followed in the process of extracting intelligence from suspects and witnesses. It is also morally and ethically wrong to use torture as an intelligence tool. According to the utilitarian theory, the use of torture is highly unacceptable because there is no documented evidence to show the effectiveness of the method in extracting intelligent information.
The second question about the use of torture for intelligence purposes is whether the intelligence information obtained is valid and reliable. This question can be answered in both the affirmative and in the negative based on past applications. Sometimes, the use of torture works, though outside the law, to extract intelligence from suspects and witnesses. That is why many states sanction torture by the military (Gutman & Rief 346)). For example, the use of torture helped to reveal the truth about the Al Qaeda bombings of US interests in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and had a profound effect on the war on terror. However, such cases are rare as in most instances; the evidence got through torture has been found to be very unreliable. It has been found that most victims of torture give untrue confessions in order to escape the suffering. Some even falsely implicate others to escape the rigors of the torture chambers. This leads to the incrimination of innocent people who are in turn tortured to provide the information they know nothing about.
The American policies regarding torture have impacted negatively on the war on terror. This is because the US is one of the signatories to the Geneva conventions against torture, and the domestic laws do not condone torture. This has made it difficult for the US to fight terrorism because of the boundaries put by both the domestic policies and international law. However, due to the pressure from terrorists, the US government has in various instances overlooked its own policies on torture and used torture to extract information from terrorism suspects during its war on terror. This has really watered down its policies regarding torture and the precedence it has set may be followed by other groups that may ignore the policies and use torture as an intelligence or punishment tool. All in all, policies on torture have slowed down the war on terror while the war on terror has led to the watering down of the US government policies on torture.
Ishay, Micheline. The History of Human Rights from Ancient Times to the Globalization Era; Berkeley: UCL Press, 2008.
Gutman, Roy. Rieff, David. Crimes of War: What The Public Should Know: Boston: W. W. Norton & Company.1999.