Monday, October 10, 2005

Accurately Defining Torture

Since the real argument now is about torture, let us expand on the topic. First of all, Sullivan greatly simplifies the issue of torture. His illustration seems to indicate that there is a black and white answer to the question of torture and that President Bush’s signal to military personnel was “strangely nuanced.” Maybe if Sullivan had delved a little deeper into the discussion of torture he would have found that it is in fact a “strangely nuanced” subject. Instead what he should have written was, “President Bush’s really, really ridiculously qualified legal advisors (and DOJ attorneys) insisted that torture is defined as.….(insert very detailed, accurate legal explanation) Additionally, it is very clear from the President’s public statements that US personnel not engage in acts of torture. (DOJ Memo, 2) This fact is detailed in the following Memo’s introduction and various footnotes.

Many issues can not be separated into black and white. And it just so happens that torture is not one of those black and white issues. The issue has very complicated legal components. For an accurate description the legal explanation/definitions of “torture” see the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel Memo for James B. Comey Deputy Attorney General.

Legally the argument is about the definition of “torture.” As one of our former Presidents so aptly stated, “It depends on what the definition of “is”…is.” His logic also applies to the current argument. What “is” the definition of torture? Is it simply “inhumane” treatment such as being deprived of sleep? Or is it a “degrading” act such as being forced to stand nude in the close proximity of a female? For even the most astute attorneys, appropriately defining “torture” is a very difficult task. As this memo describes, “The critical issue is the degree of pain and suffering that the alleged torturer intended to, and actually did, inflict upon the victim. The more intense, lasting, or heinous the agony, the more likely it is to be torture.” (DOJ Memo, 9) Thus as the memo’s discussion indicates there is a “progression of seriousness” from forms of “ill-treatment” that are “degrading” to those that are “inhumane” and then to “torture.” Not all forms of “ill-treatment” can be defined as torture.

Therefore, it is apparent that accurately defining torture can be a major problem. Additionally it shows that some forms of “ill-treatment” may be allowed and even necessary in specific situations. But “torture” in its strict legal interpretation is never acceptable. That does not mean that US personnel can have their way with detainees, but it is very important to illustrate what constitutes torture and what does not.

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