The UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel , Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment describes torture as,
“Any act in which extreme pain or suffering, whether physical or emotional, is intentionally inflicted on a person to extract information or a confession from him or from a third party” (Paust, 2005, p817).
The person shall be prosecuted for an act committed by him or a third party, or on suspicion of committing the act. Public authority typically stirs up such a person’s pain or misery.
Given the escalating levels of insecurity globally, security agencies in different countries use different forms of extracting confessions from criminals or suspects, and torture is the most prominent technique. Despite the serious consequences the procedure has on the victims or the alleged suspects, in many countries pain is legally recognized as a means to obtain evidence and deter crime (Paust, 2005, p821). Regardless of the degree of evil committed by an individual, using coercive methods to obtain consent from the inmate is immoral since, in addition to being inefficient and against religious principles, it is a violation of human rights.
All forms of torture are human rights abuses. According to Alfred (2006, p. 62), the prisoners retain their human rights, and the fundamental freedoms accept the conditions in the places of detention that the world provides. However, the prison terms do not exacerbate the misery present in the jail. Torture is one of the most common methods of violating the prisoners’ fundamental human rights. International law, however, protects all prisoners from any form of torture by prohibiting the practice. According to Alfred (2006, p69), prohibition is a matter of jus cogens, an authoritative principle of customary international law binding all countries around the world. The statute prohibits all types of punishment irrespective of the prevailing conditions, including periods of war, during civil or internal conflict or other extraordinary situations such as the imposition of a state of emergency (Alfred 2006).
Torture is a complete violation of a person’s body’s health, since it induces extreme emotional or physical distress through pain and mental trauma. This is entirely intolerable because, unlike other types of human abuse, torture is intentionally carried out by sanctioned individuals. To this end, the most critical element of torture is not just the suffering but also the fact that it is intentionally forced on a victim to accomplish a particular aim, such as extracting a person’s confession. Other forms of torture include depriving people of basic needs such as sleep, food , and other necessities that cause a lot of pain or misery to the deprived individual (Basoglu, 2009, p137).
While torture’s immediate effect is physical and mental pain, Basoglu (2009 , p 143) noted that another immediate impact and purpose of the procedure is to destroy a prisoner’s spirit or resoluteness. Torture is designed to demolish a strong person’s personality and make him or her adhere to the values of one authority figure. Autocratic and intolerant regimes in different nations use torture to subject leaders of the opposition, political , cultural, and minority groups to silence. This treatment breaches the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which articulates the fundamental rights of individuals in 30 articles. Torture violates human rights as it reduces the prisoner’s dignity, and by causing mental and physical suffering it undermines his right to life , liberty and security. Moreover, the universal human rights declaration forbids any sort of cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment (Parry, 2003, p241).
One of the most disgusting forms of torture is that of weakening the integrity of one person by another (Lawrence and Travis, 2004). Torture is a means of imposing power and control by causing pain and displaying scenarios of depression. The fact that torture is perpetrated by state apparatus, including police, military, security intelligence agencies, the very persons supposed to safeguard the safety and security of people, makes it even more disgusting. In many despotic countries, these state security agencies are used to curtail the freedom of expression of individual members and the media. To torment suspects to curtail the freedom to share their thoughts and beliefs is tantamount to denying them the freedom to their conscience.
Torture compromises the safety of the body psychologically and physically. Such psychological torture methods include fear and uncertainty. Terror entails the application of techniques such as displaying the tools of inflicting pain to a prisoner and threatening to use physical methods of forcing a confession (Harbury, 2005, p203). Many prisoners succumb to this torture technique by admitting guilt, often in cases where there is innocence to avoid more suffering. Confusion is the second common method of inflicting psychological torture to prisoners by subjecting them to conditions that hinder their logical judgment to their current state. Some of the methods applied to confuse prisoners, including putting them in dark cells and subjecting them to intense temperatures, with no natural lighting or conditioning. This treatment confuses the prisoners on the sense of time (Harbury, 2005, p217).
Other methods applied to confuse prisoners include feeding them at an irregular time, putting them in cells drenched with water, and depriving them of sleep. A series of these treatments are intended to make a prisoner lose self-confidence from the resulting confusion (Paust, 2005, p826). These forms of psychological torture could have long-term effects on the health state of the prisoners, including mental illnesses and disturbances that eventually affect the psychological and physical functioning of such individuals in the society. Physical torture entails the application of different methods, such as beatings, use of electric shock, systematic burning of sensitive body organs, squeezing of genitals among other methods such as spitting on the face or in the mouth of a prisoner in order to degrade his dignity.
Torture is also a gross violation of the right to privacy. The arrests of a person are usually accomplished by forced entry into private property, handcuffing the suspect, use of physical violence, and covering the face of the suspect with a blindfold. These practices are inhuman but are also in contravention with the universal declaration of human rights.
In this respect, torturing a prisoner is a violation of human rights because it damages the character of a person by subjecting him or her to intense physical and psychological suffering. In addition, it attempts to compel an individual to stop participating in any actions of resistance and forcing him or her to collaborate with the authority (Parry, 2003, p250).
Torturing prisoners is against the established beliefs of many religious and contemporary spiritual organizations. Many world-renowned monotheistic religious organizations, such as Christianity and Islam, do not condone torture and any form of violence towards a human being in the religious doctrine. Besides religious beliefs, most traditional practices do not advocate torture of suspects in order to extract or to force a confession. Though crime is abhorred in virtually all beliefs, heavy punishment was usually meted to the offending party after proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the person could have committed the crime. Most monotheistic beliefs advocate for extreme caution in dealing with criminals or suspected offenders. According to Gudjonnson (2003, p41), forgiveness and tolerance to offenders are virtues that dominate most monotheistic religious beliefs.
In Christianity, for instance, torture is clearly documented in the trial and subsequent crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Though Christian teachings allege that Jesus had not done anything wrong to warrant persecution, he was tortured and forced to acknowledge the false allegations against him. The entire episode of Jesus’ crucifixion does not portray torture as a humane method of treating suspected criminals. Instead, it portrays torture as a backward practice used by people in authority to persecute non-conformists and principled people in the society. In addition, most monotheistic beliefs consider torture as an unethical practice, were powerful but paranoid people in authority abuse the rights of innocent persons. The people in authority fear being challenged, and hence they resort to torture as a method of silencing the hurting but the true voice of the people.
Similarly, polytheistic religious beliefs such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Shintoism do not tolerate the torture of prisoners or sinners to extract a confession or to compel individuals to conform to the authority.
Both monotheistic and polytheistic religious beliefs respect the individual free will, where an individual is at liberty to choose whatever belief or conviction to follow without the pressure from the religious or spiritual leaders (Deborah, 2006, p 59). In this regard, polytheistic and monotheistic beliefs associate torture of human beings to a lack of respect and dignity towards creation. Christianity and Islam beliefs hold that man should not revenge for any evil committed to him by another person but wait for Devine intervention to punish the offender. Therefore, from monotheistic, polytheistic, and atheistic beliefs, the torture of fellow beings is unacceptable.
Applying torture is not an effective method of extracting information, because it entails the removal of all possible personal controls in an individual in order to expose his or her vulnerability to an authority (Gudjonnson, 2003, p 60). The exposure to multiple and intense forms of stressors trigger powerful distress in the interrogated person who ultimately induces a sense of hopelessness to the victim. Therefore, the objective of the torturers is for the victim to attain this state where the prisoner is utterly hopeless and vulnerable to making confessions regardless of their authenticity in order to avoid any further form of suffering. According to Alfred(2006, p36), interrogation, even without the use of physical violence, is coercive and traumatic experience because it is conducted with a purpose, intent, and subjection to varying degrees of traumatic experiences in order to break the resistance or resoluteness of an individual.
According to Lawrence and Travis (2004, p119), about 20% of people detained in a normal police interrogation center experience high levels of stress attributed to uncertainty about their fate and lack of control of the immediate environment. Some of these prisoners usually develop posttraumatic stress disorders that could even result in suicide attempts. In this case, torture is an ineffective form of extracting confessions from suspects because it is conducted in a state where the individual is not mentally astute, and he or she is under duress. According to Basoglu (2009, p75), people with strong commitments to political, religious cause or belief show high resilience to any form of physical and psychological torture, and hence any information obtained from such individuals is normally unreliable.
According to Gudjonnson (2003, p63), applying torture to collect intelligence information or force a confession produces faulty information because the victim admits to what the interrogator wishes to hear. In this regard, torture produces false intelligence because the detainees agree to anything in order to stop the pain. This distracts the security agencies from their law enforcement duties as they try to investigate the forced confessions from the prisoners. Basoglu (2009, p137) noted that the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo bay did not result in a significant drop in the number of terror attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan. The number of terror attacks in the form of suicide bombers increased dramatically, and sectarian violence rose to unprecedented levels that almost triggered civil unrest in those countries when the reports about the prison were leaked to the public. Torturing terror suspects provided the militants with a cause for massive recruitment of militants to kill American soldiers and citizens in different parts around the globe Basoglu (2009, p152).
Torture also exposes troops of the offending country in foreign missions to more danger because of the perception that such soldiers are inhuman and do not deserve any better treatment if arrested or detained. It is apparent that torture is not an effective method of gathering intelligence information, and it is morally, legally, and ethically wrong. Criminal psychologists recommend the application of a better method of interrogation that entails building confidence between the interrogator and the offender (Paust, 2005, p 859). However, the effectiveness of this method is still doubtful in a global environment where suspicions between countries, religious beliefs, and convictions have existed for a long time. There is no method of interrogation that is completely efficient and humane, but it is inacceptable, inefficient, unreliable and a gross breach of human rights to use torture to obtain a confession from prisoners.
- Alfred, M. A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror. New York: Holt paperbacks, 2006.
- Basoglu, M. “A Multivariate Contextual Analysis of Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatments: Implications for an Evidence-Based Definition of Torture.”
- American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 79.2(2009): 130-149.
- Deborah, P. “Finding Effective Constraints on Executive Power: Interrogation, Detention and Torture.” Indian Law Journal, 81(2006): 1255-95.
- Gudjonnson, G. The Psychology of Interrogations and Confessions: A Handbook. Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons, 2003.
- Harbury, J. Truth, Torture and the American Way: The History and the Consequences of the US Involvement in Torture. Boston: Beacon Press, 2005.
- Lawrence, S and Travis, J. The New Landscape of Imprisonment: Mapping America’s Prison Expansion. Washington, DC: Urban Institute, 2004.
- Parry, J. “What is torture, are we doing it and what if we are?” University of Pittsburg Law Review, 64(2003): 223-268.
- Paust, J. “Executive Plans and Authorizations to Violate International Law Concerning Treatment and Interrogation of Detainees.” Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, 43(2005): 808-868.