Iacopino, M.D., Ph.D., is director of research for
for Human Rights. This essay was originally paired
the preceding essay when it was first published in CQ
April 18, 2003
cannot be justified by any government, for any reason, despite
recent reports of
officials and others attempting to justify such practices.
Torture is unequivocally prohibited in international law. This
legal and moral imperative was established in the aftermath of
Nazi war crimes as a rhetorical statement of moral and human
identity. Under the U.N. Convention Against Torture, the
is obligated to prohibit torture, ensure prompt and impartial
investigations and prosecute perpetrators. Additionally, on
countless occasions the State Department’s Country Report on
Human Rights Practices has criticized governments that torture,
in some cases the same practices the
is now accused of committing in its “war on terrorism.”
now advocating the use of torture risk undermining principles
of justice and the rule of law in what appears to be an
unfortunate public display of arrogance and ignorance:
Torture does not make any one person or society safer or
more secure. States that torture undermine their authority and
sanctioning of any form of torture will escalate its already
Those currently arguing in the abstract for torture only
under “special circumstances” or with “humane
limitations” know very little of the horror they are
prescribing. Even seemingly innocuous methods of torture such
as hooding can be terrorizing — for example, when combined
with a mock execution or other psychological methods.
Moreover, hypothetical “limits” on torture cannot be
ensured in the absence of independent monitoring of all
interactions with detainees and investigation and prosecution of
all allegations of torture—conditions that torturers do not
Labeling torture as a “stress and duress”
interrogation technique does not alter the brutality that it
bomb” scenarios are naive, abstract fantasies that serve to
assuage the moral conscience of perpetrators and collaborators.
of terror must be prevented and punished. To consider using acts
of torture that the world has deemed unacceptable under any circumstance
is profoundly disturbing. Torture will never serve the interests
of justice because it undermines the dignity of us all. We all
lose when the “war on terrorism” ends up threatening the
protection of human rights.
must be neither silent nor, in any way, complicit with such
practices, or, indeed, we risk losing that which we seek to preserve
— our humanity.
for Critical Thinking and Writing
What is a “‘ticking bomb’ scenario” (para. 2)? In
250 words or less, write such a scenario. Why does Iacopino
describe such hypotheticals as “naive, abstract fantasies”?
Do you agree with his evaluation of those hypotheticals? Explain
in 500 words.
What methods of interrogation of suspected terrorists do
you think Iacopino would tolerate? Suppose they fail—then
It is often said that terrorists have forfeited any right
to be treated humanely by virtue of their readiness to murder
the innocent. Iacopino evidently rejects this reasoning (even
though he never mentions it). Write a short essay explaining how
you think Iacopino might respond to this argument.