ENC2300 Advanced Composition and Communication



Vincent Iacopino

It Should Not Be Permissible to Torture

        Suspected Terrorists to Gather Information         

Department of English




Vincent Iacopino, M.D., Ph.D., is director of research for

Physicans for Human Rights. This essay was originally paired

with the preceding essay when it was first published in CQ

Researcher on April 18, 2003 .


Torture cannot be justified by any government, for any reason, de­spite recent reports of U.S. 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 United States 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 U.S. is now accused of committing in its “war on terrorism.”


Those 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 legiti­macy. Also, U.S. sanctioning of any form of torture will escalate its already widespread use.


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 permit.


Labeling torture as a “stress and duress” interrogation technique does not alter the brutality that it represents.

“Ticking bomb” scenarios are naive, abstract fantasies that serve to assuage the moral conscience of perpetrators and collaborators.


Acts 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.


The United States 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.


Topics for Critical Thinking and Writing


1.   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.

2.   What methods of interrogation of suspected terrorists do you think Iacopino would tolerate? Suppose they fail—then what?

3.   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.