United States government personnel have been accused of using torture, both inside and outside the United States borders in order to obtain information from terror suspects. With the recent declaration of the US war on terror, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), with the help of other European countries have detained suspects without involving the judicial process. They have participated in illegal apprehensions and have transported victims of rendition, who are hooded and chained, for interrogations and ill-treatment in undisclosed locations around the world (PBS).
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This has been utter violation of key conventions such as the Geneva Convention. It comprises of four treaties and three further additional protocols that endeavor to set the international law under which basic humanitarian freedoms are secured for victims of war. This is comprehensive since it deals with all issues ranging from the captives in case of war, treatment of the wounded and civilian protection in a war zone. In this particular context, it is vital to look at Article 27 as established in the Fourth Geneva Convention that secures the rights of the civilians and the public such as the innocent Afghani taxi driver who died at the hands of US military personnel.
"Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honour, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs. ....Without prejudice to the provisions relating to their state of health, age and sex, all protected persons shall be treated with the same consideration by the Party to the conflict in whose power they are, without any adverse distinction based, in particular, on race, religion or political opinion."
Taxi to the Dark Side is a controversial documentary movie released in 2007 as directed by Alex Gibney which won the Best Documentary Feature in the Academy Award. Its focus is chiefly on the murder of Dilawar, an Afghan Taxi driver who was beaten to death by American soldiers while he was been held at the Bagram Air Base under extrajudicial detention. It provides an in-depth analysis into the policy on torture and interrogation as carried out by the United States. In particular, it raises questions as to the effectiveness of torture in interrogation as used by the CIA and its link to sensory deprivation. Attempts to eradicate torture have not only been seen in the opposition to these in the military itself but also by the Congress in attempts to uphold the Geneva Convention. In the film, the various forms of torture against Dilawar are evident such as the black hood over his head that limited breathing, strikes by use of the knee on the abdomen, shoving against walls, multiple peroneal strikes, his bare feet being stepped on, being pulled by his beard, kicks on his groin, being slammed against tables and being chained to the ceiling which deprived him of sleep just to name but a few. This prompted a series of investigations as to the case on humanitarian rights.
The perpetrator such as Glendale Wells, a lead investigator specialist pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two months in military prison. Several other soldiers however escaped custodial sentences resulting in heavy criticism by the Human Rights Watch. The leniency in dealing with such cases as evidenced by the charges that were dropped against Willie V. Brand and Capt. Christopher Beiring who the latter was also reduced in rank, has been questioned. This illustrates that the United States, though a signatory member of the Geneva Convention, is not keen on upholding the statute as stated there-in. Further investigation into the Dilawar case in conjunction with two other murder cases on Afghan prisoners were carried out by the CBS which revealed that torture orders emanated from higher authority. Consequently, Selena M. Salcedo, a sergeant with the 519th military was charged in court and pleaded guilty to assaulting Dilawar. However, she was only reduced in rank, docked in salary for four months and issued with a letter of reprimand.
The U.S government personnel have taken advantage of the illegal detention of the suspects, while doing nothing to alert their families of their whereabouts, which is in itself a violation of human rights. The secret prisons ran by the CIA in different locations around the world are used to hold detainees who are victims of forced disappearance, and who are held in conditions amounting to torture or other brutal, inhuman or degrading treatment. Torture within the US territorial boundaries is illegal and punishable but it is difficult for the prosecution of abuse occurring outside the US. The US government personnel have taken advantage of this situation to create illegal prisons in other locations around the world (Frosch).
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a declaration which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly ,which represents the first universal expression of rights to which all human beings are entitled to, has banned the use of torture in all forms. The United States is also a party to various international treaties such as the American Convention on Human Rights, which prohibit the use of torture. International law mandates that any individual involved in ordering, allowing or applying torture to another individual is criminally liable under the principle of command responsibility.
The supporters of use of torture argue that it is effective especially in the context of desperation. They argue that when attacked or with an imminent attack, it is acceptable for an administration to use desperate measures in order to protect its society. They argue that it is an essential and effective tool in counterterrorism which has yielded success in several situations. A lack of knowledge of the enemy capabilities and intentions forces people to think of worst-case scenarios. Given the reasonable fears, collecting intelligence rapidly becomes the highest priority which often leads to the authorization of torture among other measures.
According to a recent report by psychologists, in most circumstances, torture does not yield dependable information and is in reality counterproductive in interrogations which are aimed at producing the maximum amount of accurate information in the least amount of time. Popular assumptions to the success of torture, in fact, conflict with the doctrine of psychology. They maintained that, even in the most imperative situations, torture should not be considered a viable option as the involuntary circumstances of the disclosure would greatly undermine the integrity of the obtained information.
Though the US intelligent service continues to deny, it is true that is uses torture as a response to massive intelligence failure. As with other exceptional measures, a major problem with torture is that at best, it is useful in extraordinary situations. In the hands of bureaucracies, all such measures, including torture, in due course become a routine, and what was initially a response to unprecedented dangers become a process. Torture is both degrading and hideous to both the victim and the perpetrator and has always scarred societies that allow it. There is no solid evidence that torture and the application of extreme coercion are effective in obtaining useful and intelligent information from the victims. Therefore, there is need to develop modern and more humane techniques of interrogation.