The One Absolute

I’ve always believed my mind saw everything in shades of grey. When teachers would prompt my classes asking if there was anything, anything, that we saw as absolutely bad or absolutely good my answer was always no. There is nothing. Each time, however, one concept eluded my mind. There is one thing in this world that, in my opinion, is absolutely, under all circumstances, bad: torture.

In order to effectively lay out my point, I first need to define torture. As I see it, torture is the act of physically harming another, with the intent to do so, past a moderately tolerable amount of pain. Torture is also psychologically harming someone, with the intent to do so, past a moderately tolerable amount of pain.  Torture leaves scars mentally and physically. Torture is the interrogation techniques used, not only by soldiers in the Middle Ages, but recently by United States soldiers at Bagram Air Base, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo Bay as portrayed in Taxi to the Dark Side. Torture is forcing someone to stand for hours on end, subjecting them sleep deprivation, fierce dogs barking in their faces, and forcing them do psychologically scaring actions. Torture is sending shocks of electricity through their body, branding, and cutting them. Torture is forcing someone to watch another they care about experience pain or die. Torture comes in many forms, and all forms of torture are cruel.

There are those who say it is a necessary evil of interrogation; that it is the only way to get information from the worst criminals. I do not believe this to be true. An article in The New Yorker about the United States outsourcing torture tells the story of multiple innocents who gave false confessions in an attempt to stop the pain. A study at the Institute of Neuroscience in Dublin and the seven research psychologists and four recently retired, senior U.S. Army interrogators featured in a Georgetown University News article came to the same conclusion. They all agree that often people experiencing any form of extreme pain will say anything to get it to stop. They will say what they think their torturer wants to hear, regardless of the validity of the statement. There is no evidence that torture, though bringing results, brings valid ones.

There is also evidence that torture is not the most effective technique when convincing another to talk. Jerry Giorgio, a NYPD interrogator who is famous getting results, does not subscribe to the ideas of torture. “Everybody knows the Good Cop/Bad Cop routine, right?” Giorgio says in an article in Atlantic Monthly. “Well, I’m always the Good Cop. I don’t work with a Bad Cop, either. Don’t need it. You want to know the truth? The truth is—and this is important—everybody down deep wants to tell his or her story. It’s true. No matter how damaging it is to them, no matter how important it is for them to keep quiet, they want to tell their story. If they feel guilty, they want to get it off their chest. If they feel justified in what they did, they want to explain themselves.”

In the same article, Michael Koubi, former chief interrogator for Israel’s General Security Services, described methods he would use instead of torture. He would walk into a hallway full of newly captured hooded men and ask how many wished to cooperate. No matter how many actually did, he would state a number in the majority, start with one who wished to cooperate, and tell the others he would get to them shortly. The men would often jump on the bandwagon.

Another time, he had two extraordinarily tough men who they were certain were part of a terrorist cell. The men were prepared for torture, and able to resist it. Koubli decided to try another tactic. He told one man that he was done interrogating him because his partner had decided to cooperate. Then he went to talk to the partner in the hall, telling him, loud enough for the first man to hear, that they were done with him and ready to release him. They just needed him to respond loudly and clearly “yes” to some facts. He then ran though a list of the man’s demographics; quiet enough that original man couldn’t make out the questions. He could just hear his partner answering loudly and clearly “yes” to all of the questions. When they returned to the first man, they asked him if he might have further details that could save him. Thinking his partner had confessed, he in turn began to do so to save himself.

These instances show us that torture is not a necessary evil. It is not the only way to get information, and it is not the most effective way. Why would someone want to help another who has put them through such an ordeal by giving the captor information they don’t want them to have? Such an ordeal would likely only solidify the idea that their way, their life, is the better one. It would solidify, or implant, the idea that their torturer, and this person’s culture, is bad. It is a culture to be feared, hated, and hurt. Not helped. At the end of the film, Taxi to the Dark Side estimated that over 83,000 have been taken in for questioning. Of those people, it is estimated that only about 1% were insurgents. Now, because of our treatment, they all likely are.

Torture is an evil that helps no one. It creates enemies, yields false information, and hurts the psyche of the interrogator too. It does not become us to treat other people so harshly, no matter what they have done. They are still people and no person deserves such treatment. No one.

I was raised on the Golden Rule; do unto others as you wish be done unto you. When the United States tortures their prisoners, we do not only malign our own reputation, hurt our soldiers psyche, and possibly send other soldiers into harm’s way through false information. We also send a message that torture is ok. We send a message that if another group captures our soldiers it is alright to torture them for information. Is that the treatment we wish to subject our defenders to? Is that the world we want to live in? I think not. Torture has no place in our world. None. I truly believe that all people in the world are better than that.


Bowden, Mark. “The Dark Art of Interrogation.” Atlantic Monthly Oct 2003.

Mayer, Jane. “Outsourcing Torture.” The New Yorker 14 Feb 2005

O’Mara, Shane. “On The Imposition Of Torture, An Extreme Stressor State, To Extract Information From Memory: A Baleful Consequence Of Folk Cognitive Neurobiology.” Zeitschrift Für Psychologie/Journal Of Psychology 219.3 (2011): 159-166. PsycARTICLES. Web. 12 Mar. 2012.

“Psychologists, Former Interrogators Discuss Torture.”  Georgetown University News 11 Mar 2008.

Taxi to the Dark Side. Dir Gibney, Alex.  Jigsaw Productions. 13 June 2008.  DVD.


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