16:20 GMT17 May 2021
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    Is Torture Effective and Can It Be Justified?

    Level Talk with John Harrison
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    President Trump, in his first TV interview, said that torture "absolutely" works and that the US should "fight fire with fire." Trump is reported to be preparing an executive order that will reinstate "black sites," where torture is allowed. Many Americans criticize the use of torture because it contradicts the constitution, and it is ineffective.

    This debate is of importance to us all, as other states could well emulate what America does.

    John Harrison is joined by J. Wesley Boyd, MD, PhD, Associate Professor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, staff psychiatrist at Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) where he is also the founder and co-director of the Human Rights and Asylum Clinic. Wesley Boyd is also a faculty member in the Bioethics Center at Harvard Medical School. Our second guest is Professor, and retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Addicott. Mr Addicott is Professor of Law & Director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University School of Law in Texas.

    Is waterboarding torture?

    Wesley Boyd says that it definitely is. "People feel like they are going to die, even when CIA operatives were experimenting on one another in the dark days of our War on Terror they were not able themselves to be water boarded for more than several seconds." Professor Addicott strongly disagreed with this, and said that people use the word torture for everything these days; "but if you go back to the [1984] Convention on Torture, degrading and humiliating treatment is not 'torture,' that's called 'ill treatment…' the only people who can define whether a particular technique is torture is a competent court, and I have testified to the US Senate that waterboarding is not torture. It has been used as a political piñata in this country… but if you look at how that technique was developed, it was used in a more severe degree over 20,000 times on our own soldiers in training, and that is where they got the idea from. The technique was approved by the Department of Justice at the time and they decided that it did not fall above the standard or equal to the standard of severe physical or mental pain or suffering. So no, I don't think it is torture." Wesley Boyd points out that: "the Bush administration redefined through memos, one of them written by John Yoo that essentially said that something can only be considered torture if it brings someone near to the point of death, and that is completely contrary to international standards."

    Host John Harrison points out that the use of torture goes against the essence of the 8th amendment of the US Constitution, the US Army Field Manual, the Geneva Conventions and other international accords. Professor Addicott insists that the US does not use torture, but other countries such as Britain in Northern Ireland has done. He furthermore makes it clear that the people who torture is used on are not prisoners, they are "detainees." However Wesley Boyd argues that: "it certainly mattered under the Bush administration to call people 'detainees' not 'prisoners of war'because then they are not subject to the Geneva Conventions. The Geneva Conventions are very clear that we are supposed to treat prisoners humanely and respectfully, they are not expected to give any information other than name, rank, serial number and branch of military service. They are supposed to receive adequate medical care, good food, and not be humiliated… What we have done in the name of this War on Terror is inhumane and really needs rethinking and it is very sad to me that our current administration is even talking about going half way back there." To this, Professor Addicott says: "This is not true because they are not prisoners of war, they are unlawful enemy combatants according to the 2006 and 2009 Military Commission Acts."

    Is torture effective?

    The second part of the programme concerns the actual effectiveness of torture. There is a body of scientific evidence which argues that people being tortured do not provide accurate information, in that detainees will say whatever is needed to stop the torture, and what they do say is unlikely to be accurate because torture techniques often effect memory capabilities, as well as time and space perceptions of those being tortured. Another argument against the effectiveness of torture in today's world is that present day operatives do not have more than the amount of information they need to fulfil the particular mission they may be engaged in, and this may not be of great use. Wesley Boyd says that "when people are being tortured they are going to basically say whatever they think their torturers and interrogators want to hear in order for the torture to stop. Additionally, in the War on Terror, reports have said that no usable information was obtained though enhanced interrogation techniques that was not obtained through other means." Professor Addicott says that "I've been to Guantanamo Bay, I've talked to the chief interrogators down there, I was in the Special Forces, I know all about enhanced interrogation techniques… torture works, that's why it's been used for 5,000 years. If the subject knows something and you start pulling fingernails out, in the ticking time bomb scenario, you don't have the luxury of time to establish a long hot shower with these people, and establish a relationship and all this other nonsense, if you've got 20 minutes before the bomb goes off, you don't have that option." At this point, Wesley Boyd interjects and says: "there has never been a sticking time bomb scenario in real life. It happens on TV shows like 24 but this has never occurred." A heated debate ensues, at the end of which Professor Addicott seems to indicate that waterboarding is not that unpleasant at all, and that conditions in Guantanamo Bay are actually quite comfortable. Another sharp debate ensues.

    Is the use of torture more prevalent in Weak States?

    Professor Boyd responds to this by saying that it is "sad and appalling that our President is calling for a regression to barbarity. I fully agree that to go down that path is to sort of step aside as a strong state and to devolve fully into chaos and barbarity." In contrast, Professor Addicott, an advocate of American exceptionalism, states he believes very much that the US is a strong state: "We are the best country that the world has ever seen."

    Torture or "ill-treatment"? We'll leave it to you to decide…

    We'd love to get your feedback at radio@sputniknews.com.

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    waterboarding, torture, Guantanamo
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