Breach of Law, Breach of Security – Torture

By Alejandro J. Beutel
Minaret of Freedom Institute

Recently, the New York Times ran an article covering criticism from experts commissioned by the Intelligence Science Board (ISB) of current interrogation techniques. Although the article notes that, “The science board critique comes as ethical concerns about harsh interrogations are being voiced by current and former government officials…” the ISB’s concern has little to do with ethics.

Their concern, expected of professionals in their field, revolves around a single question: Does it help US national security? Their answer was a clear “no.” Not only does torture harm US security interests by allowing terrorists like Bin Laden to use it as a rallying cry, it is useless as an interrogation tool. The latter perspective was one of the central conclusions the ISB came to in a 372-page report, publicly released in January 2007, called, Educing Information (PDF).

However for those familiar with the basics of intelligence and torture, this conclusion is no shock. Both medical researchers and professional interrogators have repeatedly stressed the ineffectiveness of torture–in both its physical and psychological forms–as an interrogation technique and have the empirical evidence to prove it. The information gleaned from highly coercive measures is outdated or false. The most notoriously false piece of information based on torture was Ibn al-Shaykh Libi’s coerced confession of ties between Al-Qaeda and the then-regime of Saddam Hussein.

The only slightly plausible justification for using torture is the “ticking time bomb scenario” supported by academics like Bruce Hoffman and Alan Dershowitz. However the likelihood of such a scenario, full of unrealistic assumptions, is slim to none. Even if such a highly implausible situation were to occur, experts find that it is equally (PDF) unlikely torture would be quick or effective enough to elicit the correct and necessary amount of information to prevent the terrorist plot at the last moment.

Amid all of the security-based arguments we should not forget that torture is not only ineffective and counterproductive, it is also illegal. While certain Bush administration officials may believe torture is legally defensible, international law would dictate otherwise. Even if the Bush administration were to invoke national sovereignty to flout international legal frameworks, like the Geneva Conventions–which prohibits “mutilation, cruel treatment and torture” of detainees–the US Uniform Military Code of Justice and the War Crimes Act of 1996 make it a crime to violate the Geneva Conventions. A 1994 Federal anti-torture statute strengthens these positions by making it a crime for any US national who, “commits or attempts to commit” torture.

Torture, like other hair-brained countermeasures against terrorism is both ineffective and illegal. Rather than dismissing the rule of law as a weakness that restricts America’s ability to fight terrorists, it should be seen as its shield against terrorism. As the example of torture demonstrates, by not abiding by the rule of law, we lose significant tactical and strategic advantage in our ability to bring criminals like Bin Laden to justice. Victory against terrorists is not won solely through military/intelligence tactical means, but also through greater ethical conduct that is mandated by our laws prohibiting torture, spying on someone without a warrant, detaining someone on the basis of their skin color or religion, etc.

Wa Allahu ‘Alim.



Alejandro Beutel is program assistant for the Minaret of Freedom Institute with expertise in religious freedom, democratization and security issues.






One response to “Breach of Law, Breach of Security – Torture”

  1. […] After years of unethical and ineffective torture interrogations by the CIA against 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other Al-Qaeda operatives, the FBI is slowly building its own cases against the militants because the CIA’s interrogations would be inadmissible in a US court: […]

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