America: Land of the just?

The torture issue threatens our country’s commitment to justice.

The United States is a country built upon justice. Despite the shortcomings, we have a reasonably well-functioning justice system. Our national leaders call upon other nations to follow the rule of law, as our country does. And the founding of our country began in response to unjust colonial practices of the British Empire.

Unfortunately we are courting a position today that threatens our commitment to justice. Poll results released by CNN this past Tuesday indicate that only 69 percent of Americans consider simulated drowning, or waterboarding, to be a form of torture. But more disturbingly, 58 percent of respondents thought that “the U.S. government should be allowed to use the procedure to try to get information from suspected terrorists”.

There are many grounds for rejecting the use of torture, but two reasons demonstrate that torture is an unjust and illegal practice. First, the use of torture is prohibited by international laws (e.g., Geneva Conventions, United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights), to which the United States is a signatory. Second, torture can at present be applied to prisoners of the United States based upon suspicion of guilt, before they have been proven guilty by a court of law. Torturing suspected terrorists that have not been tried by a court of law increases the likelihood that innocent people who are merely suspects will be unjustly tortured. The U.S. Army Field Manual on Interrogation prohibits the use of torture, but other U.S. personnel are not presently obligated to follow the manual. Legislation has now passed in the House and is moving through the Senate that would require all U.S. personnel to follow this manual, including the Central Intelligence Agency. The techniques prohibited by this legislation include many of those that were in use at Abu Ghraib.

While Democratic presidential candidates and Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain condemn the use of torture, other candidates openly support it. That means citizens will be casting their vote on whether they support the use of torture, along with the other issues.

Beyond just the next election, I hope that our society reasserts its value of justice and reject the unjust, inhumane, and illegal practice of torture.

Curt Nordgaard is a University staff member. Please send comments to [email protected]