By Alec W, Franklin & Marshall College
ISIS has been torturing, degrading, and taking the lives of thousands of humans throughout the world, which the majority of people would oppose. But why is it that so many people still support the torture of prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp? Why is it that sometimes torture is acceptable, but in other cases it is despised?
The Obama administration has done a lot to minimize the human rights violations occurring in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, but this could all be reversed soon. Recently, five prisoners were declared eligible to be resettled, but now the Trump administration announced that no prisoners will be leaving. Although the future of this inhumane detention center seemed to be coming to an end, Trump has made it clear that he has no intentions of closing the camp.
Guantanamo Bay, a United States territory located in the southeastern part of Cuba, has a reputation for using methods of torture against possible terrorists. Torture tactics that take place at Guantanamo violate the basic human rights that everyone should possess. The United States prides itself in the fact that everyone has inalienable rights, yet these rights are trampled on at Guantanamo. Waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and the use of extreme temperatures to torment prisoners may not be occurring in your own backyard, but they do just off the coast. This is a scary reality.
The overall purpose of torture techniques is to force prisoners to reveal information, but does this really achieve anything? Although Trump has said “absolutely I feel it works,” scientific studies would disagree. Neuroscientist Shane O’Mara wrote, “There is a vast literature on the effects of extreme stress on motivation, mood and memory, using both animals and humans. These techniques cause severe, repeated and prolonged stress, which compromises brain tissue supporting memory and executive function.” For example, waterboarding, a method of simulating drowning by pouring water over the prisoner’s face, is one of the many torture methods that are used in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. In his book, Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation, O’Mara discusses how the lack of oxygen makes it very difficult for the prisoners to function at a level necessary to provide the needed information. As a result, this torture method only makes it more difficult for a prisoner to recall information they may or may not possess.
Trump is so focused on combatting terrorists that he fails to recognize the degrading and inhumane nature of torture. He is blinded by Islamophobia, which leads him to hate and seek to harm those that oppose his beliefs. As a result, his built up anger that ensued from previous terrorist attacks drives him to go to extremes to try to prevent a future attack. His brutal stance with regards to Muslims has created an environment where people feel that it is acceptable to degrade those who share different beliefs. Recently, a friend of mine from high school was sexually assaulted and threatened by a veteran simply because she is Muslim. Since Trump now holds a position that greatly influences everyone, his anti-Muslim actions encourage others to violently display their hate and go beyond simply supporting torture in prisons.
I completely agree that we need to be cautious to prevent major terrorist attacks, but taking on animal-like characteristics by torturing prisoners will not solve this problem and will only create an us-versus-them mentality. One might ask how a prison guard can even go through with these inconceivable, savage actions. The answer to this question lies in the fact that they are ordered by those above them to gain information by using “enhanced interrogation.” As a result, even if they see the pain and suffering in their victim, they are able to pass off the blame to those who gave them the order, allowing themselves to temporarily put aside some of their guilt for abusing their power. This cycle of passing the blame off to relieve any sense of guilt is extremely dangerous and forces humans to abandon or change their morals. Stanley Milgram ran a controversial experiment that proved this exact point. The study showed that people tended to be obedient when they were reassured that they would not be at fault for any harm caused.
ISIS uses torture not to gain information, but to publically display their hate of western culture. If torture is not only ineffective, but counterproductive, is the use of torture in the United States just as immoral as the use by ISIS? As President of the United States, Trump can speak out to end torture and assure that the United States is not on the same moral level as ISIS. The ball is in his court: what is he going to do with it?
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