Steven A. Isaacson

Torture is Torture

Amidst the Senate Intelligence Committee’s release of its torture report, “The Central Intelligence Agency Detention and Interrogation Program, Including Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT),” the fire underneath public dialogue around the United States’ use of torture, has been rekindled once again.


Republican Arizona Senator John McCain, labeled as a war hawk by many, has historically been a strong voice in opposition against the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

He says, “[Torture] stained our national honor, did much harm, and little practical good. What might come as a surprise, not just to our enemies, but to many Americans, is how little these practices did to aid our efforts to bring 9/11 culprits to justice and to find and prevent terrorist attacks today.” Senator McCain added, “That could be a real surprise, since it contradicts the many assurances provided by intelligence officials on the record and in private that enhanced interrogation techniques were indispensable in the war against terrorism.”

Not only is torture ineffective, it is immoral. What are referred to as “enhanced interrogation techniques,” are nothing of the sort. These techniques are dehumanizing, they effectively generate detainees who cooperate less and less with each strike, and they produce ineffective and sometimes inaccurate intelligence, if any intelligence at all. Several senior interrogators or “’gators,” as they are called in the business, have denounced the use of torture in acquiring useful information. It has been documented that, when the moment counts, torture is polarizing and misguiding in the interrogator’s quest for the truth. In his book, How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq, Former Senior Interrogator Matthew Alexander describes in great detail how he and the team he led used new techniques in getting answers out of captured terrorists.

These techniques were designed to be painless and understanding, moral and effective. As Alexander says in a piece in The Washington Post, “Over the course of this renaissance in interrogation tactics, our attitudes changed. We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shiite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq.”


George Tenet, former CIA director, told Scott Pelley of 60 Minutes, “We don’t torture people…You know, the image that’s been portrayed is we sat around the campfire and said, ‘Oh, boy, now we go get to torture people.’ We don’t torture people.”

Supporters of enhanced interrogation techniques often remark that EITs are not torture, and in fact are used in only high-profile cases because these high-level officials are hardened, and will never give up any information under any other circumstances. But, as Alexander explains, when one sees the person one is interrogating as a real person, and not as an object at one’s disposal to physically abuse, you are able to truly visualize behind their motives, get inside their head as to what they are thinking, and negotiate rationally and logically with them.

Required for this, however, is a deep, rich understanding of the fabric engrained in the detainees’ culture. Then, by building rapport and respect for their situation (because in many cases Iraqi detainees were simply part of al-Qaeda for the money), they will be more willing to give up information.

It has become somehow unpatriotic to question these practices. But it is quite the opposite. Staying silent while our own government and many governments around the world continue to employ these practices everyday, is in the end, harming their own government and their own people.

It is thought that the torture techniques the CIA employs, keeps Americans safe. On the contrary, it most certainly does not. It tarnishes the face of the United States, gives the enemy a reason to torture Americans, and ultimately boosts the morale of the enemy.

Because when one seriously arrives at the center of the issue, torture is torture for everyone involved.

About the Author
Steven Isaacson is a sophomore at Clark University, studying Political Science and Women's and Gender Studies. A student fellow with The David Project, Steven firmly believes that the most efficient way to achieve success as an advocate is through active listening and mutual respect. A Pro-Israel advocate on his Clark campus in central MA, Steven faces new challenges everyday in bringing two or more seemingly dissimilar groups together for discourse.
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