Why do Countries Still Use Torture to Get Information?

By Ava Ikbal, Opinion Writer

“Nearly half of Americans in a global survey said they believed an enemy fighter could be tortured to extract information”. With so many supporters of torture in powerful countries such as the US, we should ask why something that is prohibited by international law is approved by so many people around the world. Furthermore, torture includes many issues including states justifying their actions, the definition of torture and its extent, and the worldwide perspective. By discussing these issues, we can try to understand why torture should be universally condemned and why institutions should find other means of getting information from convicted enemies.

International law deems torture as a war crime and “treaties and other instruments ban the use of torture in absolute and unqualified terms”. Even from the human rights perspective, we can agree that torture is something that should be highly vilified. However, this perspective alone does not stop a government from enforcing it.  After the Algerian War in 1971, General Massu, admitted that torture had been used under his command to receive knowledge on terrorist activities. He stated that this was “the only way he could get advance knowledge of terrorist plans and avert the deaths of innocent people.” The Israeli Commission had a similar mindset when they approved ‘moderate physical pressure’ in counter-terrorist investigations. Any form of torture is still torture; no matter the wording a government tries to use to justify it.

One of the pertinent issues that arise with the topic of torture include how states will often justify violence against others to extract information using the ‘ticking time bomb’ example. It involves a suspect refusing to relay the information to defuse a bomb and the only way to receive this information is to ‘employ physical means.’ This example was especially used after the 9/11 attacks and when justifying violence at Guantanamo Bay where many prisoners were tortured mentally and physically to gain information on terrorist organizations.

Another issue is the problem of defining torture and its extent. “According to the US Justice Department Memorandum, ‘physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” However, this definition alone is not universally accepted and opinio juris, or international law, cannot be applied either.

Since many people approve of torture, the issue of perspective arises. Governments of powerful countries such as the US lack to act on the issue of torture. President Obama even admitted to torture under his administration, but lacked to prosecute responsible officials. Additionally, President Trump has stated that “torture works” and that he will reinstate waterboarding. When a government remains complacent with torture, its citizens will too. International crime deems torture as a war crime and yet, Trump think it is okay to reinstate waterboarding, going against international opinion.

Torture is a difficult subject for many reasons and until there is a universal mindset that torture is wrong in any instance, progress with this issue cannot be made. Governments not only need to condemn torture, but they need to stop enforcing these actions on a  worldwide level. With technological and societal advancements, there should be other forms of receiving information from someone rather than violence. Violence begets violence and the cycle needs to stop.


A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, February 27th print edition.

Contact Ava at



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