There Is Only One Way To Stop Torture

 The US Senate Intelligence Committee recently put out a report on the Bush Administration’s torture program. It’s not pretty. There wasn’t anything that shocking about it. Much of that information came out when we learned about prisoner abuse at Abu Gharib. I learned a lot about what happened at Abu Gharib from watching The Ghosts of Abu Gharib. ( While we knew about waterboarding, the report was horrifyingly detailed with gruesome specifics. It is hard not to cry when reading about what was done to people at the hands of our citizens. The suffering imposed among thousands of people is indefensible. The long-term impact of torture is immense and long-lasting, particularly psychological torture. Some were raped and others even lost their lives due to torture. The treatment was inhumane, cruel, barbaric, unethical, and cringe-worthy. Those interested may read a hard to read account in the Guardian. (

 It is outrageous that there are still people defending the use of torture, even after knowing exactly what was done. In fact, most Americans support the use of torture post 9/11. ( I think most people do not understand that torture provides no good intelligence or information that will stop something bad from happening, rendering it ineffective. When someone is in pain they will say anything to make it stop. When someone is under psychologically distress they will likely give bad information. Torture is actually the most unreliable way to gain information. Even if torture did get good information, it’s still wrong. Morally and ethically it is wrong to hurt other human beings, even if it will potentially save another person’s life (utilitarianism). I do not believe the ends justify the means. Process matters. The way we do things matters. We cannot say, “Well, this person was inhumane so we will use inhumane tactics against them.” Dehumanization is wrong no matter who does it. No life is more or less valuable than any other, no matter what they did or didn’t do. Torturing others makes us become that which we say we are against. Why don’t people see the hypocrisy in that?

 The torture report also makes it clear that torture did not produce reliable and helpful information. In fact torture is counterproductive because it makes people less likely to give good information. It hurts our reputation around the world and is psychologically damaging to those tortured and those who torture. It makes it more likely that America becomes a target of retaliation. Retaliation is a serious problem. Torture increases blowback against us as a country. When a country tortures it increases recruitment of angry people who are looking to stop such a menacing force and prevent more of their people from being harmed. Can we blame them?

 The US violated the Geneva Convention, human rights and the UN Convention against Torture, which it is obligated to follow. These are war crimes. Potentially complicit government officials claim that the CIA did many of these things without their knowledge. The CIA claims the highest government officials, including the president, were briefed. I tend to believe that the executive branch did know, at least at some point. The CIA may do some things that other concerned government officials don’t know about, but people are kept in the dark on purpose to avoid political fallout or prosecution. In general, they knew what was happening, and all of it was wrong. Anyone involved should be held accountable. This is not a “just a few bad apples” situation. It was systematic. Not holding anyone accountable makes it more likely it will happen again. It is like a license to torture.

 In addition, two licensed clinical psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, in concert with the American Psychological Association (APA), designed and oversaw the program. The APA bent their policies to allow torture to be considered ethical so that psychologists would be protected in carrying out torture. As a mental health professional this makes me feel incredibly outraged and disgusted. It is totally unethical to do harm to anyone, physically or psychologically. As mental health professionals we are bound by a code of ethics. We are required to practice safely, effectively, and with high ethical regard to the worth, dignity, and value of every human being. This includes the right to self-determination, and not being coerced or forced to do anything. Being a psychologist requires a high degree of professional conduct. If we do not uphold strict standards of ethical practice we cannot expect vulnerable people to trust us with the most intimate aspects of their lives. These men abused their power and were paid a lot of our tax dollars (to the tune of 81 million dollars) to hurt other human beings in the most degrading ways. They should be barred from ever providing psychological services ever again, have their licenses stripped, and should be prosecuted along with everyone else who had a hand in this. Without prosecution people will get the message that they can act in unlawful and harmful ways with impunity. For more information on psychologists and torture, please see: .

President Obama has condemned the torture, but refuses to pursue prosecution. He instead is choosing to protect those who did wrong and effectively allow them to get away with it. Why? Probably because the torture continued under his administration and he doesn’t want people to see the blood on his hands or be prosecuted himself. ( Obama wants us to think torture wasn’t even illegal, that it was a matter of “policy,” and thus shouldn’t be prosecuted. But we should know better. Politicians are doing what they do best: lying. They are feigning shock and disgust that torture took place. However, we know they knew all along, and that they continue to do it behind our backs, while pretending it is now a relic of the past. Furthermore, there are no doubts about it: Democrats are complicit in torture. Just because Republicans were willing to shove it in our faces and be proud of it, doesn’t mean Democrats aren’t doing the same thing in the dark. Believe me, they are.

 It doesn’t seem to matter that Obama should work with the Attorney General and Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to bring all involved to justice. The UN Convention against Torture and the UN International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance requires that all involved be prosecuted according to international law. Yet Obama refuses to do what he is supposed to. This shows how those in power can break laws and then not seek prosecutions against themselves. So what recourses do we have?

Immediately, we unfortunately probably won’t have any. And in the near future we have reason to fear that torture will continue as unofficial US policy. Certainly both Republicans and Democrats are likely to utilize torture. They have been doing it for a long time, way beyond the Bush administration. It is the institution preserving torture that must be looked at with a critical eye. Indeed, torture is part of how capitalists operate. We need to keep those who torture from being in power, as they cannot be trusted to uphold human rights. We cannot count on the perpetrators to police themselves.

 So what alternative do we have? The Socialist Party USA platform calls “for the abolition of the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and all other institutions of covert warfare.” It calls for the end of the “War on Terror” and imperialism perpetuated by the U.S. around the world. The Socialist Party knows that the US uses its “military power to consolidate its strategic hold over the entire world and to defend and advance the interests of US owned corporations as they exploit the working people and natural resources of the entire planet.” Torture, spying (foreign and domestic), drones, the military industrial complex, and war are all connected. To end them, we must end the root of the problem: capitalism. Socialists provide a clear alternative to the current regime ruled over by both capitalist parties, which make it clear they are on the side of torture. Going forward we can only truly prevent torture by our own regime change… from a capitalist system to a socialist one. Human rights have a human face and it is the face of socialism. (


Tina Phillips

is a social worker who enjoys writing, advocacy, good food, and thrifting. She lives in Oakland, CA with her partner, Rachel, four cats, and their dog, Miss Piggy. You can read more of her writing on her blog at

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