Tortuous Trump | Prerana Joshi

This week we have a blog post by Prerana Joshi, speaking about the moral web surrounding ideas of torture, and the actions of Donald Trump related to these issues.


Utilitarianism. Democracy. Arguably in a society with such values, the question of inflicting torture to obtain crucial information is a straightforward one. There is a ticking time-bomb in a densely populated public space and the single perpetrator who has the information required to find and diffuse it is under your custody. Torture is inflicted. Information is retrieved. The bomb is diffused and the people are saved. This is a standard situation used to justify any means necessary, unfortunately, situations such as these are never straightforward. What if the perpetrator wasn’t working alone? What if their ally is their sibling who they will not reveal, even under duress? What if this ally has placed another bomb in a much larger public space? What of your conscience?

For many people, even under such ambiguity, the use of torture is justified. Guy Fawkes was tortured and the Houses of Parliament were saved from the gunpowder plot of 1605. Using this rhetoric, the torture of terrorists to diffuse future attacks would be logical. The UN Convention against Torture states otherwise. Under international law, acts of torture and any acts of “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” are prohibited in the jurisdictions of the 161 states that have ratified the treaty. The basis of this rests upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states that every human being should be awarded equal rights, regardless of their crimes. Hence, acts of torture on a fellow human, no matter how severe their crime, is legally condemned and morally contentious. However, as with most cases regarding international law, enforcement or retribution is severely weakened by the sovereignty of nation states and the absence of a global police force. The case of torture is different in the sense that not only have most states ratified the UN treaty but they have also adopted it into their national legislature.

It is with this global stance against torture in mind that helps us understand the backlash received by President Trump’s statements about re-instating ‘enhanced interrogation processes’ and CIA ‘black sites’. Trump’s ideology is based on the notion that Americans are victims of torture at the hands of radical groups such as IS, therefore America should adopt similar stances to further this ‘war on terrorism’. It is the departure from traditional values and national legislation that makes Trump a radical himself. Has torture worked in the past? Yes. Horse-drawn carriages were also used in said past and although not without limitations, they were practical and fulfilled their purpose. This did not stop the technological advancements that have resulted in the automotive industry today. Similarly, many more approaches have been created and tailored specifically for extracting information. There is scientific literature abound that suggests that use of cognitive and relationship based rapport approaches are much more efficient in retrieving reliable information. The scientific community and many experts such as former CIA director Leon Panetta have pointed towards the fact that use of torture greatly impairs and alters memory, judgement, time-references etc. to the point that any information received would be largely unreliable. Hence, torture in the 21st century is debatably impractical.

Violence perpetuates violence and fear perpetuates fear. The act of torture is morally, legally and practically wrong. However, torture is still a controversial topic. I argue that in a day and age where we have the ability to create artificial intelligence, retrieving information in a humane way should not be an option or an alternative, it should be a necessity. The perpetrator behind the bomb should not be tortured to save the public, the intelligence units should have already recovered the information required to save them.


If you’d like to find out more about how Donald Trump has had a damaging impact on Human Rights, Amnesty International has further information here.

To sign a petition asking Theresa May to take a stand against Donald Trump’s so-called Muslim ban, click here.


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