The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



Panel discusses role of torture in CIA interrogation tactics

| Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Notre Dame’s Center for Civil and Human Rights hosted a discussion panel Tuesday titled, “Tortured Nation: Morality, Security, and Torture,” examining the moral and legal implications of a recent report on detention and interrogation of terror suspects from the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Director of the Center for Civil and Human Rights and panel moderator Daniel Philpott said a university committed thoroughly to social justice must confront and discuss the question of torture given the Committee’s report.

Last month, the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a report that details the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) secret interrogations of terrorism suspects immediately after Sept. 11, 2001. The report revealed the methods employed in the CIA’s interrogation program, including waterboarding, slamming prisoners against walls, sleep deprivation and confinement in cramped space. Further, the report suggested that these methods were not necessary because they did not yield information necessary to foil terrorist plots, Philpott said.

Director of the Kellogg Institute for International Studies Paolo Carozza said the Committee’s report exposes massive institutional and moral failure in the United States.

“Torture is about destroying the human person,” Carozza said. “It is a direct, intentional attack on the very elements of the human personality — on human identity and on the human capacity for truth. It is a way of taking human beings and destroying their personhood to such an extent that they can no longer be a part of the human community. That’s why torture has been condemned for 200 years, and that’s why today it’s a problem.”

Thomas Durkin, attorney and co-director of Loyola University Chicago’s National Security and Civil Rights Program, said he is most concerned by those seeking legal justifications for torture and the potential incorporation of torture into policy.

“One thing I’m absolutely certain of is that it is a mistake to make exceptions to the law and try to shoehorn something into the law that doesn’t belong in the law,” Durkin said. “The more I look into these actions, and the more I become radicalized by my defense work at Guantanamo, I witness a continuous state of exception.”

Notre Dame professor of theological ethics Jean Porter said the only effective way to reverse this policy is to take strong, public steps.

“I think the Justice Department should move immediately to prosecute those involved,” Porter said. “I think that victims should be transferred to open court and tried if at all possible and be paid reparations.

“I think we have an obligation of justice to the victims of torture. I happen to be old-fashioned enough to believe in retributive justice. We may never be able undo the psychic damage that we have done to these men, but we may, in some way through the legal system, be able to publicly affirm our belief in humanity.”

Michael Desch, chair of the Department of Political Science and co-director of the Notre Dame International Security Program, said public moral revulsion to torture suggests it may be unhelpful to achieve the nation’s long-term strategic goals.

“You need to distinguish between the tactical effectiveness of torture, whether it’s ever useful to get information that people otherwise wouldn’t give you, or is it useful for terrorizing people into doing what you want them to do,” Desch said. “I think that all the evidence points to its effectiveness on the tactical level.

“Then there’s the question of its effectiveness on the strategic level or the policy level. Here, I think the arguments of critics of are far more compelling. Even if torture is often beneficial on the tactical level, the connection between that and achieving strategic or policy goals is often less clear. “

In order to reduce the egregious effects of torture, Desch said it is important to consider how often the CIA uses torture.

“Would we never use enhanced interrogation on someone we suspected of having knowledge of a ticking time bomb? Would we never use it for a hostage situation in which the timely location of hostages was essential? I’m not sure I could safely say I would never do it,” Desch said. “If we’re honest with ourselves, and it was our son or daughter’s life at stake, I think we’d have a hard time saying we’d never use extreme methods.”

Kelly Jordan, Dean of Students at Holy Cross College and a former Commander in the U.S. Army, said the United States should respond to the information in the report by having its leaders work to repair the damage and pledge it will never happen again.

“Surrender to the allure of torture and justification of its use is indicative of the triumph of a culture of narcissism over a culture of honor,” Jordan said. “The trauma of these things on character, requiring someone to conduct or support morally questionable acts, destroys the capacity within an individual for social trust, and I would argue, within our nation itself.”

Tags: , , , ,

About Matthew McKenna

Contact Matthew