No Cause Justifies the Use of Torture by a Democratic State


Although there are many who think that state secrets must remain hidden for security reasons, what is certain is that transparency, above all when it pertains to exposing despicable crimes of torture, is the best formula for strengthening democracy. The example given by the U.S. Senate report, which outlines the systematic use of violence, both physical as well as psychological, in CIA interrogations — a key player in U.S. security — demonstrates the need in a system of freedoms for the legislative branch to control the executive.

Despite stress suffered since the beginning of the investigation four years ago, the Senate Intelligence Committee, made up of members from both main parties, revealed that for years the United States violated the United Nations Convention against Torture. As stated by Sen. Diane Feinstein, who presided over the commission, “America’s greatness is being able to say we made a mistake and we are going to correct it and go from there.” It is an enviable attitude which ought to serve as an example to those who aspire to consolidate an authentic democracy.

There will be criticism that of the 6,000 pages that make up the report, only 500 were declassified. However, this demonstrates that it is possible to achieve a balance between national security needs and the rights of citizens to be informed about the behavior of their representatives.

The secret program, nicknamed “Rendition, Detention and Interrogation,” was activated by George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks; however, the CIA decided to stop informing the White House about “enhanced interrogation techniques” — the euphemism used for “torture” — and thus behaved like a state within a state. This is an attitude that, as President Obama showed, has caused significant damage to the country, not just because it runs contrary to the country’s democratic values but also because these are serious crimes which infringe upon people’s dignity and integrity and have been committed in the name of the United States.

On the other hand, the defenders of the Machiavellian principles that the end justifies the means, and that the situation after the brutal attack upon the twin towers was exceptional, have remained without argument. Not only does the report describe “brutal” practices against the suspects, but it also concludes that the torture protocols which were methodically followed with the intent to obtain information were completely ineffective.

With these inhumane techniques the CIA did not get any of the detainees, locked up in foreign jails to avoid detection, to reveal information of use to the military. But even if they had — the White House has not wanted to confirm if that is how it located bin Laden — torture can never be justified. Democracy defends itself by respecting human rights, not by violating them.

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