© Josh Sager – September 2014
In the years since the September 11th terrorist attack and the start of the “war on terror,” the United States has become a country that openly admits to using “harsh” or “enhanced interrogation” methods on prisoners. Those who support these interrogation methods argue that they were necessary to gather information on terrorist groups (despite the complete lack of evidence supporting such a claim), while those who condemn the use of such interrogation methods have pointed out that they are illegal and set a bad precedent that could entice foreign groups to use “enhanced interrogation” on our troops.
Unfortunately, it appears that this bad precedent has finally emerged as a tangible threat to the American public; the Islamic State terrorist group (also known as ISIS and ISIL) which is currently rampaging across Iraq has begun using CIA-style “enhanced interrogation” on kidnapped westerners.
Defining Enhance Interrogation
“Enhanced interrogation” methods confirmed to have been used by the government include solitary confinement, waterboarding, superficial beatings (ex. slapping prisoners), exposure to extreme temperatures, prolonged stress positions, and blasting extremely loud music.
Not to mince words, these “enhanced interrogation” methods are torture—the term “enhanced interrogation” is simply a euphemism created by the Bush Administration to repackage the torture methods copied from a soviet-Chinese interrogation manual. In the past, we have condemned other nations for using solitary confinement and beatings on our prisoners of war, and have even executed several Japanese officers for the war crime of waterboarding American soldiers during WWII.
Repackaging torture under a different name may make it more palatable for an ill-informed American public, but it does nothing to preserve the US’s moral high ground. If we torture and commit war crimes, we lose the ability to credibly complain when other nations commit similar violations.
ISIS Using CIA Interrogation Methods
According to several European hostages who were ransomed from the Islamic State terrorists, their captors tortured them with beatings and waterboarding. In addition to their personal accounts, these hostages have described watching other prisoners get tortured via waterboarding, including American journalist James Foley, who was recently beheaded by the terrorist group. These accounts of waterboarding being used on Americans are the first such accounts in the years since the United States has begun using the torture method.
Ultimately, ISIS has demonstrated that it is an unspeakably vicious terrorist group that would almost certainly have water boarded its hostages, even if the US had not become infamous for the practice. They have buried women and children alive, burned captured adversaries at the stake, and even publically crucified allies who were seen as too moderate—to them, waterboarding is tame and there is no reason to believe that the US’s conduct had any effect on their decisions.
That said, the fact that we have publically claimed that waterboarding is not torture invalidates our ability to complain when ISIS decides to use it on our citizens. Any American to be captured by ISIS can expect to be waterboarded, only for ISIS to declare their torture to be “enhanced interrogation” no different from what the United States has subjected dozens of innocent Muslims to.
Put simply, if waterboarding is torture when ISIS does it to Americans, then it is torture when we do it to suspected terrorists—accordingly, if waterboarding, is just legal “enhanced interrogation” when we do it, ISIS has every right to avail itself of the tactic when extracting information from Americans.
The waterboarding of Americans by ISIS and the inability of our government to credibly respond with outrage is confirmation of the anti-torture argument that our use of torture entices others to torture our citizens. When Bush decided to start torturing (or, more likely, Cheney decided to use torture and Bush was simply dragged along for the ride) and Obama decided to let his predecessor’s acts go unpunished, they caused immense damage to our nation’s credibility to speak out against abuses on our citizens. We have dirtied our reputation and, unless we are willing to call out to torturers in our own ranks, we will have no right to demand that those who torture our countrymen be punished.