President Obama released a plan on February 23rd to close Guantanamo Bay which, although a promising gesture, doesn’t go nearly far enough to expiate the unethical treatment of its prisoners. From a fiscal point of view, his plan makes sense. We would initially spend up to $475 million to upgrade an existing prison and in exchange, we would save as much as $85 million annually. Unfortunately, Obama’s plan has generated much controversy among the Republican-dominated congress, and furthermore doesn’t end the practice which made Guantanamo so famous– waterboarding. In fact, according to Obama’s statements about his plan, he intends to use “all legal tools to deal with the remaining detainees”. These “legal tools” known broadly as “enhanced interrogation”, include: mild violence, cramped confinement for up to 18 hours, forced nudity, stress positions, and waterboarding, etc.
Not only are these methods of enhanced interrogation blatantly inhumane and torturous, they are also sometimes used on those whose guilt is ambiguous. Most of what we know about enhanced interrogation has been gleaned from the 10% of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA report on that has been released. It confirmed that at least 26 detainees were wrongfully held. In one particularly egregious instance, an intellectually challenged man was detained for use as leverage. While those myopic enough to support enhanced interrogation may attempt to dismiss the report as leftist, the committee that authored it was majority Republican. In fact, the majority party’s delegation included future 2016 presidential candidate Marco Rubio, amongst other prominent Republicans.
Startlingly, enhanced interrogation is actually an awful way of gathering intelligence. According to the CIA report, no actionable intelligence was gleaned from enhanced interrogation, in fact, it actually elicited many false confessions. HIG– or High Value Detainee Interrogation Group– is a government research program comprised of FBI, CIA, and Pentagon officials, which released a peer-reviewed study demonstrating that controlling interrogation strategies– such as torture– are ineffective at producing credible intelligence. In contrast, the same study found that “supportive” rapport-building techniques produce veritable intelligence at a superior rate. While proponents of enhanced interrogation may scramble to find morsels of useful information gleaned from torture, the argument is a non sequitur. Whether or not torture has ever produced actionable intelligence is irrelevant if other–more moral– methods produce equal or, in this case, superior results. In my research for this article, I could find no peer-reviewed study to promulgate the ubiquitous notion that torture is more effective than other means of interrogation and several to prove the opposite.
Despite the obvious immorality of enhanced interrogation, it is disgustingly ambiguous whether it is illegal in our country. Legally, torture is defined as “an act committed by a person… intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering”. Severe mental pain or suffering is constituted by a series of vague standards, which allow the government to dodge questions of legality behind the ambiguity of the law. In contrast to our own government’s moral cowardice, waterboarding is denounced as torture by reputed international bodies such as the Red Cross and the European Court of Human Rights.
In conclusion, Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo Bay has needlessly stirred partisan controversy in spite of its reluctance to permanently end state-sanctioned torture in our country. Instead, the proposal attempts to exculpate the government by removing it from the facility that has come to symbolize its sins. While it may be fiscally responsible, and relatively safe, to move detainees elsewhere, it doesn’t prevent the greater evil: torture. To reiterate, enhanced interrogation is torture, and torture is–at least based on the evidence available– extremely ineffective at producing actionable intelligence and inhumane in the extreme. It is fair to assume that torture might stop if detainees were sent to a U.S facility, but it is imperative that we explicitly prevent such revenge-driven, cruel, and ineffective practices from being continued in the future.