Sunday, May 04, 2008

Is Torture Punishment?

let's see, if you were to be hung from your arms twisted behind your back for hours on end, followed by a nice, enduring waterboarding session...I bet the first thing you'd say after all that would be "AT LEAST I WASN'T PUNISHED!

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told Leslie Stahl that torture for interrogation purposes is not prohibited by the "cruel and unusual punishment" clause of the constitution. His argument, as I understand it, is that when government representatives torture people to extract information from them about illegal or terrorist activities, they aren't inflicting "punishment," they are simply seeking information. We may not like torture on moral grounds, and we may even pass enforceable laws against it, but the "cruel and unusual punishment" clause doesn't prohibit torture because torture isn't punishment.

I tend to disagree. It seems to me that punishment is the infliction of suffering or hardship on someone for wrongdoing, and that when people are interrogated in a manner that causes them extreme suffering or hardship--i.e., when they are tortured--they are not only being interrogated but also punished, in a "cruel and unusual" manner, for the wrongdoing of deliberately withholding important information. For if it were believed that someone wasn't deliberately withholding information but was doing it subconsciously, torture would not be employed as a means of extracting this information. Torture is generally used when someone is deemed to deserve punitive interrogation if they don't divulge information voluntarily.

Scalia interview regarding torture.

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