Does Torture Violate more than just U.S. and International Law?

By Steven Nielsen for

I am an American. I believe in the fair treatment of all people despite where he or she may be from or for what crimes he or she may have committed. In addition, I believe that prisoners or detainees should always be treated with respect and should never be subjected to enhanced interrogation, or torture. The reason I believe enhanced interrogation, or torture, should not be used on prisoners is because it is against US law and International Law, as well as against, what I personally believe, Judeo-Christian Law.

In this blog I will address the laws that deal with the treatment of prisoners. Not only will the US laws be addressed, but also the International Treaties, Conventions, and Laws that the United States of America are signatories of. Also, I will address how these laws are similar to how my Christian values are and how I feel that other Christians should make choices. In addition, as I feel that my country is a country that has many similar Christian values and principles, I will address how I feel the country has failed by allowing the torture of prisoners in two detention centers in the world over the past ten years, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, by breaking US Law and International Law as well as Christian values.

In 18 U.S. Code § 2340 torture is defined generally as:

an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control.

Severe mental pain or suffering is defined as intentional or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering; administering or threatening to administer procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality; the threat of imminent death; and threat to another person of the above mentioned actions. This definition clearly states how the US defines torture.

The United Nations Convention against Torture, which the U.S. is a signatory nation of, defines torture as:

Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

Both of these definitions define torture as an intentional act that causes severe pain. That doesn’t leave a loophole to torture a person because there is information that is needed. However, the U.S. was able to fabricate a loophole, creating a way to justify violating these laws under the guise of enhanced interrogations outlined in the Torture Memo.

In the Torture Memo, the Department of Justice defined key words from the definitions of torture cited above. First, extreme acts were defined as serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death. Second, prolonged mental harm was harm that lasted for months or even years. In addition, the memo declared that enforcement of the law on torture would be barred from prosecution because it would infringe on the President’s authority to conduct the war and that under the circumstances at that time it was necessary and would justify the acts of torture on these people and not violate any applicable U.S. or International Law.

As mentioned before, I am a Christian and I believe that as the law was written from U.S. and International Law, torture is wrong as described there, and that these new definitions created by the Torture Memo were made in error. These new definitions not only violate US and International laws, but also Judeo-Christian law.

Throughout history, Christian legal doctrine has flown from the Judeo-Christian legal traditions found in holy writings. The Bible teaches, a follower of Christ is commanded to first love God above all else and second love one another. See Matthew 22:36-40. A Christian is instructed to show compassion and to be forgiving of their neighbor, even to the point that if a man “hits thee on the cheek then ye ought to turn the other cheek.” See Ephesians 4:32 and Luke 6:29.

The Catholic Church has proclaimed its stance on torture by saying, “[that] which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.” See: Catechism of the Catholic Church Article 5 paragraph 2297. accessed, accessed 12/14/2016. Christians, it sounds, are to be patient with their neighbors, show love and kindness to one another, and above all else to forgive one another and under no circumstance is there a justification to torture another person.

Not only does US and International Law instruct not to torture another person, but so does Juedo-Christian Law.

In January of 2002 the US government opened up Guantanamo Bay Detention center in an effort, as Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said, “to detain extraordinarily dangerous persons, to interrogate detainees in an optimal setting, and to prosecute detainees for war crimes.”, retrieved 12/1/2014. From this comment and others from Rumsfeld, the purpose of Gitmo was to get information from detainees through interrogation in a positive and legal setting.

However, this optimal setting didn’t last long. Because of the Torture Memo, new tactics were allowed. Some of the new tactics included 20-hour interrogation sessions, blasting loud American music, sexual assault, physical beatings, prolonged interrogations, disrespect of religious traditions, and even the use of dogs to intimidate the detainees, among other acts all of which are in violation of US, International, and Juedo-Christian Law.

These acts are not something that were an isolated or a one-time event. They became a common routine for some prisoners while they were, in many instances, unjustly held in Gitmo. See “Britons release devastating account of torture and abuse by US forces at Guantanamo,”, retrieved 12/2/2014.

Many of the same types of torture techniques were performed at Abu Ghraib as well. One of the most disturbing things that came from this place were the pictures taken of how the prisoners were treated. Pictures showed prisoners stripped naked, mocked by females soldiers, female underwear placed on them, being intimidated by dogs, soldiers pinning them to the ground, and the most “famous” of the photos, a prisoner standing on a block with a hood on and cables attached to his hands.

Other techniques included “waterboarding,” in which a prisoner is strapped down, forcibly pushed under water and made to believe he might drown in an effort to break the person and get information. This was used a reported 183 times on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Another prisoner, Abu Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding 83 times even though after undergoing waterboarding for only 35 seconds, he agreed to tell everything he knew. See “Waterboarding Used 266 times on 2 Suspects” retrieved 12/3/2014.

These new forms of enhanced interrogation, or torture, as explained above, that were used on prisoners in Guantanamo and Ab Ghraib, violated US Law as they were intentional or threatened acts of severe physical pain or suffering; they disrupted profoundly the senses or the prisoner’s personality; and even at times threatened the prisoner’s imminent death. It was reported as well that prisoners were told their families or comrades would be in danger if the information was not gathered. This was also in violation of the law because it threatened another person.

These new forms violated International law as they were used to intimidate or coerce the prisoner to confess information. All of these acts were “contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity” violating Juedo-Christian Law.

These two locations mark a dark time in recent American history. This has resulted in a loss of respect from many other nations because of the United States’ disregard of its own law, International Law and Juedo-Christian Law. Our Government compromised the personal values of many of my fellow Americans who also profess to follow Christian values and principles, by justifying these acts to be committed.

My opinion that the US failed by allowing these acts is not shared by all. In a recently released Senate report on torture, it was stated that there was no information gathered from these enhanced interrogations, or torture, and that in fact the US did violate the Law. However, many disagree with this, and there is even one person who expressed their opinion about the need for enhanced interrogation, or torture, because these techniques are the only way to break a person. See “An Interrogator Breaks His Silence,”, retrieved on 12/2/2014.

Regardless of if there was information gathered from enhanced interrogations, or torture, the acts were and still are against the law! There is never a time when these acts should be justified as they violate laws and leave me disappointed as a Christian that my nation failed me with the complete disregard of human dignity. No person should be subjected to such torture just because he or she may have information. There must be a better way to get information from prisoners that does not violate the law or violate Christian values.

Steven Nielsen is a 2L  from St. George Utah. He spent his 1L year at West Virginia University before transferring to the S.J. Quinney College of law. He graduated from Dixie State University in 2009, is married and has two children. Nielsen’s entry to the GlobalJusticeBlog is part of an assignment for the course International Criminal Law, taught by Professor Wayne McCormack.