Torture: Helping Intelligence Operations around the World

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This is an article I wrote for my school website. This is a topic that's up for debate. So, please feel free to do so :)

Submitted: October 27, 2011

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Submitted: October 27, 2011




The use of torture has been long documented throughout history. It has become less frequent and has even been outlawed by the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions (a document created after the Second World War to regulate warfare) – signatories of which have all agreed not to torture prisoners captured in combat. It is also seen as a direct violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Article Five. There are PDF files of the Geneva Conventions available online for download.

There have been numerous violations of such articles ever since its inception and signing, torture has been used in recent theatres of war such as: Afghanistan, Iraq and also as part of combat operations in the War on Terror.

In times of war, torture was always used on enemy-combatants as a means of extracting information; but, in recent history, torture has been expanded and the rules governing its use have been ignored. The UN Convention against Torture draws reference to Article Five of the UDHR: No one may be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Once again, PDF files of the UN Convention against Torture and the UDHR are available online.

Note that whenever rendition takes place, the actual interrogation is performed by foreign authorities, as a way for those who have handed these people over to a second party to steer clear of international law and wash their hands of it.


In a documentary by PBS’s Frontline program, investigative journalist Stephen Grey reported that the earliest known rendition of a terror suspect happened in 1985. An aircraft carrying the four men who hijacked the Achilles Lauro cruise vessel was forced to land by United States Navy fighter planes. The aircraft landed on an Italian military base in Sicily and the four men were taken into US custody and flown back to America to face trial.

A website called tells of the CIA’s early beginnings in rendering people. In 1995, President Bill Clinton signed a presidential directive, giving the Central Intelligence Agency authorization to deport suspected terrorists to foreign countries in a process called extraordinary rendition. This rendition process completely ignores due process and violates international law.

Six years after the presidential directive was written and signed, one day of terror would forever change the United States’ outlook on extraordinary rendition.

In files released by Wikileaks, it details several cases of rendition; however, the case of Mamdouh Habib was one which stood out. In October of 2001, the United States accused an Australian citizen by the name of Mamdouh Habib of aiding and abetting Al-Qaeda, conducting surveillance operations, training and supplying the hijackers. Mamdouh was captured while in Pakistan on holiday, he was then deported to Egypt for six months – where he was interrogated. In early 2002, Mamdouh was handed into US military custody, flown to Afghanistan and then onto Camp X-Ray, the US’s secret military prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Since Mamdouh’s release from Guantanamo in 2005 there have been many more renditions occurring, many more people shipped off to God knows where and brutally interrogated by foreign authorities.

Though I have spoken mainly about the Americans, it is not just their government, who has been partaking in such illegal activities. Military personnel on active duty and many Western governments have knowingly handed over “suspects” to American authorities, in the knowledge that they would be tortured.


Today torture methods are far more sophisticated, and some would say less painful than those of the Middle Ages and Medieval England. According to, the US Army has an entire field manual dedicated to the treatment of prisoners of war – this is available in PDF file format and can be found just by Googling ‘US Army field manual on torture’. The Bush administration brought a new name to the table, “enhanced interrogation techniques” – these techniques include: slapping, water-boarding, staying in stress positions for elongated periods of time, exposure to white noise and, electric shocks – to name a few.
Water-boarding is a method which is often deemed the harshest and most frequent. This method also appears to be the primary method which is used.

According to, the detainee is laid out, either on the ground or a table; their feet are elevated so that they are above their head and a towel or cloth is placed over their face. Water is then poured down their nostrils and enters the lungs, this initiates the gag reflex and the subject feels as though they are drowning – while they are not actually drowning. In an interview on Larry King Live, Jesse Ventura (a former Navy SEAL who was subjected to waterboarding as part of the US Special Forces basic training) states: “if it’s done wrong you certainly could drown, you could swallow your tongue, you could do a whole bunch of stuff.”

Acclaimed BBC journalist Peter Taylor produced a documentary called ‘The Secret War on Terror’ – this documentary well outlines how intelligence agencies have extracted false information, as is mentioned below. Although it is used in the field to gather intelligence, not all intelligence given under torture is true. Most times the detainee will lie, just to stop the torture and provide authorities with false information. This in turn will waste time and distract the authorities, thereby increasing the risk of a terrorist attack. Some people who have been captured, rendered, and tortured have later been found innocent.


The intelligence communities and governments alike have been able to justify the use of harsh interrogation with ‘harming one, to save a thousand’. This is quite true, perhaps the information that the people provide under duress will save lives, but as I have mentioned, some prisoners will lie through their back teeth, or tell half-truths just to stop the pain. So, should we allow ourselves as human beings to justify the torture and suffering of people who – let’s face it, are just like us. And no matter how many lives we may or may not save (depending on the truthfulness of the subject), is it truly worth our sense of human decency? Or, by torturing people who then provide useful and life-saving intelligence, we descend into ‘untermenschen’ – or sub human, is that acceptable?



So, now that you know of countries and their involvement in torture, and a little about the techniques. It’s up to you to decide: should torture be used to gather intelligence? Is it acceptable? How can we as human beings inflict such suffering and pain on another, and because we do it over and over again, not feel any remorse? How can we live with ourselves knowing that this is going on? You decide.

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