Civil liberties could be defined as the freedom to exercise one’s rights as guaranteed under the laws of the country. Civil liberties also guarantee immunity from unwarranted governmental interference (Wordnet). But the episodes like Guantanamo and abductions of suspected individuals by intelligence agencies who are then tortured without given access to due rights, are gross violations of civil liberties and set a wrong precedent. When the government itself doesn’t respect civil liberties of individuals, no matter where they come from, it loses credibility and has no right to expect respect for laws from the individuals it sets out to prosecute. Under U.S. civil liberties rights, individuals have protection against self-incrimination and everyone is innocent until proven guilty. But torture acts by the government send the message that the government can hold an individual guilty even without due process of law.
Once the governments are given the right to limit certain civil liberties rights of individuals, the consequences are often further erosion of civil liberties rights, under the disguise of struggle for liberty and freedom. This is how repressive governments usually justify their actions and there are many examples in the past. If the government itself starts violating the civil liberties rights that it sets out to protect, it erodes the credibility of the civilized world (The Economist).
Conclusion and Suggestions
Torture is almost as old a tradition as the war itself but the world has come a long way in improving the civil rights of an average person. Wars still affect a significant number of people around the world and while the negative aspects of war can never be completely eliminated, they have been significantly reduced as compared to even a century ago. But there is still a long way to go and one of the ways to further improve basic civil rights is abolish torture, even during times of war and even on enemy combatants. The world should care about the torture issue because any failure to take steps on this issue will undue a significant amount of progress towards better civil rights for an individual. Under modern laws, individuals are innocent until found guilty by the law and today, even the most cruel individuals are afforded this right. But torture violates this basic assumption of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and even forces victims to wrongly incriminate themselves under the hardship of the torture.
The governments have an obligation to protect their citizens but it is an inaccurate assumption, as government officials often make, that torture is sometimes inevitable to make citizens safer. Episodes of torture, as Abu Ghraib and CIA abductions have demonstrated, makes citizens less safe because they lend credibility to enemies’ causes and help them recruit even more extremists. They also hurt U.S. political credibility and may lower level of cooperation from other governments, concerned with their global image. Torture also often produces false intelligence because it can incapacitate suspects and harm their memories. Torture also leads to false intelligence because it may influence the victim in saying what the interrogator wants to hear whether it’s true or not (Human Rights First).
There are more effective alternatives to torture that may also ensure protection of civil liberties rights. One alternative is to hire interrogators that are experienced in human psychology as well as the culture of the victims. Interrogation of German and Japanese prisoners during WWII yielded far more intelligence than what modern interrogators have been able to achieve post 9/11 and WWII interrogators didn’t even have to use torture (The Atlantic). Another alternative may be to offer incentives to prisoners such as flying their families to safer places or giving them the opportunity to reform.
Human Rights First. Why Torture Makes Us Less Safe. 14 July 2013 <http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/our-work/law-and-security/torture-on-tv/less-safe/>.
The Atlantic. The Alternative To Torture. 30 May 2007. 14 July 2013 <http://www.theatlantic.com/daily-dish/archive/2007/05/the-alternative-to-torture/228131/>.
The Economist. The real price of freedom. 20 September 2007. 14 July 2013 <http://www.economist.com/node/9833041>.
Wordnet. Civil Liberty. 14 July 2013 <http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=civil%20liberty>.