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Torture & Terrorism: International Conventions Against Torture

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Torture & Terrorism: What International Conventions Say about Torture

Shortly after the announcement of a "war on terror," the Bush Administration began exploring whether obligations to adhere to international prohibitions on torturing prisoners of war, such as the 1994 Geneva Convention, could be justifiably suspended in detainee interrogations. In documents such as the partially declassified Working Group Report on Detainee Interrogations in the Global War on Terrorism, the conclusion was: Yes, because the President's role as Commander –in –Chief supersedes his need to adhere to U.S. law, and because Al Qaeda members are "unlawful combatants," not prisoners of war.

One of the arguments used to justify torture under some circumstances is the "ticking bomb" theory: if torture will help produce information that will forestall a terrorist attack, maybe it is justified.

This theory can be weighted against a "slippery slope" argument: once States begin the practice of torture, the practice is difficult to limit to one population, or to stop. The December 2006 revelation of an innocent American's torture in Iraq appears to bear this theory out.

The use of torture by many other states throughout the world against political detainees, dissenters and suspected terrorists also makes it clear that torture, once practiced, may expand to include new populations.

The following collection of declarations and conventions against torture reveal how repugnant the world community finds torture, under any circumstances. It's not a coincidence that the first of these declarations appeared in 1948, just after the end of the Second World War. The revelation of Nazi torture and "science experiments" performed on German citizens in World War II produced a global abhorrence of torture, anytime, anywhere, conducted by any party—but especially sovereign states.

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