Debating Guantanamo Bay and Torture Commentary
Debating Guantanamo Bay and Torture
Edited by:

JURIST Guest Columnist Clarence Leatherbury from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law discusses the debate over torture techniques and our nations security… The American public was recently given information about the CIA’s torture of suspected terrorists during the Bush Administration, stirring up the debate over whether the torture of detainees is necessary and/or beneficial to America’s security.

To combat these recent revelations, some politicians and pundits have given the usual standardized “national security” responses which Americans have repeatedly heard since the aftermath of 9/11. US Senator Dan Coats stated,

“The hallmark of a free society is open and transparent government, but certain disclosures must be carefully weighed against the potential damage to the national security interests of the United States and the security of the men and women who serve our country overseas. This report contains no recommendations and offers only an nonconstructive, partisan account of the last decade’s counter-terrorism efforts. It is now time for the Senate Intelligence Committee to move past this long-settled issue and focus on the vitally important national security challenges currently facing our country.”

The late US Senator Robert Byrd, who always carried a copy of the Constitution in his pocket, saw things quite differently from Mr. Coats when he wrote,

“It is our choice as a nation whether to pursue the path of truth ourselves, or leave the details of the abuse to be painfully revealed by others.” He went on, “As long as those who condoned and approved these despicable acts are permitted to escape the consequences, we allow our moral standing in the world to be severely compromised. September 11th did not suddenly legalize torture, nor did it exonerate those who authorized such a heinous deviation from the rule of law.”

Contrary to the neoconservative views of today, torture was frowned upon by the classical conservatives of yesterday. While facing the wrath of the British Army, George Washington instructed his soldiers to treat the captives with “humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands.” And during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued General Orders No. 100, this code of military conduct for the Union Armies barred torture.

Some politicians and pundits argue that the post 9/11 torture was done out of necessity, the Revolutionary and Civil War were wars that determined the fate of the United States yet Washington and Lincoln never found such acts to be justifiable. If torture was not necessary during the most perilous of times in our nation’s history, then it is not necessary today. To fortify this point, on April 18, 1988, the United Nations Convention Against Torture was signed by President Ronald Reagan. The ratified convention states, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

One must understand that those who oppose torture are also not apologetic to the Islamic criminals who committed such heinous crimes. They oppose torture because they support civility. They oppose torture because it breeds hate and resentment throughout the world, instead of peace and understanding. They oppose torture because it is linked to the un-American precedent of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ which has been firmly ingrained at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram and other military and secret CIA prisons around the world.

There is an ancient maxim that says it is better to let ten guilty men go free than to imprison an innocent man. This principle is in line with America’s presumption of innocence, but today those democratic ideas have been tarnished due to the suspension of habeas corpus and enhanced interrogations of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. During the Afghanistan War, the US implemented a bounty program to pay Afghan farmers and peasant’s monetary rewards to capture or give information on potential enemy combatants. The Afghan people’s average annual national income per capita is around $410 so the financial incentive to act as a bounty hunter for the US government became a profitable venture for some. However, the financial incentives led to what many believe were false accusations causing innocent civilians to be placed in Bahrain and Guantanamo Bay prisons. The US government has acknowledged that it has detained prisoners indefinitely without trial. To the individuals who have had their freedom taken away unjustly, the mental torture of knowing that fact must be a thousand times more devastating than any bodily torture a state agent can subject them to.

Supporters of the current military tribunals routinely argue that it’s too dangerous to try the detainees in a civilian court. But as Congressman Ron Paul reminded everyone on May 21, 2012, “. . . our Article Court 3 system is a strength not a weakness. The right to face our accuser, the protections against hearsay evidence, the right to a jury trial, these are designed to protect the innocent and to determine and then punish guilt. And they have been quite successful thus far.”

You will hear supporters of the methods used at Guantanamo Bay and other secret prisons claim the techniques worked and now America is safer as a result. This simply is not true. History shows torture is an ineffective tool in getting information and can actually have the unintended consequences of weakening a country’s national security. For example, the CIA has coined the term ‘blowback‘ which refers to the unintended consequences which stem from military interventions abroad. In this case, the blowback will be the increased recruitment to terrorist organizations and retaliation against innocent Americans and Christians around the world due to the acts of torture committed on Muslims by the US government. For example, Matthew Alexander, who was involved in over 300 interrogations of suspected terrorist stated, “I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.” Due to Alexander’s high moral values, he blatantly refused to torture any detainee but was still able to get better information than his interrogator comrades who tortured detainees during interrogations. Furthermore, a study published in 2014, by Jane Goodman-Delahunty, of Australia’s Charles Sturt University found that confessions are four times more likely when interrogators implement a respectful stance and build bonds with detainees versus engaging in torture against detainees.

Truth and freedom are indivisible. Americans need to know the truth about the illegal and immoral actions taken by their government officials so they can take necessary steps to see that those officials who violated US treaties, who lied to Congress, and who blackened the 8th Amendment are no longer given the opportunity to represent a country established on inalienable rights and the rule of law. To be looked upon as a virtuous leader by the world’s citizens, our government cannot succumb to the same authoritarianism, ruthlessness and cruelty that has taken hold every single government that has graced this earth. The torture that took place at Guantanamo Bay and other secretly run US prisons around the world is not honorable nor is it in line with the rule of law and the natural rights of man. For the United States to remain the world’s beacon of light as a free nation, we must always hold ourselves to the highest standard. Those who authorized or engaged in such acts should repent for their crimes against humanity. The US should close Guantanamo Bay prison while still maintaining control of the land to help promote free trade, peace and diplomacy with Cuba. Such actions would go a long way in strengthening America’s image, economy and security.

Clarence Leatherbury is a graduate of the Kelley School of Business. In the spring of 2014, he will extern at the Indiana Supreme Court for Justice Steven H. David. Clarence is currently working on completing his JD at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.

Suggested citation: Clarence Leatherbury, Debating Guantanamo Bay and Torture, JURIST – Student Commentary, Dec. 28, 2014,

This article was prepared for publication by Cassandra Baubie, an Assistant Editor for JURIST Commentary. Please direct any questions or comments to her at

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.