Tortures are formally banned but they are still applied in the modern world, especially in areas, where military actions take place. In this respect, it is possible to refer to the case of Iraq and the military operation conducted by the US, which was accompanied by the imprisonment of many Iraqi and their tortures by the US soldiers. The notorious case of Abu Ghraib reveals the full extent to which tortures were widely-spread in Iraq. Ironically, the US soldiers using tortures often explained their behavior by the desire to set discipline among prisoners but the concept of discipline, as the major moving force which provoked the violence and tortures in the Abu Ghraib prison and which engenders the violent behavior of the guard in relation to prisoners, was irrelevant. The violence and tortures cannot be associated with discipline, because discipline is grounded on the order but not violence. Hence, tortures were manifestation of ultimate cruelty of the US soldiers, who were in the highly stressful environment, but not their intention to set discipline by means of tortures in the prison located in the area of military actions.
Specialists (Parker and Fellner, 118) draw a number of examples of tortures and misuse of power by American guard in relation to prisoners, which were captured and imprisoned without a sufficient legal ground. Moreover, many specialists argue that the functioning of the Abu Ghraib prison was based on the systematic violation of human rights and, what is more important, prisoners in Abu Ghrain were detained and imprisoned illegally (Morris, 231). Many of prisoners spend long terms being imprisoned without being accused of any crime, while their guilt was absolutely uncertain. In such a context, it seems to be quite natural that the guard of the prison used tortures and violence since a priori the prisoners in Abu Ghraib were held there without any legal reason. Consequently, the guard felt that prisoners are subjects to the unjust attitude and mistreatment because they were absolutely deprived of any rights.
More important, Americans felt that they would not be punished for their crimes because the prisoners were imprisoned illegally that eliminated the boundary between legal and illegal actions. As a result, Americans believed that they could do everything they want without being punished for their most violent actions. At the same time, tortures and violence allowed Americans to keep prisoners obedient. In addition, it was much easier to get information Americans needed from prisoners by means of tortures, threats and violence than in a traditional, legal way. In such a way, Americans used violence and tortures to get information fast and with minimal efforts, regardless of legal procedures.
At the same time, the sense of being unpunished for illegal actions strengthened the inclination of Americans to tortures and violence. In this respect, the war experience was not the only reason that strengthened the inclination of Americans to violence. In fact, tortures and violence became a form of entertainment, a norm of the life in the prison. Hence, Americans got accustomed to violence and tortures as a part of routine life of the prison.
Naturally, it is necessary to take into consideration the psychological state of American soldiers who witnessed death and violence daily during the war. They got accustomed to violence, which they treated as a norm and they have already eliminated the frontier between violence and legal norms because the latter became an abstract notion which have never worked during the wartime. As a result, Americans used violence and torture as a part of their routine job. In addition, it was a form of revenge from the part of American soldiers on the prisoners, whom they associated with their enemies. The enemies were perceived by American soldiers as a threat because they injured and killed American soldiers and put their life and health at threat daily during the war. Consequently, the desire to revenge on prisoners was naturally provoked by the war and environment, in which American soldiers actually worked. They viewed prisoners as their enemies, but they got used to kill enemies in order to survive. In such a context, violence and tortures were just a kind of manifestation of the deep-rooted habits of American soldiers who were trained specifically to eliminate enemies.
Nevertheless, the psychological pressure on American soldiers cannot be a reasonable explanation of their behavior and tortures of Iraqi prisoners. American soldiers are supposed to act in accordance with existing legal norms, both American and international. Tortures used by Americans in Abu Ghraib were apparently the violation of human rights of prisoners and norms of the Geneva Conventions, which ban tortures, including tortures in relation to military prisoners. Therefore, actions of the US soldiers were not only unethical but also illegal. The violation of laws means that American soldiers committed crimes in Iraq, while tortures were illegal.
Obviously, arguments of American soldiers that they attempted to set discipline in the prison are inconsistent. In fact, discipline had proved to be secondary to American soldiers when they used tortures and violence in relation to their prisoners. Could the prisoners violate discipline, if they confronted armed American soldiers? Obviously – no. The US prisoners serving their terms in the US prisons have discipline even without the use of force and tortures from the part of law enforcement agents.
At the same time, it necessary to admit that tortures and violence increased discipline in the Abu Ghraib prison because prisoners were terrorized and frightened to death that made them unable to resist or oppose to American soldiers. However, it does not necessarily mean that American soldiers had managed to establish discipline with the help of violence and tortures. Tortures were absolutely unnecessary. Americans could not maintain discipline consciously because tortures and violence made them feel the necessity to obey not in order to maintain discipline but in order to avoid punishment, torture, etc. The avoidance of violence was the main reason which kept prisoners obedient, but they were not really disciplined because there was no clear and understandable system to which they should obey. Therefore, tortures were nothing but the excessive use of force and the manifestation of sadistic inclinations of American soldiers, who enjoyed the full power over prisoners, who could not even resist to the US soldiers.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that tortures are absolutely illegal and immoral, especially if they are applied by soldiers in relation to military prisoners. In such a situation, arguments of soldiers that they maintain discipline with the help of tortures are irrelevant because tortures are not necessary to maintain discipline among prisoners. Military prisoners in Abu Ghraib remained obedient and disciplined in a prison because they could not resist to American soldiers. The latter should not use tortures because tortures were absolutely unnecessary to keep prisoners obedient. At the same time, tortures were the violation of basic human rights of prisoners. In addition, tortures were absolutely illegal because international laws as well as American ones ban the use of tortures. On the other hand, tortures are unacceptable not only from the legal standpoint, but also from the ethical one. Obviously, the use of tortures against defenseless prisoners is not the manifestation of discipline in the prison but the manifestation of the ultimate cruelty of soldiers, who were probably under the impact of stressful environment. However, even the most stressful environment cannot justify inhuman cruelty of American soldiers in relation to prisoners in Abu Ghraib and the use of tortures. This is why tortures are absolutely unacceptable, wherever they are applied.
Lopez, Kathryn Jean. “Justice in War: Just-war theory,” National Review, 15 October 2001.
Morris, E. Standard Operating Procedure. New York: Random House, 2008.
Parker, A. and Fellner, J. “Above the Law: Executive Power after September 11 in the United States.” World Report 2004, Human Rights Watch, Jan. 2004.
Potter, L. and G. Sick. Iran, Iraq, and the legacies of war. New York: MacMillan, 2004.
Tucker, Bruce and Sia Triantafyllos. “Lynndie England, Abu Ghraib, and the New Imperialism”. Canadian Review of American Studies, 38 (1), 2008, pp. 83-100.