With Liberty and Justice for All*
(Written February 2014)
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Korematsu vs U.S. (1944) in which the Supreme Court ruled that Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which forced Japanese Americans into internment camps in World War II, was constitutional. Even 70 years later, we are still dealing with debates over acts that clearly violate human rights. This example of Korematsu vs US is used to justify an argument in Tortured Reasoning, written by a famous lawyer named Alan Dershowitz who believes that there is a need for a torture warrant. Dershowitz believes that torture should be allowed in the event of a ticking time bomb: a fictionalized situation where a captured terrorist refuses to tell about a weapon that will detonate soon, and if not detonated soon it is capable of hurting civilians. While Dershowitz thinks that his solution is better than having no solution to torture, his method of trying to address torture in our society is in no way justified. Despite devoting his life to “defending human rights”, Dershowitz is interested in bring torture out of the shadows and formally allowing it to occur by warrants. Any form of legalizing and allowing torture is a violation of inalienable rights as well as our Constitution. Warranting torture will put yet another stain on our country’s history and our reputation to the world.
Dershowitz uses the example of Korematsu to show a situation of what could happen if we do not clearly set the boundaries of what is allowed and not allowed in war. Dershowitz thinks that we can prevent another Korematsu by the torture warrant, where we clearly show when torture is okay. But the allowance of the torture warrant would be yet another decision in the “Supreme Court’s Hall of Infamy” since torture is a crime against humanity. Even allowing it to only occur in a specific situation does not undo its immorality and wrongness. The FBI defines terrorism as “involving violent acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law”. Similarly, torture fits this definition. Fighting fire with fire will do nothing to help the war or situations of terrorism. Acts of torture, even permitted under the law, only serve to show of the weakness of the United States and undermine our Constitution. We’re no better than the our enemies that we see as satanic, demonic, and cruel for torturing our soldiers.
Above all, we already have laws in our Constitution that prohibit the use of torture. Dershowitz’s torture warrant is insufficient as our law has already taken a stance against torture. Under Article 6 of the Constitution, our laws and treaties made are the “supreme law of the land”. In 1988 we signed the United Nations Convention against Torture. Not to mention, a torture warrant is unconstitutional under our 8th Amendment that has been established since 1791 to prevent the use of cruel and unusual punishments including torture. Further, our Constitution helped to create laws to help us find information in the case of a national emergency like a “ticking time bomb”. The event that the captured terrorist is the only person holding the information about the bomb is doubtful. We live in a world of technology where the government has access to databases of information and local police forces are compliant in helping the government in a national emergency. We don’t need to rely on our fists or weapons to get information about a ticking bomb, the torture warrant will not grant us more information than that the government already has access to. Moreover, the allowance of a torture warrant forces judges to allow corruption in their courts. Judges are supposed to defend the rights of the innocent and uphold the laws of the Constitution. They’re not supposed to take away all human rights by signing a person up to be tortured. It’s synonymous to giving the torturers a blank check to take any means necessary against accused torturers. “Extreme measures” including horrific acts against human rights like at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad (where in 2003-2004 male and female U.S. soldiers physically and sexually assaulted, humiliated, and killed prisoners) could become common practices if we allow torture to occur legally.
Rather than allowing torture to take place in certain circumstances, we must take action against those who do torture. Our Constitution already forbids torture to occur and we must abide by these laws. While one may say that the Constitution has flaws and there have been cases in history where our Constitution violated rights itself, our solution should be to strengthen it to prevent loopholes and flaws in the document. Instead of warranting torture, we should be stricter upon those who violate human rights and our Constitution. Torture is a crime in both peacetime and wartime and we must hold those who take away human rights responsible.
As a nation of democratic values, we must uphold the freedom, liberty, the right to life, and our pursuits of happiness guaranteed in our Constitution. Under our laws today, torture is illegal and it must stay illegal. There are no exceptions and no warrants for torture in any form. Even though the Constitution clearly disallows torture, we must ensure that loopholes allowing Dershowitz’ torture warrant never occur because how can we uphold our values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness if we ourselves are permitting what our enemies do? When our own soldiers are taken in as prisoners of war, they are told to follow the Code of Conduct. If we at home are violating these rights, what values can they trust into? If we permit torture in any form, would we really be a nation with liberty and justice for all?