Emily M. Kochanek – News Editor
Professors Stephanie Athey and Denny Frey hosted a discussion in Rosen Auditorium on September 17 about the problems of torture in America. Titled “Torture and the Constitution,” the pair delved into what constitutes as torture and what the U.S. has and is doing despite public perception.
Inspired by the Constitution Project, an organization dedicated to “foster[ing] consensus-based solutions to the most difficult constitutional challenges of our time,” Frey and Athey wanted to share their personal knowledge.
“Human rights have always been on my radar,” said Athey. “But in 2001, when the US press first started ‘debating’ whether ‘we’ should be torturing people suspected of terrorism… I sort of lost my mind.” Comparing the rhetoric of present torture to the lynchings of African-Americans in the 19th century, which Athey studied, she found the need to speak on the subject.
“We seemed to be entranced by a very distorted, imaginary version of torture but completely uninterested in learning facts,” said Athey.
The discussion stemmed from a few years ago when Democrats and Republicans saw a need for a full investigation of the Bush-era torture techniques. What the investigation found was no evidence that torture produced any “significant evidence,” said Athey. It was also found that torture could not be justified in the name of national security.
“For centuries [torture] was used for the exercise of power and control,” said Frey. Frey, who has a doctorate in early modern European history, specifically German, gave a brief explanation of how the Nazis gave the world modern torturing practices. After the fall of the Nazi regime, many countries “collected” Nazis to learn their techniques, most prominently the U.S. and the USSR, said Frey.
Now the U.S. has been forced to reconcile Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. However, Athey said torture culture is in America. “We want to see policing and results,” said Athey. She said the public has a “fantasy” about what torture actually is and misunderstands that it is pervasive in American culture.
“The hero bends the rules to protect the world,” said Athey, describing the American ideal of torture.
America is a large exporter of torture devices, including tasers, forced feeding tubes, and solitary cells for prisons. The U.S. exports to 39 nations “who are known to torture,” said Athey. However, Athey added that it’s illegal in the U.S. to use these devices for torture.
To rectify the problem, Athey said there needs to be a “collaboration between the state and [its] population.” If the U.S. sees torture as a fantasy of the hero against the villain, nothing will change. Most people tortured by the U.S. are “innocent and not involved,” said Athey. According to the discussion, 635 prisoners were released from Guantanamo Bay, who, Athey said, had “no reason to be there.”
“It corrupts the entire justice system,” said Athey. “Torture the one, control the many. But no one stops at just one.”
Some students at the event expressed that torture did in fact instill fear into American enemies. If the enemy was “scared,” it would get those people to stop terrorizing. One freshman, Troy Gonsalves, said he was surprised at the discussion. He was glad that Athey and Frey were “changing people’s perspective that these people are not really evil.”