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by Steven Malik Shelton
˚ Torture is Never Justifiable

by Steven Malik Shelton
˚African Muslims in The Americas

By Steven Malik Shelton

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Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
Published on 11th April, 2003

Torture is Never Justifiable

By Steven Malik Shelton

˚ Unlawful Combatants

˚ Landmines 

˚ Guantamano Bay

˚ American Agents: The C.I.A

˚ Worse Than Slavery Parchman Farm and The Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice

Guantamano Bay off the coast of Cuba where the Taliban and others are held prisoner

˚ The History of the British Colonies in the West Indies

˚ Buccaneers of America

˚ Dr Martin Luther King Jr

˚ Imam Ali ('a)

˚ References

'And spend of your substance in the cause of Allah,
And do not make your own hands contribute to your destruction; 
but do good; for Allah loves those who do good.'' 

(2: 195 Al Qur'an)

Lately I have noticed an alarming trend. There are individuals in positions of power and influence who are attempting to justify the use of torture under certain special conditions.

Suspected Terrorist from Aghanistan transported  to Guantamano Bay, Cuba with these restraints following forced shavingTheir argument goes something like this: "These are extreme and dangerous times and they require extreme measures. If a known terrorist was to fall into our hands, and we were 90% certain that he had information which could save hundreds, or perhaps, thousands of lives; in these dire circumstances we cannot allow ourselves to be handcuffed by the traditional niceties of interrogation. But we should be able to use any means, fair or foul, to extract the necessary information, including torture. After all, these are not normal times. Our country is under attack by enemies from within and from without. This is war."

However, Article 17 of the Third Geneva Convention {an Article ratified by the United States} does not agree with their contention, but instead states very clearly:

''No physical or mental torture nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.''

Unlawful Combatants

"Cages" instead of proper cells  in Guantemallo Bay for Muslim prisonersPresident George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfield, and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft have deviously tried to circumvent this Article by claiming that terrorists, and those that aid them, are not prisoners of war but ''unlawful combatants'' and thus fall outside of the rules pertaining to the treatment of prisoners of war. Yet this is not so. The international laws that prohibit the use of torture apply to all prisoners regardless of any arbitrary label placed upon them by anyone. In short, if they are human beings they are included.

Upon closer scrutiny, President Bush's statements pertaining to so-called terrorist suspects are contradictory and hypocritical. On the one hand he claims that America is at war, yet on  the other hand he maintains that individuals apprehended and imprisoned as a result of this ''war'' are not prisoners of war and thus not eligible for protection under the Articles of the Geneva Convention.

Mr. Bush has concocted the term ''unlawful combatants'' with which he seeks to dodge the requirements of the Geneva Convention. Yet Article 2 of the Third Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War states:

''In addition to the provisions which shall be implemented in peace time, present convention shall apply to all cases of declared war or of other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them.''

United States military interrogators claim that their prisoners can be lied to, screamed at, stripped naked, forcibly shaved, deprived of religious articles and toiletries.The Washington Post reports that terrorist suspects and detainees held in C.I.A. interrogation facilities at Bagram Airforce Base in Afghanistan, are forced to stand or kneel for hours shackled in awkward painful positions. Some prisoners are also being shipped to countries that are known to routinely inflict torture. This practice is a flagrant violation of international law. Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture states that:

''No State Party shall expel, return, or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.''     

There is another document that negates the inflicting of torture and cruelty on human beings. This document is The United States Constitution.

In the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights it declares that:

''Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.''

Furthermore, there is no provision qualifying these amendments solely for the benefit of U.S. citizens. They are applicable to everyone who is in the control of U.S. authorities and under U.S. jurisdiction.

There is another fundamental document of this country, The Declaration of Independence, which declares in part:

''We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,--''

Also in The Declaration of Independence, we find that many of the grievances of its framers mirror the concerns we have today:

''For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trail by Jury.''

''For transporting us beyond (over) seas to be tried for pretended offences.''

''He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy of the Head of a civilized nation.''

Despite such noble and universal documents as:

  • The Articles of the Geneva Convention.

  • The Articles of The Convention Against Torture

  • The U.S. Bill of Rights and The Declaration of Independence.

The American government is involved in actions and in the establishment of policies that run quite contrary to its stated ideals. Some of them are:

The U.S. refused to join the International Criminal Court, and embarked on a fierce lobbying campaign against it. And it seeks exemption for U.S. nationals overseas should they fall under the court's jurisdiction.


The U.S. won't sign a treaty banning land mines. The U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines urged President Bush in December 2002 not to allow U.S. forces to deploy anti-personnel landmines in Iraq and to work toward U.S. accession to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. A group of 130 nations including every member of NATO except the U.S., has embraced the treaty. The U.S. used a total of 11,634 land mines in the first Gulf War, including 27,967 anti personnel mines.

The U.S. used cluster bombs, most notably in the former Yugoslavia, where one quarter of the civilian deaths were due to the use of cluster bombs in areas where they became what activists called ''indiscriminate weapons.''

Guantamano Bay

Verifiable eyewitness accounts of torture techniques used on prisoners held in U.S. facilities such as Diego Garcia, Bagram (the U.S. air base in Afghanistan) in Guantamano Bay off the coast of Cuba. Methods of torture include sensory deprivation, being tied or shackled in painful positions for hours, sleep deprivation and bombardment with bright light.

U.S. aid has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which tortures their citizens.

According to reporter Stefan Steinberg in the documentary film' Massacre in Mazar' by Irish director Jamie Doran; '' a series of witnesses appear and testify that American military forces participated in the armed assault and killing of several hundred Taliban prisoners in the Qalo-i-Janghi fortress. Witnesses also allege that following the events at Qalo-i-Janghi, the American army command was complicit in the killing and disposal of a further 3,000 prisoners out of a total of 8,000 who surrendered after the battle of Konduz.''

American Agents: The C.I.A

American agents, especially the C.I.A., have a disturbing record of complicity in the use of torture in many countries specifically Chile, Bolivia, Nicaragua and more recently, Jordan, Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The practice of torture is not new to America. Throughout its history there have been countless incidents of incredible acts of cruelty perpetuated on one group of human beings by another.

Like today, there were those who sought to excuse and to justify torture with rational, intellectual discourses and arguments, yet regardless of how adroit the justifier, torture always strikes a chord of horror and revulsion in the human soul and sensitivity. Perhaps the following descriptions will help us to look at torture and see it for what it is - a grotesque, fiendish practice that should never be permitted for any reason or under any circumstances.

'Worse Than Slavery, Parchman Farm and The Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice'

In the book, 'Worse Than Slavery, Parchman Farm and The Ordeal Of Jim Crow Justice,' we get a chilling account:

''The following year[1904] a Black sharecropper named Luther Holbert was suspected of murdering a white plantation owner near the Sunflower country town of Doddsville. Holbert tried to escape with his wife, but the two were captured by a posse and tied to a tree. More than a thousand spectators were on hand, eating hard boiled eggs, sipping lemonade, and swigging whiskey, as the Holberts were subjected to fiendish tortures before being burned alive.

They were forced to hold out their hands while one finger at a time was chopped off and distributed as souvenirs. Their ears were cut off. Holbert was beaten severely, his skull was fractured, and one of his eyes, knocked with a stick, hung by a shred from the socket...The most excruciating form of punishment consisted in the use of a large corkscrew in the hands of some of the mob. This instrument was bored into the flesh of the man and woman, in the arms, legs, and body, and then pulled out, the spirals tearing out big pieces of raw quivering flesh, every time it was withdrawn.''


''Prisoners were whipped for failure to meet their daily quotas and tortured for various infractions, a practice that would continue well into the Twentieth Century. They were hung from makeshift crucifixes, stretched on wooden racks, and placed in coffin-sized sweatboxes for hours at a time. 'Generally made of wood or tin' explained a student of the Alabama prisons, the sweatbox is 'completely closed except for a small hole at nose level'. When placed under the blistering southern sun the temperature inside becomes unbearable. In a few hours a man's body swells and occasionally bleeds.''

'The History of the British Colonies in the West Indies'

In' The History of the British Colonies in the West Indies'(1793), Bryan Edwards quotes an eyewitness account:

''I once beheld four or five principal Indians roasted alive at a slow fire, and as the miserable victims poured forth dreadful screams, which disturbed the commanding officer in his afternoon slumbers, he sent word that they should be strangled, but the officer guard...would not suffer it; but causing their mouths to be gagged, that cries might not be heard, he stirred up the fire with his own hands, and roasted them deliberately till they all expired...''

'Buccaneers of America'

Another harrowing incident of torture is portrayed in John Esquemelings's 'Buccaneers of America' (1684):

"Not being able to extort any other confession out of him, they first put him upon the rack, wherewith they inhumanely disjointed his arms. After this, they twisted a cord about his forehead, which they wrung so hard that his eyes appeared as big as eggs and were ready to fall out of his skull. But neither with these torments could they obtain any positive answer to their demands. Whereupon they soon after hung him by the testicles, giving him infinite blows and stripes while he was under that intolerable pain and posture of body. Afterwards they cut off his nose and ears, and singed his face with burning straw, till he could speak nor lament his misery no longer.''

Torture is not only banned by domestic and international law, but is also morally reprehensible. It runs counter to every noble and unique quality that makes us human beings.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr

Dr Martin Luther King Jr is recorded to have said that ''injustice anywhere, affects justice everywhere.'' Whenever a person, any person, is tortured; whether on a military base, in a private home, on a prison, or in the cellar of some far-away dungeon; the act strips away the humanity {of not only the individuals involved} but of all of us, and casts a monstrous shadow across our collective human consciousness.  

Imam Ali ('a)

On the death bed of Amirul Momineen Ali, Commander of the Faithful ('a), he ('a) is quoted as having said to his sons Imams Hassan and Hussain ('a):

"If I die of this stroke of his, kill him with one similar stroke. Do not mutilate him! I have heard the Prophet, peace be upon him, say: "Mutilate not even a rabid dog."

(Source: Nahjul Balagha)


''The Qur'an'' Yusuf Ali translation. Ayat 195, Surah 2

Innes, B.{1998}, ''Torture in England and the Colonies. The History of Torture.'' St. Martins Press. New York, p.p. 102,103

Oshinsky, D M.{1996},  ''Worse Than Slavery: Parchman Farm and The Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice'' The Free Press p.p.101,102

Doran, Jamie {2001}. "Masacre in Mazar'' [Documentary Film]

Goldberg, S. {2002, December}. ''CIA Accused of Torture at Bagram Base'' Retrieved March 24, 2003, from,12469,865311,oo.html

Ridgeway, J. {2003 April}. ''The US Often Flouts Geneva Treaties'',Retrieved March 31, 2003, from

Steinberg, S. {2003, June}.  ''Afghan War Documentary Charges U.S. with Mass Killings of POW's'' Retrieved March 24, 2003, from

White, J. {2001, November}.  ''U.S. Atrocity Against Taliban POW's'' Retrieved March 24, 2003, from

Washington Post {2002, December 25}. ''U.S. Decries Abuse but Defends Interrogators'' Retrieved January 3, 2003, from

Steven Malik Shelton is a freelance journalist, articles writer and occasionally a poet. He is writing a book about Muslims in America and the unique challenges they face. When he is not writing, he works as a youth counsellor and community organizer in Detroit Mi. U.S.A


Author: Steven Malik Shelton
Photographer/Illustrator: Unknown.
Chief Editor: Hj Nurzaynab El-Fatah
Production: Hj S. Abidin
Published Date: 11th April, 2003

Modification Date: 25th January, 2009/ 28th Muharram, 1430
Publication ID: 03tortureIs Torture is Never Justifiable
Copyright: Victory News Magazine, 2009


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