At Abu Ghraib, prisoners were forced to perform simulated sex acts and were humiliated. The U.S. government has also been accused of sexually and culturally abusing the Koran and other offenses meant to degrade the prisoners’ religion. Interrogators have used the threat of violence or death against a detainee’s family and friends as a way of extracting information.

Mailed responses:

85% – Yes, it’s torture

15% – No, it’s not torture

Internet poll:

49% – Yes, it’s torture

51% – No, it’s not torture

Intimidation using dogs

Dogs have been used to intimidate prisoners.

Mailed responses:

81% – Yes, it’s torture

19% – No, it’s not torture

Internet poll:

39% – Yes, it’s torture

51% – No, it’s not torture

Stress positions/cold cells

Prisoners are forced to remain in physically straining positions for long periods of time. The positions can cause significant pain. Detainees have also been subjected to extreme temperatures, including being doused with water and chained to the floor in near-freezing conditions.

Mailed responses:

85% – Yes, it’s torture

15% – No, it’s not torture

Internet poll:

50% – Yes, it’s torture

50% – No, it’s not torture

Beatings/repetitive, aggressive body cavity searches/sexual violations/Palestinian hanging

Prisoners have been beaten, raped and sodomized. They have also been subjected to other types of sexual violence. During a Palestinian hanging, a prisoner’s arms are shackled behind the back. The wrists are raised above the shoulders. The method has been blamed for at least one death.

Mailed responses:

89% – Yes, it’s torture

11% – No, it’s not torture

Internet poll:

75% – Yes, it’s torture

25% – No, it’s not torture

Mock executions

A prisoner is made to believe that if he fails to comply, he will be killed. Methods include holding a gun to a prisoner’s head and fake electrocution.

Mailed responses:

81% – Yes, it’s torture

19% – No, it’s not torture

Internet poll:

58% – Yes, it’s torture

42% – No, it’s not torture


During the course of aggressive interrogation, if a detainee is killed, does that constitute a crime?

Mailed responses:

85% – Yes, it’s torture

15% – No, it’s not torture

Internet poll:

79% – Yes, it’s torture

21% – No, it’s not torture


Waterboarding can take many forms. The method used by the U.S. government has been described this way by ABC News: A prison is restrained on an inclined board with his head lower than his feet. His face is covered in cellophane. Water is poured over him. “Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in, and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.”

Other methods of waterboarding include filling the prisoner’s stomach with water until it is painfully expanded and near-drowning occurs. In other descriptions, prisoners’ heads are held under water until they become incapacitated.

Mailed responses:

81% – Yes, it’s torture

15% – No, it’s not torture

4% – Undecided

Internet poll:

55% – Yes, it’s torture

45% – No, it’s not torture

Is it torture?
The results are in, but they are far from clear. More people oppose abusive interrogations, but a vocal minority, especially on the Web, say the United States should do whatever it takes against a determined enemy

Is it torture?

In December, we asked readers that question in regard to “aggressive interrogation” techniques used – or alleged to have been used in some cases – by the United States government. The results are mixed, with a majority opposed to what they say is torture.

Since then, much has happened.

President Bush has signed a new law that bans the cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of people in U.S. custody. But he attached a signed statement that says the government, despite the intent of Congress, can still use many of the controversial interrogation techniques if they are deemed necessary.

On Feb. 16, the United Nations called upon the U.S. to close its extralegal detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and either try or release the people held there. Investigators from the U.N. were not allowed to interview any of the detainees held at the base. The lack of access led to a shocking report, which accuses the U.S. of ignoring international law and the Geneva Conventions.

And then there’s Abu Ghraib, the notorious prison outside of Baghdad where detainees were abused, tortured and killed. New photos from the prison emerged during the same week as the U.N.’s report on Guantanamo Bay, providing further evidence that detainees were mistreated while in U.S. custody.

The issue of how the United States handles suspected terrorists remains at the forefront of the news and perceptions of the country in other parts of the world.

Many readers took our questions, asked Dec. 11, to heart, and responded with thoughtful, insightful and passionate answers. The Sun Journal received 48 responses and another 52 comments where posted on a discussion board on the newspaper’s Web site.

Responses can be categorized four ways. Twenty-six people clipped the original Perspective page and checked their answers to the questions, with several including detailed notes in the margins. Three people sent in long letters. Nineteen people responded via e-mail. In most cases, e-mail responders made an argument for or against the use of the aggressive tactics. Then there was the comment board discussion, or blog, that can best be described as a running argument between dozens of writers.

As might be expected, there was no clear consensus. Answers ranged from “None of the techniques are torture” to “All of them are torture” to “All of them are torture and should still be allowed because we face a ruthless, murderous enemy.”

The way a person responded to the question was also the best indicator of their views. Of the people who mailed in their answers, responses ran 5-to-1 against the use of all the techniques, regardless of circumstances. On the blog, the split was pretty even, with slightly more people approving of rough treatment for detainees under certain circumstances. There were also several personal jabs thrown in on the blog that couldn’t be counted as answers because they focused more on attacking others’ opinions than making an argument or strayed into other issues.

An anonymous poll conducted online showed the most tolerance for abuse. About 62 percent said it was OK to use dogs to intimidate prisoners. About 50 percent said sexual humiliation and stress positions were justified. Rape, at 25 percent approval, and death, at 22 percent, got the least support.

Talk about a difference in tone. On the blog, the back-and-forth was, at times, vicious, with some writers telling others to leave the country – or worse. There was plenty of name-calling, and many comments traded thoughtfulness for venom.

And we can’t forget a common theme, primarily from the Web site: It’s the media’s fault. For showing the pictures, for reporting on the abuse, for bashing the president.

“Your emotional premise complete with pictures at the beginning of this blog would have more credibility if you had also included photos of folks like (Daniel) Pearl with his bloody head lying beside his body after being kidnapped and beheaded by these terrorist thugs. Or maybe photos of American citizens jumping out of the burning (World) Trade Center buildings after Muslim terrorists flew airplanes into them … Lacking these other images, one can only conclude that you are attempting to form public opinion against the U.S. and President Bush, while intentionally trying to gin up support for those poor terrorists.”

Reader responses

Here’s a sampling of things readers had to say about the use of aggressive interrogation tactics or torture against detainees held by the United States.

From the mail:

“It’s wrong and evil … For every one they treat like this, there’s probably a dozen more who now hate our guts as Americans.”

“Would I want it to happen to me? To my children? Parents? Friends? Anyone? Man’s inhumanity to man is legendary.”

“I do not believe in any kind of torture against another human. This kind of thing only brings us down to their level … I would not change my mind under any circumstances.”

“I would torture in order to find a bomb and save a town full of people. But it would still be torture and a moral sin. I would expect nothing short of hell at the moment of my death for having committed this horrendous sin.”

“Time and again, experts have claimed that torture does not work. It does not produce any results.”

“The torture is just as harmful to our young men who impose it. Also history does not prove such barbaric methods illicit the truth.”

“No, it’s not torture. Not for them.”

“I would ask President Bush and those in favor of torture if they would be willing to perform these procedures personally.”

From e-mail:

“Hazing, yes. Torture, no”

“Is it not a violation of the Geneva Conventions to publish the pictures of POWs? I know that the standard argument to this is that President Bush calls them ‘enemy combatants,’ but this is the height of hypocrisy. You and those like you are endlessly railing that these people need to be treated in compliance with the Geneva Conventions, regardless of what they are. And yet you violate that which you claim to support. … And worse yet, you do this for the sake of political gains, not the safety and humane treatment of the prisoners, nor the safety and security of our country.”

“Torture. The word itself makes everyone cringe when they hear it. They want to believe it doesn’t happen … that we’re above the act of torture, but the fact is we’re not. Personally … I agree with the act of information extracting from the enemy, but the conflict is where do we draw the line?”

“Torture is not justified. If we allow it on suspected terrorists now, we will find over the years that the definition of terrorist widens and widens, until it includes everyone suspected of disagreeing with whomever is in power.”

“The photos of Abu Ghraib have been shown over and over throughout the Arab world and the damage to our reputation cannot be calculated. … Another point worth mentioning is that a person in pain will say anything or do anything to make it stop. When I was growing up, the Nazis and the communists were the people who had treated their prisoners this badly. What distinguished the United States was the way we treated prisoners of war, those we conquered. … The problem isn’t how to define what is and what is not torture. The issue is how to treat other human beings in a decent way and lead by example in the world. The United States should truly respect freedom, due process, the rule of law, and should exemplify human decency in its dealings with others.”

“We (the United States of America) have an urgent need to focus on the more difficult and time consuming effort of building relationships, and extending the abundance of this nation to those less fortunate.”

“Is it torture? How interesting that we even can ask that question now in the ‘enlightened’ year of 2005! Is it torture? Of course it’s torture! What else could any intelligent or sensitive human being call it?”

“In short, every one of those things is torture. This subject, and the fact that it is part of the present-day public discourse frankly makes me physically ill. I understand the thought process that has lead us to torture, and I am saddened. We are better than this.”

“The government of a civilized country, which holds itself up as a model for the rest of the world, should abstain from all forms of torture.”

“How would Americans respond if any of our citizens were ‘tortured’ by a foreign power?”

From the Sun Journal Internet comment board:

“I am clearly opposed to the mutilating and extremely painful type of torture used in medieval times and by totalitarian regimes such as that of Saddam Hussein. I think the term has been loosely applied by the media and opponents of the war. Psychological torture of extreme duress and physical torture of extreme pain and mutilation are far different. Most people, on reading the word ‘torture’ include the image of the latter. Any civilized person of normal sensitivities would be repulsed by physical torture. In today’s fast-paced world, quick-bullets of information rather than in-depth and comprehensive reading often leads to uninformed or misinformed conclusions. I think those who present the news know this and use it to their advantage to formulate opinion.”

“Eighth Amendment to the U.S Constitution states ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ is prohibited.”

“In times of war anything goes. I think the reporters should not be allowed to be there, and we should do what we have to do to get the job done. I think we would have our men back home a lot faster if they didn’t have to worry about what they’re doing, if it’s right or wrong, everything goes, kill who they have to, get it done and over.”

“Remember all is fair in love and war. I say we should do anything it takes to make them talk. We don’t drag our dead prisoners through our city streets like they do.”

“I don’t think that any of these methods are necessary. Treat them more decently and they’ll be more apt to respond more favorably. Aren’t we in a war to bring about peace?”

“How horrible that we find it necessary to bring about peace by such terrible methods. A little ironic, certainly. Surely there is a way to treat prisoners more humanely and get a better response than using these tactics.”

“Let’s ply them with sugar cookies and rich, chocolate Ovaltine, tuck them in at night, read them a story, then just sit back and wait for the intel to flow. That ought to work. What the press fails to realize is that we are not playing games, we are at war. I do not condone torture, but what these prisoners have been subject to has not been torture.”

“In times of war anything goes? Then who are the terrorists? Because when we do these things we are also terrorists!”

“If I may, I am a Lewiston native who is an active duty member. I have been to Oman, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Kuwait. The one thing that I have learned from all of these countries is this: Arabs hate anything that resembles Judeo Christian. They were my best friend when I was doing what they wanted, but as soon as I did not, they acted as if they would kill me. The only way to obtain information from these people is to force it out of them. Sure, some of the intel may be bogus, but that is what we have trained professionals in the interrogating rooms for. They can decipher the BS from the facts. This is how I look at it. When I was a kid in Auburn, we used to go to different baseball fields to play ball, each field had its own group of kids that had their own ‘rules’ for playing. You adapted to each park’s ‘rules.’ We as a country are merely doing the same with these people. This is how they play on their turf, so we are just obliging them.”

“How quick we forget. Are we saying flying those planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon didn’t cause physical and emotional pain to many people? Come on now. It’s an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. If it’s a case where we can get information to stop this from happening again, then we do whatever is necessary. We are killing and getting killed every day. This is war. Being abused is better than being dead.”

“I do not believe that prisoners of war should be tortured. These terrorists are not prisoners of war. They use methods of beheading and disemboweling to get their point across. A little psychological warfare is proper. Would you rather give them a group hug and say ‘I feel your pain?'”

“Look at all the things they are doing to our soldiers and innocent civilians over there. If they can dish it out, they should expect it in return. … As long as our soldiers are over there, I will stand behind anything they feel necessary to do to them.”

“If sticking electrodes to the testicles of terrorists will save one American life, I only have one thing to say on the matter, red is positive, black is negative. You don’t fight fair. You fight to win.”

“Deep down inside, when most Americans saw this reported in the news, we were like, ‘so what?’ We lost hundreds and made fun of a few prisoners. Sure, it was wrong. Sure, it dramatically hurts our cause, but until captured we were trying to kill these same prisoners. Now we’re supposed to wring our hands because a few were humiliated? Our compassion is tempered with the vivid memories of our own people killed, mutilated and burnt amongst a joyous crowd …”

“We’re all glad that we don’t have to depend on some of the people writing in to this post to defend our country. I’m glad there are people of real intestinal fortitude to do the job. Without them, the ‘media’ wouldn’t be able to do in-depth probes like this one. The use of the photos was an obvious ploy by the editor to advance his America-bashing point of view. Isn’t it amazing how people who have never had to sacrifice anything feel so free to abuse the privileges earned by others?”

“The more distant we get from 9/11/01, the more too many of us, with our heads stuck firmly in the sand once again, are wringing our hands over ‘torture.’ If extreme measures are needed to save American lives, they should be taken, for the next version of 9/11 could feature a mushroom cloud and casualties in the millions. This threat is real and how to prevent this is something Americans really need to worry about.”

“We can’t torture, but it’s OK for them to chop off heads? The hell with them. Torture away.”

“Not all Muslims are terrorists. Not all Muslims are chopping off people’s heads. Information attained through torture and abuse is not reliable. When we stoop to the level of terrorists through our actions and policies, we are no better.”

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