Torture and Public Opinion – An Analysis

In her paper, “Constructing the United States Torture Regime: The Power of the Media to Distort Public Opinion of International Law,” Zoe Young analyzes the government leaders’ utilization of the media to shape public opinion of domestic and international policies. She especially looks into the Bush administration’s normalization of interrogational torture following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Before looking into her specific example, Young begins by reviewing the relevant international law prohibiting torture, mainly Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which contains prohibition against “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” She then illustrates the United States’ historic role in spearheading the international effort to push back on the use of torture around the world to lead to her main point of her essay of how the United States had distorted this international law in modern times as obsolete in the aftermath of 9/11.

Young provides some background to her example by describing the ‘ticking bomb scenario,’ where terrorism was essentially portrayed through the media as an imminent situation in which the use of interrogation was crucial to avoid more casualties and damage to the United States. She disapproves of this practice as a distortion of international law that justifies the use of torture against terrorist suspects and strips them of their international right to be free from such practices.

Looking more specifically on the media side, Young criticizes the media for failing to question the government’s justification of torture until the discovery of severe abuse in the in Abu Ghraib detention center. However, the blame for the lack of media coverage on the issue is turned back to the Bush administration as its effort to control the media’s depiction of the disturbing situations in the detention center as something that the government is not directly responsible for. Young asserts that the public’s limited access to truthful information facilitated by such government control redefines torture to a much narrower term that only includes practices that would lead to death or near-death, which deviates from the broad international definition of torture.

Young concludes her paper by describing the negative global consequences of such practice in normalizing the use of torture in the citizens’ minds as an acceptable counterterrorism effort, as well as in justifying the bypassing of international law. As her concluding remark, she wraps up her paper by suggesting for the United States to end this torture regime and ensure compensation for the torture victims.

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