Americans love to hail our democratic system as the pinnacle of freedom and justice, the gold standard in the protection of human rights. But according to a new study by FSU political science professor Will Moore, countries with checks and balances systems in place are less likely to outlaw the use of torture.
The reason, Moore explains, is that a multi-faceted system of government makes it inherently more difficult to effect change:
“Checks on executive authorities are viewed as a positive attribute of liberal democracies,” Moore said. “Unfortunately, they are also associated with the continuation of the status quo. So this liberal democratic institution that at first pass one might expect to be positively associated with the termination of the use of torture is actually a hurdle to be overcome.”
After analyzing nine years of data from the CIRI Human Rights Database, which is based on Amnesty International and U.S. State Department reports, Moore found that other “traditionally democratic” aspects of government such as universal suffrage and a right to free speech increased a country’s chances of terminating the use of torture. They also found that 78 percent of the world’s governments used torture at least once during the last 25 years of the 20th century, and those who used it in a given year had a 93 percent chance of using it the next year.
In the U.S., the debate over what exactly constitutes torture persists, and pro-torture advocates are continually buttressed by the ends-justifies-the-means argument for promoting national security. But somewhat astonishingly, the question that still hasn’t been definitively answered, either by science, military officials, or governments using the practice is: Does it really work?