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The Torture Question: Getting Away with Torture?


Discussion Questions
  • Student Handout: Excerpt from the Geneva Conventions
  • Student Handout: What is Torture?

  • Featured Lesson Plan
  • Getting Away with Torture?
  • Student Handout: The Facts and Issues of the Abu Ghraib Prison Scandal
  • Student Handout: Tracing the History of Interrogation Policy

  • Additional Lesson Ideas
  • What Would You Do?
  • Unlawful Combatants or Prisoners of War?
  • Responding to World Opinion

  • Additional Resources

    Printable .pdf of Entire Guide
    (Adobe Acrobat required)

    » About the Film:

    FRONTLINE's documentary "The Torture Question" traces the history of how decisions made in Washington in the immediate aftermath of September 11 led to an interrogation policy that, in turn, laid the groundwork for prisoner abuse in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Iraq. Abu Ghraib has always been a terrifying place to Iraqis -- Saddam Hussein used it as his primary torture chamber -- but in 2004, when graphic photographs of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners surfaced, Abu Ghraib took on deeper meaning. The political firestorm ignited by the Abu Ghraib photos and the shocking revelations that followed resulted in 12 Department of Defense investigations. One of them, a commission of ex-defense secretaries, found that there were lapses in oversight in the Pentagon, but that the practices had not been condoned. The FRONTLINE documentary "The Torture Question" looks at the legal framework developed by Bush Adminsitration lawyers that provided the impetus for unprecedented rules for interrogating detainees in the search for "actionable intelligence." FRONTLINE follows the implementation of these rules from the battlefields of Afghanistan, to the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, to the horrific scenes photographed at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in the fall of 2003. "The details of what happened in those cellblocks between the U.S. soldiers and Iraqi detainees are well known," says producer/director Michael Kirk, "but how and why it happened is what took us into the heart of Abu Ghraib."

    » Using the Film and Teacher Guide in the Classroom:

    Teachers can either assign the film for viewing as homework or show the film in class. Suggested discussion questions are provided. The lessons and activities in this guide can be used in the classroom regardless of whether or not students view the film. The featured lesson in this guide is constructed in modules; teachers can use it in its entirety or select individual activities to accommodate instructional time and student abilities.

    » A Note to Teachers:

    Discussing this topic of physical and mental abuse can be challenging for both teachers and students. The pictures of abuse are unquestionably repulsive. The war in Iraq itself has become controversial, and debate on its merits, progress and operations can be difficult. However, it is important that clear and rational discussion of personal and governmental responsibility occur. The lesson in this guide focuses on crucial issues of government policy as it was implemented in highly emotionally-charged times of war and defense of the nation. To prepare your class for the program and classroom activities, you might want to help students understand the importance of discussing controversial issues in class and remember to respect others as they might present divergent or opposing viewpoints. You may wish to have students create a set of rules of conduct for engaging in controversial discussions.

    For classes in Social Studies, U.S. Government, U.S. History, and Current Events; Grades 9-12.

    » Discussion Questions:

    Students review the Geneva Conventions, and discuss their initial impressions and positions on the subject of torture and its place in acquiring important information to defend the country.

    » Featured Lesson Plan:

    "Getting Away with Torture?"

    Students will:

    • Understand the basic facts surrounding abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib
    • Review the policy memos written to establish procedures for interrogation of prisoners of war and unlawful combatants, and assess their influence on military personnel's interrogation practices
    • Analyze the limits of interrogation techniques in accordance with the Geneva Conventions

    » Additional Lesson Ideas

    What Would You Do?
    Students look at a hypothetical scenario where a major U.S. city has suffered an attack by a suspected terrorist organization. Students set policy on questioning a suspect who is reluctant to talk.

    Unlawful Combatants or Prisoners of War?
    Students explore the meaning of these terms as they relate to international treaties and U.S. policy.

    Responding to World Opinion
    Students review world reaction to the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal and explain, from their perspective, what happened and why.

    » Additional Resources

    An annotated list of relevant Web sites, articles and books.

    » Purchasing the Film:

    "The Torture Question" can be purchased from Shop PBS for Teachers. Also, teachers and students can watch the film streamed in its entirety on FRONTLINE's Web site.

    » Credits

    This teacher's guide was developed by Simone Bloom Nathan of Media Education Consultants. It was written by Greg Timmons, curriculum writer and educational consultant. Advisers were Deborah J. Gerner, Professor of Political Science, University of Kansas, Ellen Greenblatt of University High School, San Francisco and Michelle McVicker of the Rutherford County Schools, Tennessee.

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