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The use of torture is widely decried, both morally and practically. And certainly, there are plenty of circumstances where it would be obviously barbaric, ineffective, and wrong... Yet like everyone who knows who Jack Bauer is, I can easily project circumstances where it would seem to be both moral and practical: A terrorist bent on taking down Western civilization makes a video where he beheads an innocent and credibly claims he will detonate a bomb at high noon tomorrow in the heart of a major US city; he is captured a few hours before noon; and thus if officials can get him to name the location, they would be in a position to verify the presence of a bomb, clear the area, and perhaps even defuse it.

So, when is it proper to use torture? What are the guiding principles for its use, and are there any special concerns to keep in mind when applying those principles? (Like: what quality of government is involved; tactical concerns around reciprocation; the form that due process should take; potential psychological damage to the interrogator; etc.)

asked Oct 15 '10 at 14:18

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦
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edited Oct 18 '10 at 16:38


The basic principle is self defense.

It is proper to use torture when an objective threat is identified. I'm not 100% sure what you are talking about with these special concerns, however. If you mean different applications of self defense, the kind of government in this case isn't of concern, enemies do not have civil rights in the country they are at war with (thus no due process), as for psychological damages to the interrogator, they must sign up on their own free will.

I'll briefly expand on the above.

The idea of self defense as a principle is based upon the fact that an individual’s life is the standard of value. Next, in the realm of politics, the government's (any government) job is simply to protect those rights. If a government is violating the rights of its citizens this is improper, but this does not mean that they should not perform any of their functions properly. Often even the worst and most rights violating governments will perform proper functions such as protecting the lives of its citizens from criminals or upholding a fair court trial from time to time. Evil cannot be practiced 100% or that entity will annihilate itself instantaneously. This is what Rand meant when she said that evil countries (or evil people as such) will perish if left to their own devices. So, the proper role of a government is to protect its citizens from foreign invaders, and local thugs. If an enemy of the citizens executes someone on camera and claims there is a bomb in a public place and they know where it is, there aren't really any considerations except how to get the information the quickest way possibly.

Foreigners do not have civil rights within another country. Just imagine the mayhem if a country attempted to allow due process to any enemy they are at war with. When attempting to attack a city should we make an announcement and let all the bad guys go scott free (like we are doing now?) No! Just relate it to an individual circumstance. A person breaks into your house and plants a bomb under your kid’s bed, they have the code and there is only 10 minutes left. Now do you think it is best to just wait for the police to show and hope they get there in time or do you beat the crap out of the guy until he tells you the code? The same applies to enemies of a country.

Lastly, as to the interrogator, he should not sign up for a job if he is incapable of handling it. This is also a reason why all jobs should be voluntary. Many soldiers in battle are going to attain negative psychological affects, and they should rightfully be compensated and taken care of after they have fought for their country. They must make the choice to fight with the full knowledge of the possibilities of killing (or being killed), and the possible long-term consequences of that action.

As to your comment about torture being barbaric, it is only barbaric if it is used against someone when there is not an objective threat. It is also barbaric to not do whatever is necessary to protect the lives of an innocent country being attacked by barbarians.

answered Oct 16 '10 at 03:12

Kirk's gravatar image

Kirk ♦
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edited Oct 16 '10 at 03:19

The founders of the US would not seem to agree with you in regards to non-citizens having no civil rights. The Declaration of Independence states, "...all men are created equal and have certain inalienable rights.. life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness." Bill of Rights uses the term "persons" in several places in regard to rights such as property and life. It uses "people" at other points (presumably for rights reserved to citizens?)

(Oct 17 '10 at 12:52) ethwc ♦ ethwc's gravatar image

Well that is a good question about rights. And I would say that there is a difference between inalienable rights and civil rights. Although that's not the main point of this discussion.

(Oct 17 '10 at 13:05) Kirk ♦ Kirk's gravatar image

I believe that a soldier has the right to expect humane treatment if captured. Similarly, a criminal should expect to be treated humanely if captured. By engaging in criminal actions, these individuals surre3nder their right to live free; they do not surrender their right to not be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. I believe that, if we wish to utilize torture, there must be explicit guidelines as to can approve it and what methods will be used. Personally, I would prefer that we, as a nation condemn this method of interrogation.

(Oct 17 '10 at 16:28) ethwc ♦ ethwc's gravatar image

I think, absent the reference back to torture, you should ask this as a question. You seem to be hung up on "rights" and what the purpose of rights are. Again, I'd say an enemy soldier should not have any "rights" recognized. If they have information, get it. Now there are times when that may not be the best thing to do (such as if you don't want YOUR soldiers to be tortured by your enemies.)

(Oct 17 '10 at 17:55) Kirk ♦ Kirk's gravatar image
1

War is an incredibly violent milieu. In the absence of leadership maintaining control of the violence, it can rapidly escalate to mayhem and atrocities. As a nation, we have generally advocated opposition to atrocities (while, admittedly engaging in more than a few). Regardless of civil rights, laws, etc, use of torture is an atrocity and, as such, is immoral. It is conceivable that thinking humans may find need to resort to such atrocities on rare occasion. If so, there need to be strong constraints and mechanisms. Rogues such as Jack Bauer should not be tolerated in a moral society.

(Oct 17 '10 at 18:47) ethwc ♦ ethwc's gravatar image
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I have finished the blog post on torture. To say the least, it is very lengthy, and very comprehensive. My mission was to make a blog post for my readers that would mean me never having to write another position piece on the issue again.

Is the use of torture against terrorist suspects ever justified?

I do not have the time at the moment, but for those who do not wish to read all of that, I will be providing a very bare-bones version of my position based on my research later today or tomorrow which I will edit into this answer, so that we may have some comprehensive discussion on the matter.

Both the link and the barebones version are why I am making this separate from a normal comment.

answered Nov 05 '10 at 18:42

capitalistswine's gravatar image

capitalistswine ♦
218520

edited Nov 05 '10 at 18:49

I missed this until this evening. The blog is excellent and makes your point thoroughly. Our nation's founding documents do, indeed, state that ALL men are endowed with inalienable rights. Torture is an abrogation of these rights at the most basic level and cannot be tolerated in a society that considers itself rational and ethical.

(Nov 14 '10 at 21:50) ethwc ♦ ethwc's gravatar image

All the good arguments I have heard for torture rely on the presence of some immediate emergency situation, which a lot of people ignore as context.

A proper moral argument against torture should rely on its unreliability and its negative effects on the overall war effort (e.g it gives the enemy more emotional fuel and actually puts our soldiers in more danger than it protects them from).

CS's makes such points in a few of his paragraphs. However the rest of the blog entry is unconvincing.

At this stage I remain undecided

(Nov 14 '10 at 23:19) Michael Michael's gravatar image

Michael, In its denial of the humanness of the person tortured, torture becomes unacceptable. That alone should make it unacceptable. Additionally, multiple evaluations have found it unreliable as a source of information, destructive of reputation of those using it, and demoralizing for the torturers. Jefferson's words stated "all men" not just our friends and citizens are endowed with inalienable rights.

(Nov 15 '10 at 07:53) ethwc ♦ ethwc's gravatar image
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My argument is multi-faceted and each and every single point made is integral to the argument. If any single point of my argument is left out then it falls apart because it does not then take into consideration the entire spectrum of potential events necessary to answer this kind of question. As it i s, the humaneness of torture is not one of the main considerations of the argument, but a subcomponent of a more complex argument. One cannot blank out context, particularly on this ethical question, and that is what is being done by forgetting to ascribe the fact that these people (intelligence flaws aside) are being acted upon in such a manner because they are believed to have used the ultimate kind of force, lethal violence, against the United States for some reason or another, and that they are the initiators of that force. Unfortunately, given the actual military history of the U.S. and the necessary consequences of having this incorrect approach to foreign policy all of these decades, it makes non-ticking time bomb scenarios much more difficult to argue than they already are. At least, under the foreign policy objectives that we may set for the United States. This is why the core of the essay is during the refutation of Krauthammers arguments, which focus on the ticking-time bomb scenario while also contemplating what this means with respect to actual, set laws. I never got to writing the bare-bones version of the argument. I will make a strong effort to put that up either later today or sometime tomorrow.

answered Nov 15 '10 at 17:19

capitalistswine's gravatar image

capitalistswine ♦
218520

edited Nov 15 '10 at 17:21

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Asked: Oct 15 '10 at 14:18

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Last updated: Nov 15 '10 at 17:21