Monday, April 20, 2009

Is Torture OK?

Here's an article in the Times about the Bush Administration and torture. Apparently, the BA did everything except break bones, pull teeth, and burn flesh. Then I had a thought: Are these types of acts wrong under all circumstances? Is it wrong to torture a terrorist if it means he might give up info that will save lives?

These practices certainly are wrong in the vast majority of cases, but I think if it may save lives we had better not be too reluctant to keep a criminal awake for a week straight.


Baconsbud said...

The only problem with this line of thinking is how easily it can be altered to fit the needs of those in power. What would stop them from using these methods on a drug dealers since it would be to save lives in the end. When torture is oked for one group, what would stop it from being extended to other groups?

Richard T said...

Where do you stop if you accept that torture might be justifiable? As Baconsbud said it's easily extended down the slope to a semi-routine connivance with it.

In the UK we've a plethora of laws passed to dilute protection of the principle of innocent until proven guilty becasue of the terrorist threat but the signs of the slippery slope to their extension are present. The case of the prisoner released from Guantanamo is a case in point. He was tortured in Pakistan in Morocco and the complicity of MI6 in this is now being investigated by Scotland Yard - reluctantly as the leaks to the press make clear and after a great deal of footdragging by the Government. You also recall that the 2 secret services conspired to crank up the threat to national security and co-operation between them if documents proving torture were released.

The justification for torture by the mouthpieces of authority is pecisely as you've posted. The test applied by the English courts will be to measure that agaisnt the absloute prohibtion of torture in English law.

Redem said...

As far as I am concerned, it should never be legal.

The last thing we need is someone who's unaccountable for their actions deciding if someone should be tortured or not. If you're so damn convinced that torturing someone is "necessary", then the test of whether you're willing to sacrifice your freedom for it is certainly far more preferable.

Jonathan said...

The ends don't justify the means. Just because an unjust act can (torture) could lead to a just outcome (innocent people not dying) doesn't make the unjust just. Justice is any action adhering to an ethical philosophy. Ethics are any philosophies that promote mercy. Mercy is the reduction of suffering.

Now this is all without broaching the fact that torture doesn't get people to tell you what you want to know but what you want to hear. This is because of the simple fact that torturers won't stop torturing until they think they've been told the truth. That means they don't stop torturing until you confirm their preconceptions. Then they act on those confirmed preconceptions. So ultimately, torture is no more effective than just going with your gut; that is to say its not effective at all. So even if the ends did justify the means, the ends still wouldn't justify torture.