Torture: Against Human Right or For The Security of Other?

by marieboulanger on September 11, 2013 - 8:46am

Torture had always been an effective way to obtain something from someone else. Therefore it had been used throughout history to whether retrieve information, get people to confess or simply as a punishment. People in ancient Rome have gone as far as making it a public event. Fortunately, since then things have change. The turning point of torture happened during the eighteenth century and now there are norms such as the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention. The article I read defines torture as “any act that involves the deliberate infliction of extreme pain, and often includes mental anguish, mutilation, and the feeling of imminent death”. According to that definition, a public debate had taken place in the United States (US) during the twenty-first century. This debate brings the question that “certain methods of interrogation used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the US armed forces constitute torture”.

Those who oppose torture argue that it is inhuman and against human rights. They say that it is immoral to inflict severe physical and mental pain on someone for the sole purpose of obtaining information. It is also against the ethical principles of the golden rule which means that we do not do to other what we would not want others to do to us, do no harm and do not use people as means. Even some values are against torture like the values of peace, security, harmony, autonomy, etc.  On the other side, there are the people who think that, under certain circumstances, torture may be the solution. They are saying that the techniques use by the US forces cannot be defined as pure torture. They argue this kind of torture is sometime the best resource the US forces have to retrieve information and that even if it is not pleasant for the person being interrogated, the information obtained could prevent terrorist attack and save millions of innocent people. Once again, there are ethical principles in favor of torture, for example, always act in accordance to your own self-interest and family first. There is also the value of security, the security of Americans who could be a victim of terrorist attack.

                In my opinion, if the purpose is to prevent terrorist attack and save millions of lives, torture can be justified. I believe that the type of torture use by the CIA and the US forces is completely different   from torture used in the past and that someone cannot die because he is being tortured. I think that saving millions of innocents is worth causing pain to someone who has useful information on an event that may occur and even if it does not work and the person refuses to talk, it is worth the try. Now I do not want you to think that I am in favor of using people as means and of harming people on purpose, I simply think that we should do anything to save the life of millions of innocent people even if it includes harming one single person once in a while. 



Before taking an History of Crime and Punishment class, I thought that torture could be justified when for instance someone put a bomb and did not want to say where it is. I thought that by torturing this person that might or might not put this bomb in place, we could obtain information, but the truth is that torture does not provide any information and many researches prove it. In this class I learn that torture is one of the worst method to obtain information, because when the pain is not bearable the person will say what you want in order to stop the pain. Just and example that do not have anything to do with torture, but the idea of it is clearly important for this purpose. Before DNA, in the United States, many men were going to jail because they raped or killed someone. Some of them had being interrogated for days and days, when they wanted it to stop they told the police officer what he wanted to hear even if they were innocent. When DNA was finally accurate, many of those men were proven innocent, such as in Bobby Pool's case. Also, by torturing someone, many Human Rights are transgressed, such as no one should inflict pain on someone else, or not one should put another human being to extensive pain. Even if someone has committed something wrong, he still is a human and must be treated as so. There are also conventions that have being transgressed by the United States, such as how to treat prisoners of war. The United States, one of the most powerful democratic country in the world, the one country who ensures security and human rights to all have tortured prisoners in Abu Ghraib without respecting the Human Rights chart. Human Rights Chart is universal and every country and everyone should respect it because elsewhere everyone could do what he want to others and this is totally unacceptable.

Torture is always a sensitive topic of the society and people have many different opinions about it. I agree with your argument. Regardless of the way or tool to torture someone, let's focus on the 'someone' that we do not even know if he is guilty or not. Is absolutely not fair for them since they did not do anything wrong and most of them do not even know why they were being tortured. Fairness is always my principal value, however, in this case, I have to say that there is something more important than fairness: Life, or lifes, thousands of lifes. If by torturing someone we may save more people, even theres only a little chance, it is worth to try. Thats for the ethical principle which is 'greater good'. Just an easy math example, if we have 100 people that we know one of them is terrorist and is going to place a bomb in a train which may kill thousands of people, even we torture all of the 100 people, but we still save thousands of lifes.
However, of cause torture may not be the best way to gather information. If the government or related organization can find out a better way than torture, or narrow the numbers of possible suspects, that may be the best way to save lifes.
Is it tortures the best way and only way? That's a question we all should ask ourself no matter we agree with it or against it.

I really like how you approached the issue. You gave both the reasons why someone would torture and why torture shouldn’t be considered. The fact that you looked at the issue as a deontologist, i.e. the act itself is bad, brings interesting fact about how humans treat each other for their own good (hurting someone that could be innocent to prevent a terrorists attack or any other crime). Thus, the fact that that person might harm thousands of people now looks at the issue using a consequentialist’s point of view, where if we don’t torture the person, something really bad could happen.

I think this issue brings a lot of conflicts between different values and this is a big part why it is a controversial issue. People who put safety before freedom would say that torture is the right thing to do. On the other hand, people who value human rights will, of course, say that torture is a crime.

Finally, I think that torture is a good means but one has to have strong accusations because if not, he is harming an innocent person. Thus, will we know if that person is really innocent without using torture?

I find this topic really interesting! I think that torturing a human being for a specific reason is a big ethical issue since you have stated, it is against the "golden rule" and the human rights. I, however, disagree with your opinion since I'm looking at this issue from a deontological perspective, meaning that I find torturing simply bad no matter what, no matter what the reason behind it is.
For a consequentialist like you with similar values might agree with you since a consequentialist would look into the consequences of the action rather than the action itself. The consequences would be in this case to save millions of people by torturing only single one. On the other hand, the virtue-ethics approach might also fit your opinion since you have a good intention of torturing that single person in order to save millions instead.

Using a deontological approach, I do not agree because if you disregard the circumstances, the act of torture, itself, is wrong. I believe that we cannot simply inflict someone extreme pain in order for them to give information that we want to hear. I also believe that the two primary reasons for torture being wrong is that in general, the person inflicting the pain will not stop as long as they hear what they want to hear because they think that the “enemy” is lying. The second reason is that by taking a compatibilist point of view, the person being tortured is not free and thus cannot be held responsible for his actions, or in this case, what he “admits”. The one being tortured is not free because he does not meet the independence condition, as he is physically forced to admit something that he might not have done or even have anything to do with. What I’m trying to say is that a person being tortured is likely to end up saying what the interrogators want to hear, in order for them to stop mutilating him/her. Therefore, torturing someone is both morally wrong and isn’t the most reliable source of evidence even when it comes to obtaining information and potentially saving lives.

c) I think that torture is unethical and should never be used even if there is a reason to believe that the information could help save the lives of others. I don’t say this because I think that the lives of many people are worth less than one person’s well-being.

I say this because I believe that the nature of the issue prevents us from simply creating a law that allows you to make some suffer in order to save others. First of all, where do you draw the line between the whole thing being worth it or not? The fact that you always give the example of a situation where millions of people would be saved certainly helps your argument, but would it be the same if it wasn’t millions of people? How do you determine that there are enough people being saved? Do you need to be able to save one million human beings before it’s worth it? One thousand? One hundred? How about torturing one person in order to save the life of one person? Would that still be worth it? If not, why? I really think that you can’t just ethically put a value on people’s lives like that.

On top of this, it could end up being abused by authorities in order to have an excuse to torture an individual that they want to oppress. They could use the justification that they had intelligence that led them to believe that the person had information that could save the lives of a certain number of people, and then simply say that they made a mistake. Who could prove that they had acted in bad faith?

I truly believe that this is a slippery slope and that torture should simply not be allowed.

I'm posting this to voice my opinion on this topic, because I find it highly engaging. As is obvious from the intial posting and the comments, this is a very sensitive topic. I believe that torture is wrong because it violates the ethical principle of "do no harm." Frankly, I don't think there is any way to justify it. People who support torture say it saves the lives of others. This may be true. But then again it may not. Allowing torture to save the lives of others, like CoursPhilo2013 said, is a slippery slope. It allows the CIA (as an example) to torture for the sake of the freedom of Americans. But how do they know that they are protecting Americans? Apart from being telepathic, there is no way to for the CIA (or any other organization) to know certainly what knowledge their torture victims possess. Their methods may only reveal information they already know. If this is the case, then they are doing unspeakable damage to an individual for no real reason. I believe that allowing torture will just lead to the torture of countless innocent individuals. Ethically speaking, it is not right because it violates the principle of "do no harm." What then is the purpose of torture?

The post intrigued me because it's about torture, something we are supposed to be condemning internationally. There is a lot of controversy over what 'torture' is, and if 'enhanced interrogation' is actually torture.

First of all, using torture is treating human beings like disposable objects and abstracting them from their thoughts, emotions, and even their own bodies. When we torture (potentially innocent) people we are disregarding them as humans and instead reducing them to mere objects, something we can use. We end up treating them like some kind of exhaustible resource, which they are most certainly not. If your enemies are going to try and bring harm to you, institutionalizing torture isn't going to make you any better than them.

Human beings are not objects to be used to pursue some kind of goal. How far are we willing to go in the name of national security?

This is a very interesting topic that intrigues me. I have the same opinion as you because I look at the consequences of the acts to judge if I find it right or wrong. Before, slaves were tortured and people in power had no excuse for committing these acts. The only thing that it brought was harm to others and could lead to death. Today’s torture in the CIA and in the US armed forces is less dangerous because it is controlled so they can avoid complications such as death. Also, it has a purpose behind it. This purpose is to saves thousands of lives, it is for the greater good. I am against torture but when it saves people, it can be accepted and it has its right only if it is in a controlled environment which is the case for the CIA and the US armed forces. However, before using this kind of techniques there should be norms, or maybe there are already, that assure torture to be the very last option taken. Should we risk thousands of lives for only one person’s well-being who could finally be innocent?

I was inclined to reading this post because of the title, and how it made me reflect for a moment on my stance on torture, and what could be arguments to defend both positions of this debate. Personally, after reading your text, my position remains against torture. Although you discussed the CIA's and other authorities using torture, you didn't really define what kinds of methods they used that are labelled as torture. Torture has a history of being dehumanizing and unethical, and that hasn’t changed. Torture in all it’s forms is a violation of human rights. If there is another way of obtaining the information or confession, then why not use this resource. I understand the need to protect the larger population, but torture is an outright violation of human rights, and of the golden rule. I recognize the principle of the greater good, and the value of security, but physical torture is, in my opinion, not the solution. I would like to believe that society has evolved since the time of Ancient Rome, and that we now know more about interrogation to have developed new techniques that are as effective as torture.
In the case where the torture was performed on an innocent man, what then? Do you just apologize and shake hands?

I find this post very interesting and it sparks up some debate. Torture is wrong and actually does more harm than good. Just like during the Salem witch trials, torture is excruciating and victims will say or do whatever it takes to make the pain or torment end. These pleas of guilt are therefore invalid and do not really reflect the truth. That is besides the fact that it is inhumane and rather primitive. In regards to obtaining information to save millions of lives, there are less barbaric ways of doing so. What would our society be like if everyone would plea guilt for any accused crimes because of excruciating pain or torment?

I find this post very interesting and it sparks up some debate. Torture is wrong and actually does more harm than good. Just like during the Salem witch trials, torture is excruciating and victims will say or do whatever it takes to make the pain or torment end. These pleas of guilt are therefore invalid and do not really reflect the truth. That is besides the fact that it is inhumane and rather primitive. In regards to obtaining information to save millions of lives, there are less barbaric ways of doing so. What would our society be like if everyone would plea guilt for any accused crimes because of excruciating pain or torment?

I find this post very interesting and it sparks up some debate. Torture is wrong and actually does more harm than good. Just like during the Salem witch trials, torture is excruciating and victims will say or do whatever it takes to make the pain or torment end. These pleas of guilt are therefore invalid and do not really reflect the truth. That is besides the fact that it is inhumane and rather primitive. In regards to obtaining information to save millions of lives, there are less barbaric ways of doing so. What would our society be like if everyone would plea guilt for any accused crimes because of excruciating pain or torment?

This is a very interesting subject and it is hard to take position on it. The author basically says he would accept torture only if it could save many lives, in other words if it is related to an important issue. This is also a position I would adopt, but however, this isn't something that can work out very well. Where do you draw the line to what is an acceptable reason to justify torture, and who draws that line based on what principles? There is still lots to say about this issue.

It is a great article! You clearly and equally stated the two sides of the issue and well explained the arguments for both opinions. As for your own point of view, it seems like you tend to share a utilitarian approach. Utilitarianism is an ethical theory which favors the greatest happiness for the greatest number. This theory applies very well with your belief that it is morally acceptable to torture someone for the safety of millions of other persons. Here is a reliable website that explains in more depth the aim of utilitarianism and its main thinkers:

Your article was very interesting and I liked the comparison between torture used in the ancient Rome and the use of torture nowadays by the CIA, for example. The opinion you hold that torture should only be practiced on an individual if it could save the lives of millions others, just like in your example with terrorist attacks, follows the theory of utilitarianism. This theory states that an action should be considered ethical only if it brings the most happiness for the most people. In your example, it would apply since if by torturing one person that has information on a terrorist attack you can stop this particular attack and therefore save millions of lives, then torture should be considered ethical in that case. If you want more information about the theory of utilitarianism, here is a website that gives more details about it:
A theorist that would oppose to this point of view would be Kant, since he would say that it would not be ethical for humans to use other humans as a means, no matter the situation (according to his theory). If you want to learn more about this particular theory, here is a website that gives a lot of information: