Use of Torture

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Is the use of torture as an interrogation technique ever justified?

Torture is never justified by a representative of a civilized country. There are several good reasons why it should never be allowed, either by the military or an intelligence agency, the primary reason being that it is just wrong. Torture of a captive is morally reprehensible and the supposed justifications for it are just a smoke screen used to hide the real purpose. The real purpose is the pleasure that some people get from inflicting pain on others.

The usual explanation of the need to torture a captive involves the “ticking bomb” scenario. The theory is that it will result in obtaining vital information that will save lives and that the information could not be obtained in any other way. The supposition is that you have captured someone who knows about a bomb that is going to go off soon. If you can extract the details from him, you will be able to defuse the bomb or at least remove people from the area so there will be no casualties when it goes off. The claim is that in that case torture would be justified because there is not enough time available to obtain the necessary information by conventional interrogation.

Torture almost sounds reasonable in that case. But even in that case, there are problems. If the prisoner does not have the information you need or does not give it to you even under torture, then you have needlessly caused pain and fear in another human being. When you have more than one captive, which ones have information that might save lives and should therefore be subjected to torture? You do not know for sure, so the only option is to torture all of them. Instead of an interrogation method used only in the most extreme cases, torture becomes the normal practice.

There are two more sound reasons why torture should never be used. The first is the treatment of our soldiers when one or more is captured. Even in this age of long range massive attacks and missiles fired from unmanned airplanes, it can happen that some of our soldiers will fall into the hands of their enemy. When that happens, the only chance we have to protect them from being tortured is if we do not use that practice ourselves. If we torture captives, we condemn our soldiers who are taken prisoner to heinous treatment.

The second reason to refuse to torture captives is a matter of effectiveness. Does torture result in obtaining the intended information? Sometimes it does. But a person being subjected to intense pain or who is in fear of being killed will tell you what he thinks you want to hear, regardless of its truth. In fact, under extreme duress the captive will focus on saying whatever he can that will make the torture stop. There is no evidence that torture ever results in more reliable information than could have been obtained by conventional interrogation.

Torture of captives is never an acceptable practice. It is ethically and morally repugnant; it guarantees that any of our troops that are captured will be tortured or killed; and there is no evidence that it works.


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