According to the UN Convention Against Torture, any infliction of torture1 i. e. waterboarding is banned under international law and the domestic laws of most countries in the 21st century. The point of contention is whether torture under any circumstances should be entirely prohibited. This opinion piece will be centered towards the debate regarding interrogation using torture methods and argue that torture is never acceptable from the moral and utilitarian perspectives.
Strong advocates of anti-torture laws will give you a straightforward answer, that torture should be banned because it’s immoral and impractical.
It is unpleasant, insufferable and a clear violation of human rights. From the moral standpoint, no human should ever possess the right to degrade another human being for any cause. Conversely, from the utilitarian standpoint, the ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario has been used to argue that the urgent need for information triumphs the ethical argument against torture.
Due to the existence of a terrorist threat i. e. a planted nuclear bomb, the means of torture can be employed for the ‘greater purpose’- to save tons of innocent lives that could otherwise be in danger.
In that case, do the ends justify the means? It is hard to see how torturing a terrorist to gain a chance to save thousands of innocent others could be morally worse than refraining from torturing him and allowing him to murder thousands. Given the options at hand, it would be almost impossible to not choose the torture route.
But how realistic is this situation indeed? I would even go as far to say that this ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario is a myth. The ‘ticking time bomb’ is a slippery slope argument, it uses the simplistic response of the highly unlikely scenario that distorts judgment and reasoning to justify the means of torture or even attempt to encourage the use of it as a ‘warrant’ in extreme circumstances. Let me paint the worst-case scenario. What happens if the detainee is innocent or just a scapegoat?
If torture is made legal/acceptable in the case of such a scenario, does it mean that we are going to allow 9 innocent people to be tortured as long as the tenth gives a full confession? Let me illustrate my point with another case. It is a more severe mistake to wrongly convict an innocent person guilty as compared to letting a guilty man go off scot-free. Drawing a comparison, subjecting what could be an innocent man to torture in order to derive crucial information would be far worse and morally unjust.
What’s worse is that the physical and psychological damages that have been dealt to the detainee is irreparable harm that will haunt him for eternity. I do not deny that torturing has a certain, though limited extent of usefulness. Quoting New York Times report in 20091, President Obama’s national intelligence director told colleagues that the banned harsh interrogation techniques by the U. S did help to produce useful information that helped the nation in it’s struggle against terrorism. The obtained information was valuable and there was no way of knowing if it could be obtained any other way.
However, it must be noted that torture is only effective if the detainee is indeed guilty. There is unfortunately, no foolproof way of knowing this for certain. Hence in actual reality, torture is ineffective as it might result in the unintended death of the prisoner and counter-productive as it might lead to false information that was thrown out by the detainee as a desperate attempt to survive the torture techniques or as a deliberate attempt to lead the interrogators on a ‘wild goose chase’.
As evolution takes place, I believe there is enough reason why society (led by the UN) is moving away from torture because such means would serve to encourage the use of violence in society and the increasing loss of humanity. Once torture is used, the question is to what extent of torture should be implemented before you stop? Not only is this difficult to tell, but once the implementation of it is allowed, it is seldom interrogators will discontinue such methods.
International laws have been put in place to ban acts of torture to ensure that human rights and humane treatment of detainees are followed. Unfortunately in reality, cases of torture are still widespread. Quoting an article from the UN News Center, ‘torture is still a standard practice in many countries’ i. e. Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. My bottom line is that though the implementation gap is still wide, countries should strive toward research in technology to derive other methods i. e. truth drugs, psychological pressure methods instead of relying on medieval torture methods for interrogation.