The Torture Question

There’s been a lot of talk about torture lately, and in every discussion, the implicit assumption is that torture is something that no civilized society would ever, ever do under any circumstances. Even people on the “pro” side of the debate aren’t really torture supporters. They still say torture is horrible, they just argue either a) whatever was done, it didn’t rise (or sink) to the level of torture, or b) we are in a dangerous era in which terrible acts must be used to stop more terrible acts. But no one who I’ve seen has bothered to explain why torture is inherently wrong.

Well, here at The Cynical Christian, we’re all about picking apart assumptions. So let’s ask the question this way: Is it wrong to use violence, or the threat of violence, to extract information that can be used to prevent violence against others? If so, why?

To some it may sound like a stupid question, but if it’s so obvious I’d like to hear a serious explanation. I know there have been tons of philosophical chin-scratchings on the subject, but I’d like to see some practical application of that in the current debate. The only things that come close to an argument are bumper sticker cliches like, “If we torture terrorists, we’re no better than they are.” Really? If someone slaps around a terrorist to get information about a plot to bomb a shopping mall, then the slapper is no better than the bomber? Please. Anyone who would say that has a pretty shaky grasp on the concept of morality.

Context is important: we’re not talking about the Soviet-style practice of torturing people to extract “confessions” of their crimes against the state. We’re talking about acquiring information that can be verified and acted on for the protection of others, both military and civilians.

And if torturing someone means that you’re evil, what does it mean when you refuse to use every option at your disposal to stop an evil plot–a bombing, an ambush, a murder–so that you can maintain your own sense of moral superiority? It’s easy to say “I oppose torture,” just like it’s easy to say “Our children are the future!” or “I love puppies!” But explain why that opposition is worth the sacrifice of the lives of innocents.

I’d love to get some serious comments on this, if anyone’s interested. For some further reading, Instapundit has some links to various thoughts on torture, and how opinions change, or don’t, with the times.

7 thoughts on “The Torture Question”

  1. We all have to be playing by the same rules. You can’t just say, “We’re better than that!” if your enemy plays dirty, you have to play dirty, too. During the revolutionary war, British soldiers were mowed down as they marched in formation by the American guerilla fighters.

    I’m all for torture in this case. If our enemies behead the innocent and use themselves as human bombs, I see no problem.

  2. I suppose I could try, if you could forgive a humble Anonymous (well, Wandering Internet Commentator, specifically) for intruding upon your blog.

    Some folks oppose torture on religious grounds. As you alluded to in one of your ‘theology’ posts on the concept of Good, many people feel as if good is whatever God wants. By the same token, if they feel He doesn’t want torture, they will feel it’s wrong in any and all circumstances, regardless of how much other “good” it might bring.

    The second is a practical consideration–the danger of extracting false information/confessions. When you’re being tortured, especially if you’re really in pain, you’ll want to give your interrogators an answer simply to make the pain stop. Now, if they already knew where the bomb was planted or when the attack was going to take place, why would they be torturing Mr. Terrorist to get information they already have? In the case where torture is the *only* way to extract the needed information, there’s always the chance the terrorist will say “the bomb is in location X” when it was really at location Y, simply to give his interrogators the information they were looking for and get them to stop.

    There are a couple of other reasons I can think of as well, but they come from my own thinking rather than being things I’ve heard other people say, so I thought it might be rude, being a newbie here, to trumpet my own contemplations. I do apologize if this commentary is unwanted and/or unwarranted.

  3. The tortured will say anything to make the torture stop. So morals and ethics aside, it’s simply not a smart way to try to stop terrorism.

    Not to mention the fact that treating others violently is WRONG. It doesn’t say in the Bible to turn the other cheek, except if it’s something really serious. Or to treat others as you would want to be treated, unless what they did was really horrific.

    We as followers of Christ are supposed to be better than that. We are not supposed to be of this world. It frustrates me that someone could put aside the Bible in the case of violently torturing someone, but when it comes to another issue (like gay marriage) we certainly cannot do just that.

    **stepping off soapbox:) **

  4. Ahh…the torture question.
    Does it work? Has anyone prevented a great disaster like 9-11 because of the use of torture?
    Also, many people were tortured because they were merely suspected as terrorists. So there is a danger on harming innocent civilians just because the CIA is pressed to have answers. Look at some of the random picked-up people who were imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay and then released because they couldn’t find a case on them.
    First, is the person that has to be tortured REALLY a terrorist?
    If they really are, then are the confessions correct and timely enough to actually save human lives?
    And does torture really solve the root cause of the problem?


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