Should Torture Be Used to Get Information?
If someone has information that could save lives but is unwilling to reveal that information, it may be necessary to resort to torture.
This could be a Q1 violation if:
- You don’t have consistent criteria for when torture would be justifiable,
- There is a conflict between your position on torture and your position on risking serious harm to innocent people, or
- You are against causing unnecessary pain in animals but in some cases your standard of "unnecessary" is lower for humans than other animals.
This is a Q2 violation if you would blame someone for torturing you if they thought it would save lives.
The torture of a terrorist to compel him to reveal the location of a bomb that will soon go off has become the stereotypical image used to argue for the use of torture in certain circumstances. Unfortunately, this relatively cut-and-dried (and highly unlikely) situation is not the only one in which torture is sometimes considered as a method of extracting information, so even those who believe that torture is sometimes justified may have difficulty rigorously defining their position.
If you believe that torture is sometimes justified, do you think it would be justified in these situations?
- You estimate that there is a 10% chance that the person you are considering torturing does not have the information you are looking for.
- You estimate that there is a 10% chance that the person you are considering torturing is completely innocent of any wrongdoing.
- You read a report that indicates that most information gathered via torture is unreliable.
- A bomb is about to go off somewhere in a crowded city. You have a man in custody who knows where the bomb is because he overheard the criminals talking about it, but he is afraid that the criminals will kill his family if he reveals the bomb’s location.
- A known terrorist is highly resistant to torture, but you think you can get him to talk if you torture his children.
- You don’t immediately need information from a particular member of a gang, but if you beat him every time you bring him in, he’ll learn not to keep things from you.
- You need to get vital information from a subject quickly. You haven’t been trained in torture methods, but you could handcuff her to a chair and just hit her until she talks.
You also need to consider what methods of torture are moral. Are there any rules? Which (if any) of these would be allowable methods of torture? Does the reason for the torture make a difference to what methods are allowable?
- Physical torture that leaves no marks.
- Torture that leaves bruises or permanent marks.
- Breaking bones or removing skin or other body parts.
- Simulated drowning/suffocation.
- Using drugs to amplify pain or prevent unconsciousness.
- Sleep deprivation.
- Humiliation or psychological torture.
- Threats to innocents (that you will not actually carry out).
- Injury that might prove fatal.
- Injury that will eventually prove fatal.
You are encouraged to leave your answers to the questions posed in this post in the comments section. This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at LuLu.com and Amazon.com. See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.