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The way to crush the middle class is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation. – Vladimir Lenin

Talking Points: Is Torture an Acceptable Means to Gather Information?

Posted by iusbvision on October 9, 2006

One of the most common practical reasons for why torture is not considered effective is that information gathered that way is often unreliable. Most people will confess to anything under enough pressure or pain. The concern is then that one could be undermining all of ones moral authority by resorting to methods that may not even work. Torture will get a person to say something, but depending on the scope of the investigation that could be as wide as a contrived plot in London or as narrow as naming the person behind attacks in a suburb of Baghdad. If the subject gets an idea what the torturer wants, they will make up an answer to end the pain. On the off chance the person actually has information; it can be distorted due to the pain and disorientation often resultant from such interrogation tactics.

Movies and TV like to present the image of the smoking gun situation. The FBI with a captive and two hours to prevent a catastrophic situation; however this has never been known to happen. Such a situation is different from the idea of randomly torturing those captured through uncertain means in Iraq or Afghanistan. Many of those detained from these areas are captured through random dragnet operations or by informants, who may have just been trying to get rid of a business rival.

The other big practical concern is that by using torture techniques, a nation loses the main fight of any conflict, that of the hearts of the people. The President’s reckless struggle to gain the right to use torture has made it clear to the world and to Iraqis that we are no longer fighting for freedom, liberty, and human dignity. We are fighting for selfish reasons, using people as pawns instead of people. So an attack might be stopped, but the method used guarantees five more will follow. As King Pyrrhus once said, ‘Another such victory and we shall be ruined.’ 

Ryan Hill

Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. This is what I think when someone asks if torture is necessary for war. A great philosopher once said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who curse you.” This concept implies committing evil on evil merely spreads the concept of evil throughout the world. This raises a hard question in my mind, when is evil actually evil? On one hand, a person may argue torture is an attempt to save thousands of lives by deriding information from those who are planning evil. This appears logical. On the other hand, one may argue torture is committing evil in the attempt of thwarting another evil, and in the process, merely recreating the concept of evil in another form.

Sanctioning torture is explicitly stating “The government has the power to inflict psychological or physical pain on those who are helpless and it deems threatening to society in order to procure information for national security.” Would a government of conscience ever pass such legislation? In reality, the sanctioning of torture simply tells the rest of the world America has become what it is attempting to stop. Committing evil to thwart evil is not a means to an end. In fact, it is the very definition of terrorism.

One may ask, “But what about the war, is this not the same thing?” The primary difference is context. When one is at war, they are attempting to thwart a currently existing threat to impede the death of innocents. It is an attempt to “throw ones-self in front of the bullet”. Torture is committing evil on helpless individuals to discover who is going to shoot the bullet before it is shot. Such acts will not help create alliances in the war on terror.

Craig Chamberlin
Assistant Editor

One Response to “Talking Points: Is Torture an Acceptable Means to Gather Information?”

  1. tim thomson said

    Philososphers have argued on both sides. Hurt the few to save the many or to lead by example. The debate can never be closed. Why not standardise torture so that only legitamate victims will be abused and then only in a prescribed manor. That way we could hold the same moral high ground as when, for example, we proudly say that we dont gas our enimies. We shoot them etc. Civilization has great unexplored potential.

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