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November 7, 2016 / Congau

Torture of Terrorists

Is it alright to torture terrorists to extract information? http://philosophy.hku.hk/think/phil/101q.php

Torture is never alright. Torture is always cruel and inhuman and no good law can possibly allow it. It makes it no more acceptable if we perform a linguistic twist and call the tortured human being a terrorist. Nowadays everybody calls their enemy a terrorist, so that designation would not be a restriction. A law which opens up for torture, opens up for sadism, and if all that talk about human values has any meeting, it has to be out of the question.

On a practical level, it is doubtful if information obtained through torture would be really useful, and if it was, it would hardly be worth the loss of integrity that the torturing state would have to suffer.

But still. It is possible to construct all kinds of imagined scenarios and perform far-fetched thought experiments and then maybe nothing can be excluded. Let’s say you could save the life of a million people by torturing a person who had placed an atomic bomb somewhere in a city. If that was really the case, well, then you would have to torture, for if not you would be guilty of causing the loss of a million lives. (Whoever refrains from acting is also guilty.)

The good thing about thought experiments is that they remove all uncertainty and we know for sure what will happen. Here it is a matter of putting the suffering of one person against the death of a million, and the choice is simple. But the law cannot imagine all kinds of odd occurrences. It can only give direction concerning more or less common situations. If you really found yourself in a case where the law was a threat to human life, you would simply have to break the law. Nevertheless the law must be clear: Torture is never alright.

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