I came across this 2008 publication:
a few days ago when I was researching some topics on morality and ethics, and this is a subject of utmost importance to me (I lived under a military dictatorship, I know first hand people who were tortured, including some who did not survive and others that did but are scarred for life, physically and mentally), so I decided to start a discussion and get your opinions. The writer is Jamie Mayerfeld, professor of Politics at University of Washington, wrote extensively on the subject of torture and is in the field of human rights. The article is extremely well written. Its main point is that torture should ALWAYS be illegal, it is always immoral, and arguments such as the "ticking bomb dilemma" (a terrorist places a bomb in an unknown location that will kill hundreds of innocent people, the terrorist is captured, is it permissible to tiorture him to get him to reveal the location of the bomb so it can be disarmed?) is an extremely unlikely scenario, basically unreal and that it is therefore basically a political instrument used to justify the use of torture when it convenient for some governments (The French in Algeria during that country's war of independence, present-day Israel, The United States "War on Terror", etc.). Others have made the argument that torture should always be banned because if it permissible under certain circumstances, then its practice will necessarily become more spread (I agree with this). Others argue that torture dehumanizes the enemy as well as the torturer (I also think this is true). But in this essay, Mayerfeld focuses on the "ticking bomb dilemma specifically in order to dismantle it, because he thinks it has been popularized by the media and used to convince masny people that in some scenarios, torture should be permissible (even Sam Harris argues for this in "The End of Faith", and I'm in complete disagreement).
The whole article should be read, if possible (it is long) but here is an excerpt I find particularly valuable (emphasis mine):
I give particular attention to the exaggerated degree of certainty attributed to our belief
in the prisoner’s guilt. In the scenario we are fully certain that the individual in our custody has launched an attack on civilians and is now withholding the information needed to save the civilians’ lives. Such certainty is unrealistic. Any realistic approximation of the ticking bomb scenario creates too high a risk that an innocent person will be tortured.
The made-to-order features of the ticking bomb scenario blind us to torture’s reality. In the real world, torture “yields poor information, sweeps up many innocents, degrades organizational capabilities, and destroys interrogators.”7 Consider the problem of false information, which not only causes delays, swallows man hours, and leads down blind alleys, but can also encourage disastrous choices.
Below I discuss how the Bush administration used false information extracted under torture to help justify the Iraq war. In this case, torture did not save lives, but helped bring about a great many deaths. Torture also inflames enemies, alienates friends, and scares away informants. And it spreads.
These dangers, purged from the ticking bomb hypothetical, are inseparable from
actual torture. Yet public attention is consumed by the hypothetical. Obsession with the better-than-best case scenario warps our thinking about torture. We overlook torture’s dangers and exaggerate its effectiveness. By now, the ticking bomb narrative has acquired its own momentum, but fear and anger do much to keep it aloft.
(When fear and anger take a racialized cast, our thinking is further distorted.)
What is your opinion: should torture be always legally banned and morally not permissible?
[Note: contemporary international law prohibits torture in all circumstances. The Geneva Conventions obligate all member states to prosecute acts of torture and inhuman treatment committed in the context of war, regardless of the citizenship of the perpetrator or victim and location of the crime]
Also worth pointing out, information gained via torture is notoriously innaccurate, and wastes time as well as personel power as false leads are chased down. People being tortured will say anything to stop the pain, and, those mentally strong enough to stand it, will give false info on purpose.
Investigator after investigator has stepped fwd, saying how gaining trust is the most important key is getting accurate info from suspects. And many many more, have admitted, much if not most of "info" gained during torture proved to be useless.
It is not only immoral, and like you said--- prone to spread--- it is an IRRATIONAL form of investigating crimes.
Yep, exactly. He actually makes the point about false information here:
Consider the problem of false information, which not only causes delays, swallows man hours, and leads down blind alleys, but can also encourage disastrous choices.
I would that that not only it is immoral and irrational, it is dangerous, it gives the citizenry the impression that something valuable and useful is being done to protect them. I would like for somebody who understands politics to explain to me why torture was advocated by the Bush administration. Sheer incompetence? Or political calculation? Part of fear-mongering? Quasi-military tactic?
i think, my impression, from many miles away, is that they truly seemed to think
A) it worked, was effective
B) it was necessary/justified
i never gathered that there was much moral nor logical thought put into their decisions.... From what i've read, their concerns seemed to revolve more around avoiding political backlash/staying within bounds of what they could stretch "legal" to encompass...
that is my impression of their very very few concerns as they ordered torture....sounded like, they just wanted to prevent attacks/thus gaining political rewards for that.. I never got impression there were logical or moral or ethical angles discussed amongst them..
it seems, somehow, they managed to completely ignore the moral ramifications of their decisions...it sure seems like that is what they did, imo. Even to this day, Cheney, W, and Rumsfeld stand by that decision, but, i wonder, when they are all alone, i wonder if they really mean that....way inside, with no re-write of history at stake---- how can they not know what they did??
if I thought for a second that "enhanced interrogation methods" worked I would do it without a second, but information obtained in such ways is untrustworthy.
Related to torture is "cruel and unusual punishment". The eighth amendment to the US constitution prohibits the government from imposing cruel and unusual, excessive punishments. As far as I know, many other countries, including England have similar prohibitions. The reason to prohibit excessive punishments or cruelty is that it is immoral. It is immoral because cruelty degrades human dignity.
So why is it that there Pvt Bradley Manning, accused of providing Wikileaks with classified information, is being kept in solitary confinement under conditions that science has proven constitutes torture and will deprive a person of their sanity permanently if continued for longer? He is in custody right now and poses no danger, but he is a soldier and is under military rules so perhaps "cruel and unusual punishment" does not apply to military prisoners? How is this possible? There are international rules against torture. Many experts think that inhumane solitary confinment constitutes TORTURE.
Here is the latest from Alternet.org:
But as the treatment grows more obscene, reality becomes harder to ignore. Some have suggested that the abuse violates Manning’s 8th Amendment protection from cruel and unusual punishment. A blogger recently called it “borderline torture.” Today, we learn that a spokesman from the State Department called it “ridiculous and stupid.”
Why is it so hard time to call this treatment what it actually is? Torture.
Plain and simple.
Maybe it’s because if we did, we would have to acknowledge truths too painful to bear. We would know that what had once happened to “foreign combatants” is now happening to Americans soldiers, and maybe it will soon happen to civilians, too. So we continue the doublespeak.
PJ Crowley, the official spokesman at the state department, has fallen on his sword after calling the treatment of Bradley Manning, the alleged source of the WikiLeaks files, "counterproductive and stupid".
The resignation followed Crowley's remarks to an MIT seminar last week about Manning's treatment in mi....
Crowley had said: "What is being done to Bradley Manning is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid on the part of the department of defence."
The remarks forced President Obama to address for the first time the issue of Manning's handling at Quantico marine base in Virginia. Obama defended the way Manning is being treated, saying he had been reassured by the Pentagon that his confinement was appropriate.
In a resignation letter, Crowley said he took full responsibility for his remarks. Though he attacked the leaking of classified information, which he called "a serious crime under US law", he stood by his earlier criticism of the Pentagon.
In words that could cause further difficulty for Obama, Crowley said his comments "were intended to highlight the broader, even strategic impact of discreet actions undertaken by national security agencies every day and their impact on our global standing and leadership. The exercise of power in today's challenging times and relentless media environment must be prudent and consistent with our laws and values."
From what I understand (and I am happy to be corrected), military personnel, whilst engaged in their service, do not have all the protections of the Constitution: some rights are ceded (or held in abeyance) by virtue of being part of the Military and it's Jurisprudence. The military operates it's own judicial system, informed by civil courts and occasionally subject to it, but also with it's own laws (eg, Uniform Code of Military Justice) and precedent. So, 'cruel and unusual punishment' has one definition in the Civil Courts, but another, much narrower definition in the military system of justice which would allow certain acts prohibited by the Civil Courts.
Depends on which country's military you belong.
Torture is always immoral, and ought always to be prohibited. At it's heart, it is a violation of the dignity of the person, treating an individual being tortured as a means. It is also a violation of the principal of presumption of innocence. One may certainly reasonably suspect an individual to possess certain, wanted, information, but suspicion alone is not reason enough to condemn an individual. And torture is a type of condemnation.
The argument presented by Mayerfeld is justified and useful, but it is a secondary argument. Even if torture were 100% effective in all cases, it would still be an immoral act.