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  #1    
Old July 22nd, 2013, 08:20 PM
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So I watched Zero Dark Thirty today.

Should governments have the power to torture suspects in order to get valuable intelligence from them, intel that could prevent terrorist attacks and save lives? Is that morally acceptable? Or could they go about other, less violent ways of gathering intelligence? Do the consequences of fighting terrorism in the way we have been accustomed to create the conditions for more?

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Old July 22nd, 2013, 08:53 PM
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No. There are other, more effective ways of obtaining information. Also, a suspect is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty of a crime, and punishment for a conviction is supposed to be neither cruel nor unusual. Some people will say "this only applies to American citizens," but this is like saying "the law only says we can't kill AMERICAN citizens." If you agree with the principles behind the constitution, then you should agree that they should be applied universally to all humans. Someone's country of origin should not change their basic human rights.
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Old July 23rd, 2013, 01:29 AM
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It is morally acceptable if it can be demonstrated that these torture techniques are more effective in obtaining information of which will save citizen's lives. I do not have the knowledge of torture tactics to convey either way that they are effective or not, or if other techniques have more evidence in supporting effectiveness.

In one of my courses, we were discussing whether Jesus would be an effective leader or not, alluding to the common phrase, "what would Jesus do?" in regards to the circumstance that Jesus would have the options of two discourses.

1) He would order a missile that kills several thousands of people, including ingenuous citizens, in order to save the lives of millions.

2) Jesus has a moral obligation to not intervene by causing the deaths of thousands with the missile launch, and thus, he we would not order the missile.

The majority of the class went with option 2, but many of us, including myself said that he would have gone with option 1. Given his omnipotence, he knows by executing discourse 2 he would be deciding to allow the deaths of million and save thoudands, with a net loss of more human life than in option 1. Therefore, in selecting option two he would be willfully engaging in the net loss of life, despite not taking an action, and thus, he would be endorsing more suffering and death, and thus, no be acting in his nature. We concluded that it may have been possible that Jesus would have used warfare tactics and kill innocent people despite being the moral compass of many people across the world.

That is the key here, knowledge. If we knew, for a fact, that many human lives were to be lost without using torture tactic, we are willfully allowing loss of protection, which could result in the loss of human life, we are not being humane at this point, and torture would be the moral and human discourse. But again, this all depends on the qualification that torture does translate to an increase or maintenance of security. The point, murder and torture are potentially moral discourses, and to not murder or not torture in some circumstances could be immoral.
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Old July 23rd, 2013, 07:49 AM
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That's only moral if you come from a utilitarian perspective. It reduces people from being human beings into being numbers - which is exactly what opponents of torture rail against, the stripping away of humanity.

The Jesus experiment is interesting because he's God and his omnipotence and different interpretations of what he "should" do really colour what comes out of it. But just to try and weaken the strength of the utilitarian argument I'll try to propose some points. Let's say that Jesus has a legacy, one that will affect billions of people for thousands of years perhaps. If the reaction to his ordering the missile is negative - even though he saved millions of lives - it may tarnish his reputation for his followers all of the world for millenia to come. To use the utilitarian perspective, was his saving a million lives or his legacy as a maker of peace and a role-model to many more important? I can even put this as a short v. long term dilemma - would Jesus save millions of lives now even if his legacy is tarnished for eternity? I'm feeling that convincing arguments can be made either way but that fact alone tells me that it is not a one-sided calculation of human lives.

The question of torture comes down to basic human rights and dignity that should not be violated at all, for any reason. Perhaps there are a set of principles that guide state action and what they can do, and perhaps these principles should not be violated. I think they are worth considering instead of putting them aside for the easier to calculate metric of human lives. The ends don't always justify the means, and so while I have a midterm to study for, let's just throw that uncertainty and debate fuel out there.
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Old July 23rd, 2013, 01:20 PM
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Torture to get information to save lives sounds good on paper, but it feels like cramming all night before a test. If you're up at 2 AM and your test is tomorrow you don't really have options, but then it's your fault you got to that point in the first place.

Obviously the world isn't perfect and we don't always get a big advanced warning that something bad is on its way, but I think we need to create the right kind of conditions that will make people not want to do things that we'll want to torture them for.

Of course you can't always predict what will set people off, but I would think that torture could be something that would make people hate you so it feels almost like you're torturing to save yourselves from the people who hate you for torturing.
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Old July 23rd, 2013, 03:05 PM
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It is morally acceptable if it can be demonstrated that these torture techniques are more effective in obtaining information of which will save citizen's lives. I do not have the knowledge of torture tactics to convey either way that they are effective or not, or if other techniques have more evidence in supporting effectiveness.

In one of my courses, we were discussing whether Jesus would be an effective leader or not, alluding to the common phrase, "what would Jesus do?" in regards to the circumstance that Jesus would have the options of two discourses.

1) He would order a missile that kills several thousands of people, including ingenuous citizens, in order to save the lives of millions.

2) Jesus has a moral obligation to not intervene by causing the deaths of thousands with the missile launch, and thus, he we would not order the missile.

The majority of the class went with option 2, but many of us, including myself said that he would have gone with option 1. Given his omnipotence, he knows by executing discourse 2 he would be deciding to allow the deaths of million and save thoudands, with a net loss of more human life than in option 1. Therefore, in selecting option two he would be willfully engaging in the net loss of life, despite not taking an action, and thus, he would be endorsing more suffering and death, and thus, no be acting in his nature. We concluded that it may have been possible that Jesus would have used warfare tactics and kill innocent people despite being the moral compass of many people across the world.

That is the key here, knowledge. If we knew, for a fact, that many human lives were to be lost without using torture tactic, we are willfully allowing loss of protection, which could result in the loss of human life, we are not being humane at this point, and torture would be the moral and human discourse. But again, this all depends on the qualification that torture does translate to an increase or maintenance of security. The point, murder and torture are potentially moral discourses, and to not murder or not torture in some circumstances could be immoral.
You're making a very utilitarian argument and I'm not a fan. You're saying that, if we knew for a fact that torture would save lives, it would be acceptable. I disagree. It's not just a numbers game. It never is. You can't just add up the pluses and minuses and say "well, it's all right if it's a positive number." You seem to like hypotheticals, so here are a few for you to consider.

If I save someone's life, am I now free to go kill someone to balance it out?

Is it all right to kill 10 Americans to save 100 terrorists? How about 10 social workers to save 100 convicted criminals?

If that's not all right because "they're the bad guys," then how about this: if our side wins a war against another side, is it all right to round up and kill all of their remaining citizens to ensure they don't ever rise up again and kill any more of ours?

What if the torturee was not directly at fault? What if they were merely someone who knew information that would save lives that, for whatever reason, they were resistant to sharing? Is it all right to torture them because it might save lives? What if the person was a social worker? What if it was Gandhi? Jesus?

What if it was only to save one life? Is it all right to torture to save a single life?

What if it's not to save a life at all, merely to improve the quality of a small group of peoples' lives? Is it all right to torture to discover the cure for the common cold? What if the information helps us but hurts them? Is it all right to torture to lower oil prices?

"Saving lives" is a noble enough goal, but the ends do not justify the means. People are not a "means." They are people. They should always be treated as such.
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Old July 23rd, 2013, 06:05 PM
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I was referring only to the example of broader scale scenarios. The other examples given are disparate since we are only talking about a handful of people. The purpose of the post was to account for the fact that torture or murder may be the morally right thing to do under certain circumstances. It was used as an extreme example in the Jesus example, the moral compass of many followers. If I saw two people stabbing a young child, of course I would shoot both of them if they refused to stop. The 2 vs 1 element is not a determinant in whether an action should or should not be executed. When we are talking the death of one city within a country vs the death of an entire country it is a completely different set of circumstances. At this point, it is a choice of widespread suffering or isolated suffering, rather than a simple "numbers game".

It should also be noted that torture doesn't necessarily entail death, so that should also be taken into account.

If our side wins a war against another side, is it all right to round up and kill all of their remaining citizens to ensure they don't ever rise up again and kill any more of ours?
I wouldn't agree with this since we would be violating international laws and therefore putting our citizens at risk.

What if it's not to save a life at all, merely to improve the quality of a small group of peoples' lives? Is it all right to torture to discover the cure for the common cold? What if the information helps us but hurts them? Is it all right to torture to lower oil prices?
The common cold can persist and cause pneumonia and other more severe ailments that cause death. 4500 deaths are related to common cold among infants and young children alone in the united states. So it's not exactly a trivial discovery. When it comes to torture, it is very difficult to determine if there would be causation to torture if there existed a person or groups that withheld the information from the public. Let's say a pharmaceutical company that wants to sell cold medicine rather than cure colds in order to make a profit. Of course it would be a last resort to torture, but it could being a viable option after all others are exhausted, but likely not a great option. Most likely, I would see seizing control of their computers, phone records, and research labs with non-compliance to reveal their information would be a more appropriate discourse for a group that adamantly opposed to divulge the information or market a cure.


What if the torturee was not directly at fault? What if they were merely someone who knew information that would save lives that, for whatever reason, they were resistant to sharing? Is it all right to torture them because it might save lives? What if the person was a social worker? What if it was Gandhi? Jesus?

This is too vague to judge. But, let's just say a sweet old lady saw a man abducting a young child. She also knows his identity, but it is a relative, a friends, or someone who she wants to protect. Despite not being at fault, she is obstructing justice. If she claims she saw the abduction and says she knows who the abductor is, but doesn't want to get him in trouble, at the very least, she needs to be detained and questioned regardless of her will or involvement in the crime. The threat of prison is very effective among civilians such as this woman for obstruction of justice usually would suffice here, but if woman persists to obstruct justice incarceration is not necessarily going to help the investigation or the victims in the scenario; torture might be an option if it is needed to save the child's life or apprehend the abductor in order to prevent eh apprehension of other children in the future. Non-action or non-compliance under certain circumstances is not acceptable.
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Old July 23rd, 2013, 06:39 PM
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In my own personal opinion, I don't believe that any government is justified in torturing anyone in order to get any type of secretive intelligence from them. Like twocows said, there are less violent ways of going about gathering intelligence. And regardless, what if the person you're torturing ends up giving you false information?.. This just creates more problems.

One must look at this situation in two ways, from a utilitarian and deontological perspective. The typical utilitarian would argue that torturing anyone is morally acceptable as long as that torturing will reduce or eliminate any possible suffering that would occur if the torturing did not take place (in this case, torturing someone in order to get information out of them that could potentially save lives). But then again, a large flaw that plagues utilitarianism is the fact that it conflicts with human rights, specifically negative rights, and one must take this into consideration. Every human being has a right not to be treated cruelly by anyone else, no matter the circumstance, or their race, sex, ethnicity, or crime they committed. Utilitarianism looks at what will be beneficial to an entire group as a whole, and if what favors a group outweighs that of, let's say, one person being tortured in return, then that's fine, according to utilitarianism, of course. So I'd imagine that the utilitarian would argue that yes, it would be morally acceptable to torture someone if the torture would benefit the common good. This is a bit flawed, though.

This question of whether torturing is right or wrong cannot really be answered by Kantian deontology because of how absolute the theory is, but the second categorical imperative of Kantian deontology would lead me to believe that torturing anyone would be wrong, because every human being is a rational being, and it is wrong to disrespect a rational being. I think Prima Facie deontology can be used to offer somewhat more of an insight as to what to do in this scenario, and that would be that the moral duties of torturing someone for their intel does offset that of not torturing them. When you torment someone mentally or physical to get information out of them to prevent, for instance, a terrorist attack, you are promoting justice, beneficence, and non-maleficence. But when you don't do anything in this type of situation, you aren't really conforming to any moral duties at all, unless you consider torturing someone to be contradictory to that of beneficence and non-maleficence. So I believe this piggybacks onto what utilitarianism would do in this scenario.. does the outcome of torturing just one person to save many hundred lives prevail over not torturing them and potentially causing a few hundred deaths? Ross's theory is too vague for us to know what to do, though, so ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...

I don't even know which theory I'd take into consideration. These ethical theories are just so flawed, and these things usually just end up being so subjective.
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Old July 23rd, 2013, 07:37 PM
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Well, in theory, yes, they should be able to, but practically…nope. It's not gonna work because they don't want to tell you the truth and you have no way of verifying that claim so no. Not gonna work.

not to mention how sucky it would be to be on the other side of that deal.
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Old July 23rd, 2013, 08:47 PM
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I was referring only to the example of broader scale scenarios. The other examples given are disparate since we are only talking about a handful of people. The purpose of the post was to account for the fact that torture or murder may be the morally right thing to do under certain circumstances. It was used as an extreme example in the Jesus example, the moral compass of many followers. If I saw two people stabbing a young child, of course I would shoot both of them if they refused to stop. The 2 vs 1 element is not a determinant in whether an action should or should not be executed. When we are talking the death of one city within a country vs the death of an entire country it is a completely different set of circumstances. At this point, it is a choice of widespread suffering or isolated suffering, rather than a simple "numbers game".

It should also be noted that torture doesn't necessarily entail death, so that should also be taken into account.
I disagree. Under no circumstances is torture the right method. There are always alternatives that can work as good or better without violating basic human rights, and even if there weren't, it is our ethical responsibility to respect the basic rights of all humans. Our means should be just, not just our ends.

Based on the rest of what you wrote, it seems to me like you're saying it would be acceptable to do anything (short of killing, not sure of your position on that) to anyone if the goal is to save lives (and possibly for other ends, depending on how you answer below). I disagree with that on a fundamental level.

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If our side wins a war against another side, is it all right to round up and kill all of their remaining citizens to ensure they don't ever rise up again and kill any more of ours?
I wouldn't agree with this since we would be violating international laws and therefore putting our citizens at risk.
You're dragging the law into a hypothetical meant to question your ethical standards. It's a hypothetical. Laws are irrelevant. The point is, can we really say it's ethical to commit wrongs just to stop other wrongs, especially (but not only) in cases where there might be viable alternatives? In the end, you're still torturing people (and since you answered below that it's acceptable to torture innocents, let's take that into account and say you're torturing the innocent). Your ends may be just, but your means are completely unethical.

We as a species are better than that; we should always strive to act so that our ends and our means are just, lest we end up causing harm in the pursuit of a noble goal. It is not as though there is ever just one way to do something. Man's ingenuity has solved some of the most complex problems in existence, surely we can find a better way to extract relevant information from a person.

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What if it's not to save a life at all, merely to improve the quality of a small group of peoples' lives? Is it all right to torture to discover the cure for the common cold? What if the information helps us but hurts them? Is it all right to torture to lower oil prices?
The common cold can persist and cause pneumonia and other more severe ailments that cause death. 4500 deaths are related to common cold among infants and young children alone in the united states. So it's not exactly a trivial discovery. When it comes to torture, it is very difficult to determine if there would be causation to torture if there existed a person or groups that withheld the information from the public. Let's say a pharmaceutical company that wants to sell cold medicine rather than cure colds in order to make a profit. Of course it would be a last resort to torture, but it could being a viable option after all others are exhausted, but likely not a great option. Most likely, I would see seizing control of their computers, phone records, and research labs with non-compliance to reveal their information would be a more appropriate discourse for a group that adamantly opposed to divulge the information or market a cure.
I wasn't taking into account incidental deaths associated with the cold. What I was getting at is, if you believe it is acceptable to torture to save lives, where do you draw the line? Is it acceptable to torture people to improve our quality of life? The follow-up regarding oil there was meant to get at, is it acceptable to torture people to improve our quality of life at the expensive of those who they advocate for? What things is it acceptable to torture for and what things is it unacceptable, and why?

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What if the torturee was not directly at fault? What if they were merely someone who knew information that would save lives that, for whatever reason, they were resistant to sharing? Is it all right to torture them because it might save lives? What if the person was a social worker? What if it was Gandhi? Jesus?
This is too vague to judge. But, let's just say a sweet old lady saw a man abducting a young child. She also knows his identity, but it is a relative, a friends, or someone who she wants to protect. Despite not being at fault, she is obstructing justice. If she claims she saw the abduction and says she knows who the abductor is, but doesn't want to get him in trouble, at the very least, she needs to be detained and questioned regardless of her will or involvement in the crime. The threat of prison is very effective among civilians such as this woman for obstruction of justice usually would suffice here, but if woman persists to obstruct justice incarceration is not necessarily going to help the investigation or the victims in the scenario; torture might be an option if it is needed to save the child's life or apprehend the abductor in order to prevent eh apprehension of other children in the future. Non-action or non-compliance under certain circumstances is not acceptable.
Your answer here kind of makes my job a lot easier. At least you did say you would prefer trying alternative methods first, but in the end you admitted that torture is acceptable even on innocents. If it's acceptable to commit any amount of wrongdoing provided the net effect is positive, you can pretty much justify anything against anyone so long as it's for "the greater good." In effect, you've condemned the child to save humanity. If that's what you believe is just, then that's fine, so long as you understand the ultimate form your ideals take.

This post is getting too long to proofread, so I'm just going to hit "submit" and hope everything makes sense (it never does the first time, but it's late).
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Old July 24th, 2013, 08:11 AM
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This never really was quite a peaceful world. We are born into a chaotic dog-eat-dog arena held together only by the specks of law produced by the only sentient species in the world. Yet, even then, no matter how much better we like to think ourselves as against any other animals, we still have roots that are primeval. We disagree, we fight, and we have war, sending out even more lives to death than what would happen in the natural world. Pain is temporary, death is permanent. And humans as a species cannot cope together as a united mind at this point of history.

I don't believe there is always another way to find information beyond torture. An enemy nation bent on wrecking another will go through a lot of means to do so, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it will have digital copies logged in cell phones or computers. That doesn't always mean infiltrators will carry around physical copies, either. If the defending nation captures this infiltrator, things might not be as easy as hand him over for ransom, or bribery, or any other method.

This is still a war, even if it isn't set on full blast to terminate every single person. The enemy nation has already sent him out to death, as goes the laws of war. In fact, the other nation most likely wouldn't even consider any moral lessons in order to drag out any specific information from their hostage, should they get one. They would do it to the other nation, so why doesn't the defending nation do it to them? "Because they're better than that," many would say. Who's to say they are? This nation is hated by the attacking nation -- there has to be something it had done to upset them. The only thing that makes humans think they are better than such means is because of binding things like religion and law. Without religion, would there be those morals many follow by? What about law? Does this infiltrator deserve what he gets for trying to destroy millions?

Yes, that's a more serious scenario, but torture is a last-minute method. Nobody will honestly go for torture without going over any other potential methods (I would think). If other humans are willing to play dirty, only our morals will make us noble. That doesn't mean that we'll live to see us noble.
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Old July 24th, 2013, 06:27 PM
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I don't believe there is always another way to find information beyond torture.
But there are other, even better ways. Even within the intelligence community, it's pretty well known that torture isn't nearly the end-all, be-all the public seems to think it is. There are many techniques that are much more effective. Torture is really only effective at one thing, and that's getting the victim to say whatever they think will appease you. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effectiveness_of_torture
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